Green Materials Report – Wood

This post is part of the green materials report series.  GBE is providing information on various building materials and what makes them green.  Each post focuses on one material.  We will be looking at the ingredients in the material, how it is used, what makes green materials green, and any green product certifications that it has earned.  We hope to develop a database of information to help consumers make informed choices about what goes in their buildings.



Wood, and its long list of byproducts, can be considered as truly useful and very sustainable green building materials that have been used for centuries for structural and decorative purposes.

Best of all, perhaps, is that when woods get consumed as green materials, they can be replanted and grown again. Knowing all too well some very aberrant actions on the part of some wood harvesters still occur, such as clear-cutting mountain forests, or endangering prized woods such as old growth redwoods or stripping stands of mahogany trees from the Amazon forests to raise beef- wood’s ability to renew itself as it scrubs the air around it raises it high on the sustainable materials list!

Writing about wood in the book, Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Horst H. Nimz, Uwe Schmitt, Eckart Schwab, Otto Wittmann, Franz Wolf the Earth contains about “one trillion tonnes of wood, which grows at a rate of 10 billion tonnes per year.”

As an abundant, carbon-neutral renewable resource, woody materials have been of intense interest as a source of renewable energy. In 1991, approximately 3.5 cubic kilometers of wood were harvested. Dominant uses were for furniture and building construction.

From the Wood Database, started by Eric Meier in 2007, we find a huge list of names (over 500) about the woods of the world, with names going from walnut to tigerwood and tupelo, never forgetting one off my favorites, cherry. Meier introduces this material with this statement: “It’s common knowledge that wood comes from trees. What may not be so apparent is the structure of the wood itself, and the individual components that make up any given piece of lumber.”

Sounds like a person who knows his subject quite well. Not all woods perform equally, in terms of beauty, strength, durability, rarity, or value. Most residential buildings are framed with pine, not walnut or ebony; the lower price-per-foot of pine is convincing, a priced based on suppluy and demand, especially when knowing harvestable pine trees grow much faster than a hardwood such as oak or maple. It is a resource we must hold in high esteem. Not only do they provide materials, they mitigate some of the global warming trends caused by too much CO2.

Some woods you may not know

Abura, Afrormosia, Afzelia, Amazique, Baldcypress, African Blackwood, Bois de Rose,Cumaru, Gabon, American Hornbeam, Jicarillo, Cucumber Magnolia,Dark Red Meranti,Monkey Puzzle.

These are just a few names to set you exploring. I didn’t even touch the end of the alphabet. Enjoy!


Wood Being Processed

shutterstock_80783596 (1)

Sources | Photos: Word HippoWood Database, Shutterstock


What is LEED? – Energy and Atmosphere

This is the fifth post in a series on the LEED green building rating system. The first post provided anIntroduction to LEED, the second looked at the Sustainable Sites credit category, the third at theLocation and Transportation credits, and the fourth at Water Efficiency.

LEED logo images

Energy and Atmosphere

Improving energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways to save money and improve the sustainability of a building. Therefore almost a third of the points available in LEED are found in this category.  Projects can earn these points by making the building more efficient that a code baseline building of similar size and shape, commissioning the building systems, and adding renewable power sources to the project.

Fundamental Commissioning and Verification

This is a required measure and must be completed to qualify for LEED certification.  Commissioning involves testing the equipment to verify that it is performing according to the design intent.  The commissioning agent, or person performing the testing, can be a member of the project team, but should not be directly involved in the building design.  Systems that need to be commissioned include: HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and renewable energy.  Exterior enclosures are also reviewed by the commissioning agent.

Fundamental commissioning includes: design review, development and inclusion of a commissioning plan into the construction documents, developing checklists and testing procedures, testing of the systems, maintenance of a trouble log, and reporting all findings to the building owner.

In addition, the project must develop an operations and maintenance plan designed to keep the building operating efficiently.  The plan should include: set points and schedules for the building system controls, a systems narrative, preventative maintenance plan, and an ongoing commissioning plan.

