Savings Breakdown: When Solar Will Start Paying Off

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by Erin Vaughan

We all know solar benefits the environment. It’s healthy and sustainable—but can it save you money, too? We at Modernize believe in knowing your options when it comes to solar. With so many factors involved—costs, rebates, and incentives—it can be difficult to figure out how much this all is going to cost you in the end, but with some smart planning, you can get a good idea of how long it will take to pay off your initial costs and start saving some green!

Buying the Right Equipment

When you start crunching the numbers, your overall savings will be offset by the cost of equipment and installation. But system costs can vary, depending on the size, your area, and whether you want to go totally off the grid. To get started, you’ll want to think about the energy needs of your home. Start tracking your energy costs. Look at not only the total cost of your bill, but also your usage, which your utility company will express as the number of kilowatt hours (kwh). The average US home uses approximately 900 kwh per month, but your household’s consumption may be higher or lower.

You’ll also want to start thinking about your setup—would you like to be tied to the energy grid, or is your goal to get totally off-grid? Keep in mind an off-grid system will be larger and more expensive. Additionally, if you’re not tied to the grid, you won’t be able to participate in sell-back programs that exist in some states, which allow you to feed in excess power to the local grid and pay you for it.

Generally, the average system costs around $10,000. You can use that as a rough estimate of startup costs in your calculations—or go ahead and pick out the system you want and get a quote. That will help you figure out your eventual savings

Leasing Equipment

If $10,000 sounds too daunting a price, you may want to consider leasing your equipment. Many installation companies have lease-to-own programs to help defray the startup costs of solar energy. Leasing also has other benefits: the solar company performs all maintenance on the equipment. Of course, like any leasing program, you’ll have to pay interest—in this case, usually about four to eight percent. It’s something you’ll need to factor in when you’re making your cost versus savings worksheet.

Federal Tax Incentives

Now we get into the good stuff—the money the government pays you for using solar. The current tax return rate for solar costs is 30 percent, so subtract that from your overall costs. Note that the rate is expected to drop as more people adopt solar, so time is of the essence!

Local Incentives

Now we get to where it can get really murky. Each state and municipal area is different in how they handle local incentives. For instance, Austin, where I’m writing from, has a rebate program with Austin Energy that gets you $1.00 per square foot of solar film used. You’ll want to do your homework in order to really calculate the savings here. This database is a great place to start.

Some states and areas also have net-metering, which means they connect you to the city’s grid and pay you for when you generate overages (think really sunny days). This is especially true in areas that get higher numbers of full sun hours (check out this map for more details on your area’s sun hours).

Savings on Your Bill

If you’re thinking about solar, you’re in it for the long haul. And that’s where the savings really are—in the lower electricity bill you’ll pay each month. Going with the national average of 900 kwh per month, and estimating that your area gets an average amount of sunlight, even a 3kwh system could cut your bill in half. If you pay about $100 per month in electricity, that’s $6,000 after 10 years. Think about what you could do with all that money.

These are just the basics of costs and savings for solar. To really get started, you’ll want to start doing research about your area’s costs and programs. Good luck and happy savings!

Judge rules that a dog visiting New York apartment is not an illegal tenant

Was the girl’s family harboring an illegal canine tenant or welcoming a lawful daytime visitor?

In a city where dogs are judged at co-op board interviews and photographed for rental applications, it is little surprise that the question generated considerable friction between the González family and the landlord of their building on Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx, who prohibited tenants from keeping dogs full time.

A Bronx housing court judge recently decided that the itinerant Pomeranian, Cookie, had the law on her side: There was no evidence that the dog had stayed overnight in the Bronx, therefore the González family had not violated their lease.couple renter dog pets

“It cannot be said that tenants harbored the dog at the premises other than for her visits on periodic occasions,” Judge Javier E. Vargas wrote in dismissing the case on Aug. 24, saying the landlord could not prove that Cookie constituted a “nuisance” or annoyed other tenants.

The case marked a new front in a long-running battle between tenants and landlords over who has a right to keep dogs in a real estate market that pet owners say is increasingly hostile to them, as high demand makes it easier for landlords to choose other renters. Pet owners havedevised creative workarounds, finding ways to photograph their dogs to make them look gentler and even sedating them before co-op board interviews.

