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Green Building Curmudgeon

Another Greenprints Conference Wraps Up Well

Small regional meetings provide big bang for the buck

Not sure exactly what this is, but Greenprints used this image as the logo for its 2011 conference.

The 2011 Greenprints conference wrapped up recently, and as I reported last year, it was a valuable, modest, regional green building conference. Consisting of two days of sessions broken up into three tracks and a small trade show, it mirrors the structure of many other industry conferences, something that I am becoming increasingly less tolerant of. Regardless, the fact that the Greenprints show is small in size and scope makes it manageable and less exhausting to attend than many of its overweight relatives.

The best part (for me, at least)

For the first time in many years, I was invited to speak on my primary area of expertise, green remodeling. I shared the stage with my friend Peter Pfeiffer, who flew in from Austin for the event. He began with his opinions on employing sound design over “Eco-Bling,” and I followed up with the similarities, differences, challenges, and cautions involved in greening existing buildings. We had a full house and some lively discussion afterward, including a few disagreements between us on the proper answers to the questions posed.

Brain-frying detail

Luke Morton gave a talk on advanced carbon footprint analysis, using data collected from a group of about 10 single-family homes that his firm in Palo Alto worked on. While he admitted that it was a relatively small sample, it did provide some interesting insights into the challenges of determining the amount of embodied energy, and tended to clarify that this is still a very inexact science with a long way to go before it reaches full maturity. Although the level of detail took my poor brain close to failure, I enjoyed the talk and was able to write down a few salient facts before it ended. Two key conclusions that I took away: Plug loads rule—measured power use exceeds estimates from energy models; and the weight of materials is a closer predictor of total carbon footprint than house size.

I have yet to see the light

A session on LED lighting started with a representative from Osram Sylvania covering the technology pretty thoroughly and providing some insight into the challenges of creating attractive lighting with this relatively new equipment. One key take-away was the fact that the filters and coatings required to provide these lights with the appropriate color temperatures and color rendering indices reduce the amount of light they emit, also reducing their efficiency. Currently, LEDs are about 25% less efficient than CFLs, but they expect that as costs go down, they should reach or exceed the same efficiencies in a few years. This session closed with Morgan Gabler, a lighting designer who bemoaned the current quality of LED lighting and how this tended to limit its uses to cove and accent lighting for the time being. She did show a picture of a closet rod outfitted with built-in LED lights that looked pretty cool.

Healthy housing insights

Yianice Hernandez from Enterprise Green Communities reported on affordable healthy housing and the challenges her organization faces in engaging residents about energy efficiency and health issues. Some interesting facts she shared include: 42% of affordable housing residents go without medical or dental care to pay their utilities, and many of their health problems include allergies and asthma, often direct effects of the inefficiency and unhealthy aspects of the buildings they live in. Quite a vicious cycle they are stuck in. A project in Seattle identified 16 units as “Breath Easy Homes” that were specifically designed for healthy indoor environmental quality. The research included health assessments of residents, both before and after they moved into these units. One of the key findings was that occupants in the Breath Easy Homes had one-third fewer sick days and fewer emergency room visits. Pretty telling results.

I don’t need no stinking plenary

I think that one of the nicest features of Greenprints is the lack of keynote speeches or plenary sessions. For the second year, the only conference-wide session was a luncheon panel, this year including Sarah Susanka, who, in case you have been living under a rock for the last decade, is the superstar architect-author of the Not So Big series, and Nadav Malin, president of BuildingGreen. Dennis Creech, the executive director of Southface, moderated the session. This was a nice, low-key, informal event, and with one notable exception the audience questions elicited good responses from the panelists. The one exception was a singular blowhard who stood up and rambled somewhat incoherently for about five minutes without ever actually asking a question. Why is it that when handed a microphone in a crowd, some people have to postulate on their own views rather than just ask a simple question, sit down, shut up, and wait for an answer?

Interestingly, Greenprints was immediately followed by a Department of Energy Building America Retrofit conference in the same hotel, which I attended for one day, giving a short presentation. A report on this event is forthcoming.

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