Minimum Energy Performance

This is a required measure and must be completed to qualify for LEED certification.  There are three options to meet this prerequisite.  The first involves providing a whole building energy simulation showing that the design will save at least 5% of the total energy use as compared to a code building of similar size and shape.  Projects must meet this requirement without including renewable energy sources.

The second option is to comply with the mandatory and prescriptive measures included inASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010.  The standard provides requirements for  HVAC and service water heating requirements, including equipment efficiency, economizers, ventilation, and ducts and dampers.

Projects less than 100,000 square feet can earn this prerequisite by following the prescriptions of ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010 Sections 1-3, which provide strategies and requirements for certain building systems.

Building-Level Energy Metering

This is a required measure and must be completed to qualify for LEED certification.  Projects must include whole building-level meters or sub-meters that can be aggregated to provide whole building use quantities for all energy consumption (natural gas, electricity, biomass, steam, propane, etc).  The project must also agree to provide this data on a monthly basis to the US Green Building Council for a five-year period.

Fundamental Refrigerant Management

This is a required measure and must be completed to qualify for LEED certification.  Projects should not use chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-based refrigerants in new heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems.  If systems or equipment are re-used, a phase-out plan must be provided.

Enhanced Commissioning

This credit is worth 2-6 points.  Enhanced commissioning is performed in addition to the fundamental prerequisite above.  In order to receive this credit, the commissioning agent must be an independent contractor not already on the project team.  To earn 3 points, the commissioning process must include, in additional to the fundamental tasks: submittal review, verification that maintenance documentation and training is included in the construction documents, verification of training effectiveness and seasonal testing, reviewing operations 10 months after occupancy, and providing an ongoing commissioning plan.

An additional point can be earned by developing a plan to continually monitor data points to assess the performance of the energy and water use systems.  An additional 2 points can be earned by commissioning the building envelope for energy, water, indoor environmental quality, and durability.  The review should include: submittal review, inclusion of maintenance manuals and training in the construction documents, verification of training and seasonal testing, reviewing operations 10 months after occupancy, and providing an ongoing commissioning plan.

Optimize Energy Performance

This credit is worth 1-18 points.  Using whole-building energy modeling or prescriptive paths as described in the ASHRAE 50% Advanced Energy Design Guide for the type of building being used, provide energy efficiency measures to save from 6-50% over a code building.  Projects can earn up to 18 points if they use the energy modeling path, and up to 6 points for using the Energy Design Guide.

Advanced Energy Metering

This credit is worth 1 point.  Energy sources that are used by the whole building or provide more than 10% of the annual energy consumed by the entire building must be subject to advanced metering.  The advanced metering must include hourly use, energy consumption and demand, be collected on a local data server, and be remotely accessible.

Demand Response

This credit is worth 1-2 points.  Local utilities may provide the ability for a project to enroll in a demand response plan.  These plans broadcast the pricing of energy based on current demand, allowing projects to schedule their peak loads when the utility is cheapest.  Projects must participate in an existing demand response plan for a period of one year if it is available (worth 2 points) or provide the infrastructure to take advantage of one when it becomes available (worth 1 point).

Renewable Energy Production

This credit is worth 1-3 points.  Provide from 1-10% of the building’s annual energy consumption from renewable energy sources.  Using solar gardens or community renewable projects is allowed if the project owns the system or has leased it for over 10 years and it is in the same local utility area as the project.


Enhanced Refrigerant Management

This credit is worth 1 point.  Projects should either not use refrigerants, or only use those that have an ozone depletion potential (ODP) of zero and a global warming potential (GWP) of less than 50.  A weighted calculation can be used to determine if the project meets the requirement when certain refrigerants may be over the limit.