Still, many have to choose between a dog and a dream apartment. The Justice Department has stepped into the fray, arguing that building owners must accommodate animals that provide emotional assistance lest they violate the civil rights of residents with disabilities.

Johania González testified that Cookie was a comfort to her teenage daughter, who had been receiving therapy at their Bronx apartment after an operation for scoliosis and had also struggled with anxiety and depression.

But the tenants’ central claim was that they were not keeping Cookie as a permanent pet. Ms. González’s older sister, Elizabeth González, testified that she lived in New Jersey but worked in New York City. Concerned about Cookie spending the day by herself, she dropped the dog off at her sister’s Bronx apartment two to four times a week.

Ms. González’s lawyer, Nestor Rosado, said on Friday that Cookie was “frisky,” but never drew complaints from other residents. He said the family registered Cookie as a therapeutic animal and enrolled her in training classes so she would not bark.

But Anderson Housing Associates, which owns the building, still had concerns. The landlord claimed that the “dog has been observed barking inside the subject premises on numerous occasions,” Judge Vargas wrote in his decision, which was reported this week by The New York Law Journal. The property manager, Ramona Smith, testified that she did patrols up and down the building several times a week and heard the dog barking.

In August 2013, the landlord told Ms. González’s family that she had to remove the dog or face eviction because she was violating her lease. The tenants agreed several times not to harbor any pets and to give the landlord access to search their apartment, but Cookie kept showing up during the day, using the cage and food plates kept there.

Justice Vargas dismissed the case on the grounds that the landlord had not provided a copy of the lease that prohibited dog ownership and that, based on the most recent agreements with the tenants, the landlord also missed a December 2014 deadline to bring action against them.

Even if the landlord had met those obligations, Judge Vargas said, Cookie was still just a visitor.

Source: nytimes.com

– See more at: http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/latest-news/judge-rules-dog-visiting-new-york-apartment-illegal-tenant/#sthash.HoxScMSc.dpuf

I’m Obsessed With San Francisco’s Bunk-Bed Craigslist Ads

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The horror show that is acceptable SF living speaks to the real effects of the city’s extreme housing shortage.

by KRISTON CAPPS

Sorry, boss, I can’t do my job today. I’m obsessing over the horror show that is San Francisco housing.

It has come to my attention that adults are voluntarily sharing rooms with people they are not romantically involved with. That’s right: People over the age of 12 are sleeping in bunk beds, splitting their rooms and lives and forsaking all privacy. Group houses are one thing, but we are talking group bedrooms here. Renters are living a nightmare in order to pursue their dreams. This is happening in real time in the Bay Area.

Snake people in my office tell me that adult room-shares are everywhere, and I’m just too out of touch to know about them. Interns on Capitol Hill sleep more than one to a room, for example. There are boarding houses for people returning from the Peace Corps, that sort of thing. Their landlords must be advertising these vacancies on the Snapperchat, because I am sure not seeing them.

But on Craigslist—the service that plain-old young adults use to find studios, one-bedroom apartments, and rooms in group houses all over the country—it’s not hard to find honest-to-goodness listings for bunk-bed shares, if you know where to look. They are sprinkled throughout the Bay Area like crumbs falling from the master’s table.

Here’s a listing in “the highly desired SOMA area—convenient to Tech companies, start-ups, incubators and schools” (sic all).

(Craigslist)

I kid you not, that is the listed rent per bed.

In the financial district, you will find a bunk-bed share with several available options, each one more dystopian than the last. You can share a 10’ x 13’ room (for $850), a 10’ x 7’ room (for $750), or a 10’ x 10’ room that can only be reached, apparently, by going through one of the home’s other bedrooms ($800).

(Craigslist)

Now, a lot of these listings are located in Palo Alto. (I know, because I’ve been trolling sfbay.craigslist.org all week at my desk.) Some of them resemble theVinyasa Homes Project, a “co-creative housing” space where news reporters found some 30 people paying as much as $1,800 for a bunk earlier this month.

If this all sounds like tech-trafficking, well, that’s kind of right. In December, the owners of two tech co-ops in SoMa, part of a larger chain called The Negev, were dinged by the city for a laundry list of habitability violations. Rents for bunk shares at various Negev properties range from $1,100 to $1,900 per month.

“Close to Facebook, Google, VMWare, Linkedin, Tesla. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley,” reads another such listing. “Bunk bed will be provided.”

(Craigslist)

While some of these properties advertise themselves as “hacker hostels,” San Francisco’s short-term residential rental ordinance defines any stay over 30 days as rental housing. The “Inncubator”—a “high-end hostel, for hackers and startups,” my god—offers leases for three-month stretches. For Stanford women, there are bunks to be found in the Girls Startup House for Stanford Students and Affiliates. The landlord of one SoMa bunk-bed share lives in the home and requires renters to “sign an honor code pledge.” All of these properties must abide by the city’s landlord laws, ostensibly, even if their owners frame them as short-term rentals on Airbnb.

Corporate landlords exploiting the churn of Silicon Valley’s highly productive labor market are the rule in Bay Area housing shares, not the exception. Scope the city’s housing ads and you’ll see how venture capital is transmogrified into private property wealth. The House of Creative Souls looks like any start-up office, complete with a rock-climbing wall, basketball court, and a SoulCycle-ish gymnasium—and two bedrooms/two bathrooms for 10 residents.

(Craigslist)

Still, a small but creeping number of bunk shares appear to be run by regular residents, not real-estate companies. This Palo Alto listing insists that it isn’t an Inncubator property. Here’s another (cheaper) group-bedroom house. For $1,200–1,700, you can enter into this Millennial cult in SoMa. The listing reads like an episode of Friends from the darkest possible timeline.

Bunk shares are appalling, sure, but are they wrong? In one sense even the corporate bunk-shares fulfill a citywide need for more housing. Craigslist’s housing-wanted tab features posts from people in their 20s and 30s willing to share a bunk. Moreover, there are lots of posts from people insisting on a private bedroom—meaning that it’s widely understood that privacy isn’t a given in the housing hunt.

(Craigslist)

But only such an extreme lack of housing and a critical concentration of job opportunities could give rise to such a system. As CBS discovered, San Francisco’s housing inspectors cannot investigate hacker hostels for their adherence to long-term residence codes unless and until a renter has registered a complaint. Above and beyond the fact that sharing a bunk with adults would suuuuck, the whole “room-not-private” situation seems rife with the potential for abuse.

And yet, it could be worse!

“I saw an ad to share a room in SF with 3 other people. All you get is a bunk bed for $1800/mo. I said WTF?” reads the plea of one earnest Craigslister offering up a room of one’s own. “To help keep cost down I ask that you do your laundry at a laundry facility which there are three within a 2 mile radius,” the ad reads. “Also no smoking, no drugs, no booze, no clothes!”

Ways to Conserve Energy Use at Home

By Mary Sauer

Each year, Americans are spending troubling amounts of money on their energy expenses. In fact, the average family will spend close to $2,200 on their utility bills during the course of a year. The truth of the matter is that many individuals are spending more than necessary because they are not making an intentional effort to conserve energy in their home.

For some, it’s easier to neglect energy conservation practices because, for whatever reason, it simply isn’t a high enough priority. For the readers of My Family Survival Plan, we know this isn’t the case. You care deeply about saving money and minimizing the impact your day-to-day choices have on the earth. So, let’s take a look at some the best ways to conserve energy at home.

fan

Heating and Cooling

Heating and Cooling account for just about half of energy-related expenses in the average family home in the United States. Because of this, focusing your efforts on conserving heating and cooling energy could be the most effective starting place.

Use a smart thermostat to program your HVAC unit to adjust based on your needs each day. Adopt the recommendations provided by Energy.gov, setting your air conditioner at 78 degrees during the day and bumping it up to 80 degrees while you are away from home or asleep. During the wintertime, opt for bundling up so you can lower your heater’s settings to 68 degrees during the day and as far as 60 degrees while you are away or asleep.

As much as 20 percent of heating and cooling energy is wasted because air is leaking through ducts, doors, and windows. Spend the time and money to regularly check for and repairs leaks and you may see a significant difference in your heating and cooling costs over the long term.

Lighting

Your typical American family can expect to send 10 percent of their utility budget to the lights in their home. Lessening the energy consumed by lighting is all about making a few smart habits and sticking with them for the long term.