Green Power and Carbon Offsets

This credit is worth 1-2 points.  The project must enter into a contract to purchase Green-e certified green power or RECs (renewable energy certificates).  The programs must have come online since January 1, 2005 and the contract must be for at least five years.  One point is awarded for purchasing 50% of the building’s annual energy use from these sources, two points for 100%.

Creating a Sense of Community with Your Residents


by  –

Property managers often refer to their properties as communities, and rightfully so. But have you ever thought about strengthening that community?One of the things that apartment dwellers typically cite about living in an apartment is a sense of isolation. Often, renters are new to the area, or even the state, and would like to meet their neighbors, but conflicting schedules can often preclude social activities.  In order to build and strengthen your community, consider implementing a few of the suggestions below:

  • Have a balcony decorating contest – but with a twist.  Instead of a Christmas theme, why not hold the contest for Halloween or even Independence Day?  Apartment dwellers often don’t have the ability to express their creativity, so hosting a balcony/decorating contest is a great way to allow your residents to decorate to their heart’s content, and be an active part of the community as well.
  • Form a community watch program.   While safety is a major concern for all property managers, providing residents with the ability to be proactive in keeping their homes safe gives them a sense of responsibility and a feeling of usefulness, while also helping to deter property crimes.
  • Grow a community garden.  While not practical for all properties, those with a little extra space may want to consider starting a community garden.  Solicit volunteers to help with the planting and harvesting, then donate the produce to a local food bank or shelter.
  • Plan events monthly.  Almost all properties have one or two events a year, usually structured around the holidays. Consider holding monthly events such as a local author event, flea market or community garage sale, or even monthly movie night, with management supplying the popcorn.
  • Hold a monthly drawing for a gift card or free gas.  Enter everyone who pays their rent on a timely basis.
  • If you don’t already have one, begin a monthly community newsletter.  Include recipes, resident announcements, and a few coupons to local stores. If you already have a newsletter, make sure it goes out every month.  If you start to include content that people want to read, your tenants will begin to look forward to each issue.

While many of the suggestions above require some additional time and effort from you and your staff, creating a sense of community is should be at the top of your list. By providing your tenants with a sense of home and belonging, you’ll create loyal group of tenants who are likely to remain happy renters for the long term.

DOE Invests in Commercial Building Efficiency

Ventilation systems and lighting controls highlight the focus

Retrofit Ventilation Systems remove indoor air pollutants and enable the indoor air to be recycled, reducing the amount of outside air required.

Four projects recently earned up to $6 million in funding from the Energy Department. Last year, commercial buildings consumed about 20% of all energy in the U.S. at an estimated cost of $180 billion, while producing 18% of the nation’s carbon emissions.

The projects will deploy and demonstrate four emerging energy-saving technologies. They will generate data, case studies, and information intended to help building owners adopt new technologies, including advanced ventilation, building energy optimization software, more efficient commercial refrigeration fan motors, and advanced lighting controls.

enVerid Systems in Houston, TX, will retrofit ventilation systems with modules that remove indoor air pollutants such as carbon dioxide. This enables the indoor air to be recycled while greatly decreasing the amount of outside air required, thus reducing HVAC loads. Ten separate commercial building demonstrations will be conducted over three years.

BuildingIQ, Inc. in Foster City, CA, will optimize HVAC energy use using Predictive Energy Optimization (PEO), a cloud-based software application that runs on top of existing automation systems. PEO uses data from weather forecasts, utility tariffs, demand response event signals, and occupant schedules. Sixteen studies will be performed.

QM Power, Inc. in Lee’s Summit, MO, has developed high-efficiency 7- to 16-watt fan motors that are often used in commercial refrigeration systems. The firm intends to install and demonstrate about 12,000 fans in more than 50 grocery stores nationwide. If fully adopted, the motor application could achieve more than 0.6 quads in energy savings and reduce costs by $1 billion.

Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships in Lexington, MA, will further the implementation of advanced lighting controls. The project will evaluate two or more controls technologies in 10 buildings. The results will support development of utility incentive programs to spur adoption.

For more information on these and other technologies, visit the DOE’s Building Technologies Office website at

Green Materials Report – Smog Eating Roof Tiles

This post is part of the green materials report series.  GBE is providing information on various building materials and what makes them green.  Each post focuses on one material.  We will be looking at the ingredients in the material, how it is used, what makes green materials green, and any green product certifications that it has earned.  We hope to develop a database of information to help consumers make informed choices about what goes in their buildings.



A team of students at the University of California – Riverside have devised a way to create roof tiles that actively destroy smog. Scientists tell us that smog is caused primarily by sunlight interacting with the nitrogen oxide gas emitted by vehicles and electric generating stations. Titanium dioxide reacts with nitrogen oxide, converting it into less reactive compounds.

The secret is to spray a coating of titanium dioxide on the clay roofing tiles so popular in southern California. When the tiles are installed, they break down 88 – 97% of the nitrogen oxide smog and air pollution that they come in contact with into non-photo reactive elements, thereby reducing the formation of smog. One roof coated with titanium dioxide could offset the nitrogen oxide emitted by driving a gasoline powered car 11,000 miles. The best part is that the titanium dioxide used in these air-scrubbing roof tiles is both plentiful andcheap! The students who developed the tiles estimate that coating all the tiles needed for a typical suburban roof would add just a few dollars to the total cost of materials.


The UC students’ work has already won them a $15,000 prize from the EPA – but they aren’t done yet. They want to take their smog-beating research further and add a titanium dioxide coating to exterior paint, concrete and even highway dividers. That’s changing the world!

200,000 housing units in Bay Area pipeline. Is it enough to move the needle?

Equity Residential’s Potrero project includes 453 units and 26,000 square feet of retail.

by Emily Fancher –

There are 200,000 housing units in the planning pipeline or under construction throughout the Bay Area and approximately 43 percent of those are rental units.
The housing pipeline number, which was reported by a Bay Area real estate consultancy, includes market-rate and affordable projects in San Francisco, the East Bay, Peninsula and Silicon Valley down through San Jose.
The report, created by the Concord Group, predicts that developers will bring to market 18,000 units over the next five years in San Francisco.
The 200,000 units in the pipeline are an increase relative to the size of the pipeline historically. However, relative to the population and the size of the housing stock, the pipeline is fairly modest.
“It’s not going to move the needle that much,” said Tyler Evje, an engagement manager at the Concord Group, who worked on the report.
If you think about the pipeline, there are roughly 200,000 units in the core and 2 million households that live there, he said. So if 10 percent of existing stock is in the pipeline, that’s not that much, he added.
Much of the housing in the pipeline won’t get built or will be built gradually over a very long timeline.
“Many units in the larger projects will have a 10-to-15-year build out or have questionable financing or questionable entitlement (prospects),” said Evje.
The report also dives into the shift from rentals to for-sale units and flexible entitlements. Developers are now seeking approvals for both.
“It’s clear from the statistics that rent growth has been the focus of developers working through the planning process over the last 36 months – 69 percent of San Francisco’s approved projects are slated to be rentals,” according to a blog on the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition website from the Concord Group on the report.
“However, the new data suggest flexibility is the game plan for the next round of projects,” the blog said.
Only 15 percent of the projects currently undergoing entitlements are confirmed rental projects. Thirty percent are planned for-sale, but more than half are undecided on tenure or are pursuing dual entitlements, the blog said.
Evje said the Bay Area is usually either a strong rental market or for-sale market.
“Right now it’s an unprecedented time where both markets are extremely hot.”
Not surprisingly, most of the activity is in San Francisco’s SoMa, Mid-Market and in San Jose. Very little is in places such as Oakland and the Peninsula, because of the difficulty of finding sites or securing financing in those locations.

Architects commit to carbon neutral built environment

The International Union of Architects has unanimously adopted a declaration committing to the phasing out of carbon dioxide emissions in the built environment by 2050, presented to it by Australian Institute of Architects chief executive David Parken.