An easy fix is to switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which not only last a lot longer before needing a replacement, but also use up to 75 percent less than traditional light bulbs. When it comes time to replace your bulbs, always recycle your old bulbs and check with your local power company about rebates or discounts for CFL bulbs.

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Appliances and Electronics

The electronics and appliances in your home have this annoying trait: they use energy passively even when they are not in use. Cutting back on this passive energy consumption can be accomplished with a few different strategies.

Use a power strip for your electronics and turn it off when they are not being used. Give up your desktop computer for a laptop, which consumes significantly less energy. If you stick with a desktop, set it to hibernate when it is not being used instead of using a screensaver.

When it comes to appliances, they key is to use them less. Hang your clothes to dry instead of using your dryer, and opt for warming food in a toaster oven instead of heating your conventional oven. If it is time to replace an appliance, chose an energy-efficient model whenever possible, using the guide provided byModernize for making the best choice for your needs.

Don’t stop here! Approach energy conservation with your whole home in mind, developing a holistic plan to include each room, appliance, and electronic device. Involve your whole family in your energy conservation efforts, educating them on the effect their day-to-day choices have on the budget and the well-being of the world we live in.

Is Your Emergency Signage Sending the Right Message? How to keep occupants safe during the worst-case scenario

By Janelle Penny

Do your occupants know where to go during an emergency? An FM who deals with the ins and outs of a building every day may know where every path leads and every exit ends up, but an employee who works only in one area of the building or a visitor who just happens to be in your facility when an emergency hits likely has no clue.

Protect them from harm and yourself from liability by making sure your emergency signage is accurate, current, and plentiful.

ARE YOU COMPLYING WITH CODE?
In an emergency, someone unfamiliar with your building will likely look for the familiar lit exit sign first. NFPA 101, the National Fire Protection Association’s consensus standard that governs life safety, requires either an internally illuminated sign wired into your emergency power source or a sign that’s either electroluminescent (doesn’t use light bulbs, but still requires power to operate) or self-luminous (relies on a contained illumination source that doesn’t need electricity). Paper signs and arrows won’t cut it – NFPA 101 requires a minimum level of visibility and illumination.

The code also requires doors, passages and stairways that are likely to be mistaken for exits but don’t offer access to the outside to be identified with “No Exit” signs.

Save Time with Pre-Scripted Messaging

When an emergency hits, you don’t want to have to wing it with messaging. Compile a series of easily customizable messages ahead of time that can be updated with instructions or warnings specific to a particular incident. Topics should include:
■     Evacuation
■     Sheltering in place
■     Lockdown
■     Hazmat incident
■     Severe weather
■     Natural disasters that are typical for your location
■     A test message you can use periodically to inspect the system’s functionality, rather than just issuing a false alarm

Remember to ensure any additional signage complies with ADA requirements, which include raised characters and braille, non-glare finish and high contrast for visual characters and pictograms, and international symbols to indicate certain kinds of accommodations. The guidelines mandate that tactile characters on signs are located at least 48 inches off the floor and that signs next to doors are posted alongside the door on the latch side. This ensures people with vision impairments know where to look for tactile signage they can read.

In addition to these basic requirements, additional mandates may apply to your facility depending on its unique exposures and risks, adds Donna Lynch, a senior consultant for Antea Group, an environment, health and safety management consulting firm.

“Not all facilities have an AED, but if they do, typically those have signage,” explains Lynch. “Not all facilities have hazardous chemicals, but if they do, there are regulatory requirements regarding signage for storage areas or places where those chemicals are used. Confined spaces also have separate signage requirements per OSHA. That’s related to emergency response – if you have a fire in a manufacturing facility, signage about where the oxygen and other compressed gases are stored would be very important not only to employees, but also any firefighters or emergency services coming on-site.”

Wall-mounted evacuation plans can be supplemented by – or even replaced with – paper versions that can serve as portable maps in case of emergency, notes Dr. Denise Walker, Chief Emergency Management Officer for Lone Star College in Houston. Make sure to check regularly that a map is on the wall at all times.

“Fire marshals today prefer something simple that occupants can snatch off of the wall. They can take it with them and follow the map to wherever they need to go,” explains Walker. “On that map, you need to show the locations of AED devices, other emergency-related devices, exits, and pathways to those exits, both primary and alternate. You also need to note a point of refuge for people who have impairments and need help evacuating. For example, would they go into a stairwell for that? If so, is there a phone at that landing to call for help?”