The 2050 Imperative, which was presented last Friday at the UIA World Congress in Durban, recognises the urgency of the UIA and its member organisations in committing to a sustainable, equitable future.

“Urban areas are responsible for over 70 per cent of global energy consumption and CO2 emissions, mostly from buildings, and over the next two decades an area roughly equal to 60 per cent of the world’s total building stock is projected to be built and rebuilt in urban areas,” the declaration states.

“This provides an unprecedented opportunity to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions by setting the global building sector on a path to phase out CO2 emissions by 2050.

“Our responsibility is to influence ethical and socially responsible development throughout the world: to plan and design sustainable, resilient, carbon-neutral and healthy built environments that protect and enhance natural resources and wildlife habitats, provide clean air and water, generate on-site renewable energy, and advance more livable buildings and communities.”

The 2050 Imperative, commits member organisations to advocacy and promotion pertaining to planning and design of carbon neutral cities, towns, urban developments and new buildings; engaging in research and setting targets towards meeting the 2050 goal and developing and delivering equitable access to the information and tools to deliver these objectives.

The full Declaration 2050 Imperative:

Recalling the Chicago Declaration of Interdependence for a Sustainable Future (18-21 June 1993) which recognised our ecological interdependence with the whole natural environment and committing to place environmental and social sustainability at the core of our practice and professional responsibilities.

Also recognising the importance of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals process to achieve a sustainable future; in particular, supporting a stand-alone goal to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Recalling the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference that will reconvene in Paris in 2015 with the goal of reaching a new agreement on phasing out CO2 emissions from worldwide power and industrial sectors by 2050, and all GHG emissions from energy systems by the second half of the 21st century.

Our responsibility is to influence ethical and socially responsible development throughout the world: to plan and design sustainable, resilient, carbon-neutral and healthy built environments that protect and enhance natural resources and wildlife habitats, provide clean air and water, generate on-site renewable energy, and advance more livable buildings and communities

International Union of Architects

Recognising that urban areas are responsible for over 70 per cent of global energy consumption and CO2 emissions, mostly from buildings. Over the next two decades, an area roughly equal to 60 per cent of the total building stock of the world is projected to be built and rebuilt in urban areas worldwide. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions by setting the global building sector on a path to phase out CO2 emissions by 2050.

We recognise our responsibility to seize this unique opportunity to influence ethical and socially responsible development throughout the world: to plan and design sustainable, resilient, carbon-neutral and healthy built environments that protect and enhance natural resources and wildlife habitats, provide clean air and water, generate on-site renewable energy, and advance more liveable buildings and communities.

By adopting the 2050 IMPERATIVE at the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress in Durban, the UIA and its member organisations and partners will send a strong message to the Parties of the UNFCCC, and to the world, that we are committed to a truly sustainable and equitable future.

The UIA is acutely aware that failing to act now on climate change will put future generations and those already affected by extreme weather, natural disasters, and poverty, at great risk.

Recognising the architect’s central role in planning and designing the built environment, and the need to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and provide equal access to shelter, we commit to promote the following actions:

  • Plan and design cities, towns, urban developments and new buildings to be carbon neutral, meaning they use no more energy over the course of a year than they produce, or import, from renewable energy sources.
  • Renovate and rehabilitate existing cities, towns, urban redevelopments and buildings to be carbon neutral whilst respecting cultural and heritage values.
  • In those cases where reaching carbon neutral is not feasible or practical, plan and design cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings and renovations to be highly efficient with the capability to produce, or import, all their energy from renewable energy sources in the future.
  • We commit to the principle of engaging in research and setting targets towards meeting the 2050 goal.
  • Advocate and promote socially responsible architecture for the community, develop and deliverequitable access to the information and tools needed to:
    • plan and design sustainable, resilient, inclusive and low-carbon/zero carbon built environments
    • design no-cost/low-cost on-site renewable energy and natural resources systems (e.g., passive heating and cooling, water catchment and storage, solar hot water, daylighting, and natural ventilation systems)


  • UIA – International Union of Architects
  • ARCASIA – Architects Regional Council Asia
  • AUA – African Union of Architects
  • ACE – Architects Council of Europe
  • FPAA – Federacion Panamericana de Asociaciones de Arquitectos
  • CAA – Commonwealth Association of Architects
  • UMAR – Union Mediterraneenne des Architectes
  • CA – Canberra Accord
  • UIA Young Architects
  • CIALP – Conselho Internacional dos Arquitectos de Lingua Portuguesa
  • DoCoMoMo – Docomomo International
  • FAU – Foundation des Architectes de I’Urgence
  • AHA – Active House Alliance
  • WGBC – World Green Building Council
  • ICOMOS- International Council on Monuments and Sites

Building a smart city, one streetlight at a time

Building a smart city, one streetlight at a time

Learn more about smart cities at the GreenBizVERGE Salon in New York City tomorrow, and atVERGE SF, Oct. 27 to 30.

The vision of a smart city decked out with millions of sensors feeding useful information to city officials and citizens is almost out of science fiction. To reach that point, though, it’s best to focus on something much more prosaic, such as helping citizens find parking spaces or switching out the bulbs in streetlights.

Cities around the world have long-range initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare cities for severe storms and other climate disruptions. But in most cases, achieving those goals with top-down, technology-driven projects is bound to stumble, said Charbel Aoun, president of smart cities forSchneider Electric.

“As much as we believe technology is critical to enabling smart cities, we avoid talking about technology,” said Aoun. “Smart cities is about cutting-edge innovation, but cities don’t like innovation — they can’t afford to fail.”

Instead, city officials need to modernize their infrastructure one chunk at a time and create a technical architecture that allows them to integrate their IT systems with their operational systems — electric and water grids, transportation systems and other infrastructure.

Schneider holds meetings with city officials to discern their priorities and then seeks out a project that can demonstrate some sort of energy savings, such as building efficiency upgrades. Ideally, those savings can fund further work. “You have to sell the value to the mayor, the management and the different department heads,” Aoun said. “It’s the basement connecting to the data center connecting to the mayor’s office.”

Light-bulb moment

The challenge for many cities is that once a city decides to install Internet-connected equipment, it quickly exposes organizational problems.

Consider streetlights. City departments are expert at operating streetlights and know who suppliers are and when upgrades are needed. But what happens when an LED street light is also a platform for providing wireless Internet access, security cameras and air quality monitors?

The streetlight goes from being a piece of equipment managed by the energy or traffic department to a high-tech device that needs to be integrated into back-office IT systems and monitored for network security. Rather than have the traffic department manage this equipment, it’s best for IT departments to have responsibility, said Aoun.

Buy-in from the budget keepers

Financing new initiatives is a challenge for cities, many of which face big budget deficits. The City of Bostonmanaged to finance a number of energy-efficiency initiatives by getting two types of budget people to talk to each — those in charge of capital expenditures and those in charge of operating budgets.

Credit: Martin LaMonicaExperts from Schneider Electic and the City of Boston met at Schneider’s research and development lab in Andover, Mass. (Credit: Martin LaMonica)

By demonstrating that a building efficiency project could reduce operating budgets, for instance, the city was able to free the funds from the capital budget for a number of efficiency upgrades, said Todd Isherwood, an energy project manager for the City of Boston, who spoke at an event organized by Schneider Electric. An upgrade to LED street lights was able to save a substantial amount of money when utility rebates were figured in.

“The savings opens up a discussion,” Isherwood said. “None of my colleagues will move on the budgets unless there is money that can be saved.”

Those efficiency projects have led to a broader initiative to benchmark all of the city’s buildings and report their energy performance data. Once all the information is collected and consolidated, facilities managers can start to prioritize efficiency upgrades or make simple behavioral changes, such as deciding on how best to turn heating and cooling off at schools.