INVESTIGATE DIGITAL SOLUTIONS
Adding dynamic digital displays to your emergency signage can add an extra layer of safety to your emergency communication. TV screens and wall-mounted signs controlled by a central computer can push out a message across a campus or large building in seconds, instantly delivering the information occupants need to stay safe. When it comes to huge spaces where the audience is constantly changing, a handful of well-placed digital displays can get your message out quickly and efficiently. Large spaces benefit from signage in a central location, and Walker also recommends posting digital signage near points of egress.

“I would be looking at going above and beyond with extra signage in places like arenas, event centers, or airports – anywhere you have masses of people,” notes Lynch. “Another time you should consider extra communication around emergency response is when you’re making changes. Something happening in your building is atypical, like a renovation, and now a frequently used pathway isn’t available or the normal flow people are used to is prohibited while activities are happening that increase risk.”

Beyond large open areas, Lone Star adds digital displays near loading docks and traffic junctions to disseminate information to people on the go. The system also incorporates desktop push-outs – digital missives that appear automatically on computers and mobile devices and can’t be dismissed without the device user opening and reading them.

“If there’s an emergency, LoneStarAlert has the capability push out anything from a little pop-up in the corner

that will flash until you look at it to a message that completely takes over whatever is on the screen,” says Walker. “You want to push messages out quickly and with clear instructions on what action a person should take.”
Florida State University uses a similar strategy with their FSU Alert Emergency Notification System, a hybrid network of mass notification products that includes desktop pop-ups and wall-mounted beacons that flash lights, emit sirens, and display LED messages that can be read from up to 15 feet away.

This sophisticated network likely saved lives during a November 2014 active shooter incident at the university – the campus police department was able to send a pre-programmed warning message to the entire 473-building campus within two and a half minutes of the first gunshot. Three people were injured before the gunman was killed on the scene by police, but the incident could have been much worse without the immediate safety notification.

The pre-scripted warning message likely saved valuable time for the dispatcher who activated the “dangerous situation” alarm with the touch of a button. Walker recommends developing a series of possible scenarios customized to your facility and geographic location that you can draw on during incidents.

“Ideally, your message will fit into 90 characters for text messaging, tickers, and social media platforms like Twitter. If you stay below 90 characters, you’re more likely to get your message out in one text instead of having any headers or footers push it into two,” explains Walker. “Add a few more words and characters and you can push that message out to other social media, like Facebook. Any message under a maximum of 50 words can be sent via email or pushed out on your website. With a couple of clicks, you can automatically target all kinds of different devices.”

REINFORCE READABILITY
Whether static or dynamic, emergency signage must be decipherable by everyone who sees it – not just the employees working in your office every day, but also guests, customers, and people who might be in your building after hours (think cleaning staff). Make sure signage and pre-programmed messages cover these three needs.

1) Language diversity and simplicity. Even people who are comfortable speaking English as a second language may have a difficult time with comprehension during the panic of a real emergency. Having an emergency message available in their first language could save valuable seconds during an evacuation or shelter in place scenario.

Not sure which languages to include? Walker suggests looking at which languages are represented in local voting materials – Lone Star College, for example, is in a community with large populations of Spanish and Vietnamese speakers, so those languages need to be included in emergency communications.

“In addition to people whose first language isn’t English, you also want to target those who are unable to read at a sixth grade level, which involves modifying and shortening messages so that more people understand what you’re trying to say,” Walker says. “Pictograms and universal symbols are increasingly common.”

2) Accessibility. In addition to the ADA requirements for posted signage, also consider making braille versions of emergency handouts available to stakeholders ahead of time so they can process the information before it’s needed.

3) Visibility. Not all people with vision impairments are completely blind – they may instead suffer from color blindness or poor eyesight. Make your emergency signage easier to decipher by relying on high-contrast colors and avoiding colorful art that someone who is color-blind may not be able to distinguish.