Over time, the city will get data on which buildings have combined heat and power units and can operate independently in the case of power outage, Isherwood said. Those buildings could act as shelters in the case of a prolonged outage.

A few cities in Europe have plans to create a “city operating system” that will allow developers to create applications with sensor data. But most cities don’t have the resources or the technical staff sophisticated to take on these types of grand projects, said Laurent Vernerey, CEO of Schneider Electric in North America.

“If (a smart city project) is not something thing that will be visible to the citizen, it’s going to be difficult,” Vernerey said. “As a mayor or city manager, how can I make their life easier? When they find an angle like this, then it opens doors very quickly.”

Top image of LED streetlight in San Luis Obispo, Calif., by emdot via Flickr

“LEED vs. Energy Star?”

leed-vs        –

 “LEED vs. Energy Star?” It is not unusual to find this question used as the title of a presentation at green building conferences or in blogs and webinars sponsored by the latest generation of green building expert. People have been asking this question since the late 1990s, which is when LEED and Energy Star both came to the market.

It may be an unfortunate indicator of the quality of the discourse on sustainability that the question of competition between the two was ever asked. More importantly, it’s unfortunate that the question persists.

LEED and Energy Star are not two separate choices, nor are they two certification programs that are in competition with each other. Energy Star provides LEED, and other multi-criteria green building certification programs, an integrated path to energy efficiency that extends from building design to energy simulation, and then all the way to occupancy and operations. LEED addresses many issues. Energy Star focuses on a single issue. Benefits accrue to the real estate industry when the two programs are understood as parts of a pair.

As the Intel chip is to the laptop, Energy Star is to LEED: “It’s all inside.”

LEED’s insides

There is not one single LEED certification. There are various LEED certifications for commercial and residential buildings, new construction and existing buildings, neighborhoods, and commercial interiors. LEED was developed by and is owned and managed by an industry association called the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the association’s platinum asset.

Based in Washington, D.C., the USGBC’s members are, not surprisingly, vendors and providers of a wide range of products and services—including energy-efficient products and services—that contribute to a tally of points required for a building to earn a LEED certification.

Although early versions of LEED certification for new construction and existing buildings included energy efficiency in their criteria, the definition of efficient was far from rigorous, and the methodology was flawed.

Early on, LEED’s measure of “efficiency” was the energy code according to which a property was designed. Unrelated to the USGBC, codes are not an effective predictor of the energy usage in a building, not to mention leadership in energy efficiency. Codes define a minimum legal requirement and are theoretical targets of a building’s energy consumption, absent occupants.

The Energy Star rating provides a bridge from the too-often naïve assumptions of the design industry and an over-reliance on building codes to the realities of building occupancy, operations and management.

The Energy Star score of a building is based on a comparison of its energy consumption to the energy consumption histories of a population of existing buildings of a given property type, where consideration given for climate and other variables, not the least of which is occupancy.

The USGBC integrated Energy Star’s rating system into their LEED criteria as part of its strategy to overcome the shortcomings being demonstrated by a reliance solely on building energy codes.

In the Energy Star 1-to-100 scale, 50 indicates that a building’s energy efficiency is average compared to its peer set. When the USGBC first referenced Energy Star, a LEED certification required a minimum the Energy Star score of 65.

Admittedly, the 65 minimum was not ambitious for a program with leadership in its name. At a score of 65, a building’s performance, or intended performance, is better than 64 percent of its peer group—and its performance is not as good as 24 percent of its peer group. The dubious value of the achievement of 65 could be questioned further upon recognition that the term “peer group,” as defined by Energy Star, was the existing national stock of buildings of the same property type, regardless of age, size or design intent.

In the years following its first foray into referencing Energy Star, the USGBC amped up LEED’s energy-efficiency requirements in three meaningful ways. First, to earn the lowest-tier LEED certification, a property must earn an Energy Star target score of at least 75. At this score, only 24 percent of a property’s existing peer group regardless of age is more efficient than the prospective property. Second, and very impressively, LEED’s top-tier designation requires a minimum Energy Star score of 90.

Third—and undoubtedly one of the all-time-best-ever improvements to the LEED certification program for new construction—a building will only obtain its LEED certification if, upon completion, its mechanical systems are commissioned.

This requirement is an emphatic acknowledgement of the “Achilles heel” of the building design and construction industry’s talk about energy efficiency.

While a building’s energy efficiency can be related to the intended efficiency of equipment, the essential ingredient in an efficient building is good property management. Good property management starts with delivery of a building whose systems have been commissioned. Otherwise, errors in the sizing, installation, and interoperability of all the high-priced components and systems in a new building can be for naught, or close to it.

The Energy Star intersection

The USGBC references Energy Star in an effort to improve LEED’s effectiveness in energy efficiency. As with many green building certification programs, the USGBC promotes many benefits associated with green. The most tangible of these benefits is lower energy costs achieved through the efficient operation of a building.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers Energy Star’s commercial building program, without the appropriate metrics and tool—such as those from Energy Star—the owners of even the latest generation of advanced buildings could see two times and three times the rates of energy consumption compared to their technologically less sophisticated peers, and never know it.

Energy efficiency’s contribution to asset value is not limited to lower energy operating costs. When a building is operating efficiently, systems and components have fewer on/off cycles and therefore less wear and tear. For the long-term property owner, energy efficiency’s greater value-add is in the extension of the use life of this capital-intensive equipment, which can represent 30 percent of a property’s original hard costs. Fewer on/off cycles are also indicators of a stable air temperatures, minimal drafts, and high occupant comfort.

Across the government agencies that administer Energy Star, there is a constant theme: through energy efficiency, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions create financial value. In this sense, Energy Star is specific in its benefits and claims. When integrated into broader green building certification programs, Energy Star’s tools measure and evaluate energy performance on a common, unbiased, and national platform in an easy-to-interpret numerical scale. As a result, energy efficiency is the most tangible contributions to superior value in a green building. In this way, LEED leverages—rather than competes with—Energy Star.

Stuart Brodsky launched the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program for commercial properties in 1999 and led it until 2008. He is currently the director of New York University’s Center for the Sustainable Built Environment, a clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate and the co-chair of the Sustainable Building Council of the Urban Land Institute New York. He is also a member of NREI‘s Sustainability Board of Advisors.

Apartment-Owners’ Options with Noise Complaints


City dwellers are continually assaulted by sound — traffic, construction, the neighbor’s music, you name it. And noise is an especially sensitive issue within cooperatives and condominiums, where complaints about noisy neighbors can create disputes among residents. Unfortunately, noise is a highly subjective issue, and conflicts can become extremely difficult to resolve. The legal system may be the only remedy to the situation, but this should be a last resort.

Many times, an issue involving noise is a judgment call. One way to discover the validity of a complaint is to determine if the person raising the issue has previously objected to events taking place in the building. If the person is not prone to complaining, something may well have happened to disturb a resident’s normal living habits, causing lack of sleep or disrupting the quality of life. If a condo or co-op board ignores a legitimate complaint, the residents could be forced to turn to the legal system.

Mediate v. Litigate

Mediation is the most acceptable method of resolving a noise dispute. Most of the time, the people involved are neighbors who will continue to live in the building and interact with each other. Since turning to litigation can cause friends or acquaintances to turn against each other, residents in a noise dispute should try everything in their power to demonstrate the validity of the issue to the condo or co-op board before resorting to litigation.

Residents should also try to resolve their differences without involving the board, since formal complaints may hamper their chances of selling their apartment in the future and even decrease the value of their asset.

Regardless, everyone involved, from the neighbors and the managing agent to the board, should appreciate the seriousness of the issue and try to resolve the problem without forcing one party to resort to litigation. Mediation is almost always a better solution to noise disputes.