Emergency Communication Dos and Don’ts
DO: DON’T:
Adhere to the 3x9x27 rule. Tickers and other digital signage should stick to three topics during an emergency – “What is the event, what instructions do I follow, and where do I go for more information?” explains Dr. Denise Walker, Chief Emergency Management Officer for Houston-based Lone Star College. Each of the three topics should use nine words or less so the entire message can be delivered in no more than 27 words. Platforms that can handle longer messages, such as Facebook, should still feature no more than 50 words for brevity’s sake.

Watch your character count. Twitter can handle up to 140 characters, but try to avoid going over 90, Walker recommends. “A lot of carriers attach headers and footers to messages. If you stay within 90 characters, you’re more likely to keep your message contained within one text instead of spilling over into multiple messages.”

Keep it concise. “Multiple texts can be a problem,” Walker says. “Depending on the system, you might get the second message before the first. If there’s a delay, people may be confused as to what you’re trying to say.”

Standardize messaging across platforms. The same message you used for Twitter and texting works for voicemail too, but make sure you repeat the location at the beginning and end of the message so no one misses it. “A lot of time, when people pick up a mobile device, they may miss the first couple words,” Walker notes. “If the first couple of words are the location, you may confuse people and generate more calls to your dispatch center.”

Practice. Test the system regularly and make it a part of fire or lockdown drills, Walker recommends.

Assume every area is covered. Walker once inspected a K-12 institution in Texas that did a great job indicating points of egress and ensuring comprehensive security camera coverage, but forgot to include the loading dock in the drill.

“This lockdown drill was the first ever for this school, and what we saw was quite alarming,” says Walker. “There was an individual who was hearing-impaired out there. No one was around and he didn’t have a cell phone. He had no idea it was going on. It was obvious he knew something was happening because there was no activity around him, but he didn’t know what action to take. It wasn’t until the exercise was over that he realized it was a lockdown drill and he was supposed to take cover. Had he been in an actual emergency situation, he may have been injured or killed because the loading dock was a point of entry. That’s the danger of not having adequate signage.”

Skimp on language translation. One school realized many parents couldn’t read their English-only announcements, so they decided to take some initiative and use free online translation tools to tailor their messages to their audience. There was just one problem – automated tools can’t assess intent.

“They learned the hard way that when you say drill in English and run it through a free translation tool, you end up with the Spanish word for hammer. The message made no sense whatsoever,” Walker says. “It’s imperative that you’re sensitive when you deliver messages in multiple languages. It may cost you a few dollars to hire a language service, but it’s worth it. Some areas also have free language banks – Houston, for example, has a language bank that will convert emergency messages at no cost into more than 120 languages.”

Neglect stairwells. High-rise buildings in particular are vulnerable to inadequate signage in this area. “When you’re in a stairwell, is there a sign telling me which floor I can go back out on?” Walker asks. “I may not be able to go from level 3 to level 5 – I might have to get out on 6 instead.”

IS YOUR FACILITY PREPARED?
Don’t wait until a threat is looming to review your signage. The sooner you can assess whether your current setup is viable, the better.

Conduct a thorough walkthrough of your facility to check for risk. Try to look at your building through the eyes of an occupant or guest.

“Look at where you have people working, but also consider places that aren’t typically work areas or where something temporary is happening,” says Lynch. “One thing we run into often is a lack of signage on doorways or closed doors where someone wouldn’t know whether the door leads to an actual exit or another room. When we conduct audits, one of the things we look at is whether it’s apparent where someone would go to find a stairwell or exit the building.”

Keep an eye out for any rooms that aren’t marked, Lynch adds. They may not contain anything dangerous, but you don’t want an occupant mistaking a storage room for an exit door or a place to shelter when seconds count.

“FMs who take a critical eye and think like an occupant or visitor could probably identify many of these problems themselves,” says Lynch. “They know their buildings better than anyone coming in. Outside observers can provide a fresh set of eyes – we may look at things more critically than someone who sees the building every day.”

When you inspect exit doors and routes, take a minute to examine egress on the other side as well, Lynch recommends. At each door, imagine someone with a mobility impairment is trying to escape the building – could they safely get away from the building if they used that door?

“We had one client who had a 4- by 4-foot cement pad you would land on when you exited the doorway, but beyond it was a grass area with a hill,” Lynch explains. “The occupancy was a senior living facility and some of the tenants used wheelchairs. They were supposed to get up this hill to get away from the building.”

Areas where hazardous chemicals are stored or potentially dangerous equipment is used should have warning signs, as should temporary hazards such as construction areas or stairwells that are temporarily out of service. Keep track of them – as well as the locations of all other signage – on a map or in a computerized work order system so it’s easy to go back and inspect them regularly in the future. This is especially important for lit exit signs and other emergency signage where periodic inspections are mandatory.

“Emergency lighting and signage should be incorporated in your routine inspections of the entire facility,” says Lynch. “Have a way to verify that you have actually checked all of them – there are so many clients who just do it ad hoc or assume they checked something. A lot of people don’t do the required functional testing, so make sure that’s part of your preventive maintenance plan – it’s crucial.”

Janelle Penny janelle.penny@buildings.com is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.

Trinity portable wind turbines get upgraded and scaled up

Trinity portable wind turbine

Four sizes of micro-turbines, designed to be portable personal wind energy stations, are in the works from Janulus.

Early last year, we covered the launch of a tiny portable wind turbine and battery combo, the Trinity, which promised to be small wind’s counterpart to the portable solar charger revolution. While the price of the device seemed a bit on the high side (when compared on a dollars/watt basis with small solar panels), the Kickstarter campaign was able to garner enough pledges to reach and go beyond its original goal.

Those first Trinity wind energy stations were just shipped to backers this month, and the folks behind the device are already back again seeking crowdfunding for upgraded and scaled up versions of the Trinity, all with battery storage, and including several with integrated inverters for directly powering AC devices. The largest of the new models, a 2500 W turbine with a 300,000 mAh battery, is said to be powerful enough to supply electricity for a tiny house, RV, or even to charge an electric car.

Trinity portable wind turbine© Janulus
The new Trinity portable wind turbines range in size from the 50 W model, which could be an appropriate personal gadget charger (DC/USB charging only), which can be had for a pledge of $369, to the larger 400 W ($999), 1000 W ($2799), and 2500 W ($5599) models. The units are said to begin producing electricity in wind speeds as low as 2 m/s (4 mph), and the blades can be deployed in a vertical orientation for high wind speed applications.

Both the 1000 W and 2500 W models have an onboard grid tie inverter, so the device can be plugged directly into an outlet to supply AC electricity for powering standard household appliances without requiring any additional wiring or electrical wizardry (your mileage may vary on this, as electricity can be dangerous, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, consult an expert first). The above photo of the 2500 W Trinity unit installed at a home and charging a Tesla Model S appear to be just for show, as the turbines look to be in the wind shadow of the house, which seems to be in conflict with how wind turbines should be deployed.

According to the campaign page, one of the big advantages of these micro-turbines is their light weight and portability, with the largest of the models weighing in at just 42 lb (19 kg), and the optional quick release mount aims to provide a stable platform while in operation. The lithium-ion battery packs in the Trinity turbines come with a 2-year warranty, and are replaceable, and the accompanying smartphone app allows users to see power production stats in realtime, along with access to historical data on wind speeds and electricity generation.

Green Capital For Greener Buildings: GRESB Green Bond Guidelines for the Real Estate Sector

The property sector has recently received significant attention related to climate change and sustainability efforts, and rightfully so. Contributing one-third of global carbon emissions and consuming 40% of global energy and resources, 25% of water and 60% of electricity (in Europe and the US, this is even over 80%), the real estate sector constitutes one of the greatest potential opportunities to address environmental issues including climate change, while also creating economic opportunity for investors and asset owners. Market transformation to a more efficient, more sustainable real estate sector will require an astounding amount of capital, and green bonds have emerged as a potential and promising financing source.

GRESB released Green Bond Guidelines for the Real Estate Sector last week. These Guidelines are intended to complement the seminal Green Bond Principlesthrough refinement and specification of its four pillars – Use of Proceeds, Process of Project Evaluation and Selection, Management, and Reporting – for the real estate sector. Property company issuers, green bond underwriters and investors can use the Guidelines to identify Eligible Green Projects and specify metrics and reporting constructs that are most appropriate for their particular objectives.

Here’s the why, how, and who on green bonds and the GRESB Guidelines.

 

WHY

In 2014, global corporate bond issuance totaled $3.35 trillion while green bond issuance totaled $36.6 billion; about 1% of total market volume. While there is certainly significant talk about green bonds, actual transactions to date have been relatively few, particularly within the property sector. Notable green bonds issued by property companies include Vasakronan and Unibail-Rodamco in Europe; Regency Centers and Vornado in the United States; and Stockland in Australia. If we consider the 303 companies included in the FTSE/EPRA NAREIT Global Real Estate Index as representative of the potential property company universe, only 1.7% have issued green bonds to date with only two issuing multiple green bonds.

So what’s the hold-up?  Why aren’t more property companies tapping into the green bond marketplace? The consistent feedback provided to GRESB by key stakeholders, including institutional real estate investors, the most active banks in green bond underwriting, and property companies, is the need for sector-specific guidance detailing 1) how the Green Bond Principles may be applied and fulfilled in property investment, and 2) metrics that can be used to identify eligible green projects and report outcomes to investors.

Broad-based issuer and investor uptake requires simple, standardized, streamlined metrics and processes setting the stage for scaling the green property bond market. Unlocking this capital drives further real estate market transformation and the massive potential for positive environmental outcomes hidden in plain sight.

 

HOW

The 2015 Green Bond Principles are explicit in encouraging flexible frameworks allowing property sector practitioners latitude to implement practical strategies that result in increasing both energy and water efficiency, reducing Scope I and Scope II carbon emissions, maintaining biodiversity, and providing resiliency for the future. The 2015 Green Bond Principles address eight categories of environmental impact:

  • Renewable energy
  • Energy efficiency (including efficient buildings)
  • Sustainable waste management
  • Sustainable land use (including sustainable forestry and agriculture)
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Clean transportation
  • Sustainable water management (including clean and/or drinking water)
  • Climate change adaptation

Each of these eight important environmental categories is present within the framework of every rigorous green building rating system in existence worldwide – BREEAM, DGNB, Green Star, HK-BEAM, LEED, and Living Building Challengeto name a few. The real estate industry has a long history of addressing environmental impacts through the use of rating systems certified by independent third parties. Green building certification systems provide well-established frameworks that define fundamental terms and concepts, address multiple environmental impacts, and measure outcomes across all asset lifecycle phases. Certified buildings are widely recognized as “green” by real estate industry practitioners, within government policies, and among the general public.

The leading green building rating systems worldwide have issued over 82,000 ratings related to green building projects:

Rating System Certified Projects
  BREEAM 24,000
  DGNB 1,165
  ENERGY STAR 26,800
  Green Star 865
  HK-BEAM 665
  LEED 26,550
  NABERS 2,035
Total 82,080

 

There is ample evidence that certified green buildings are more efficient on average than standard code-compliant buildings resulting in environmental benefits and economic payoffs important to a green bond’s risk profile.

  1. Market-based studies by the US National Academies of Science, New Buildings Institute, CoStar, UC San Diego, CBRE, Green Star Australia,University of Arizona, Rocky Mountain Institute, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Deloitte, and Jones Lang LaSalle consistently and repeatedly attest to the advantages delivered by certified green buildings.
  2. Individual case studies published by BREEAM, Australia’s Green Star, World Green Building Council, US General Service Agency, Johnson Controls,BuildingGreen, Harvard University, McGraw Hill and the Canadian Green Building Council further showcase the environmental and economic benefits for certified green buildings.
  3. Recent research from Harvard Business School and the University of Oxforddemonstrates that companies engaged in ESG-based business practices deliver superior economic outcomes.

 

Indicators and Assurances

The GRESB Green Bond Guidelines for the Real Estate Sector leverage the wide adoption of green building schemes by focusing on green building certification frameworks and energy ratings as foundational metrics that signal “green” to investors in line with government regulations and accepted industry norms.

Rigorous green building certification systems require performance-based measurements along multiple environmental categories and are backed up by comprehensive documentation. Energy ratings such as Energy Star and NABERS demonstrate operational efficiencies through peer-based ranks. Implicit within these certifications is the independent verification that provides the backbone for green bond assurance.

Certified green buildings are applicable for both verifying the selection of Eligible Green Bond Projects and reporting outcomes to investors. Using well-established industry metrics results in a streamlined approach for underwriters and lower costs for bond issuers.

The GRESB Green Bond Guidelines go further by suggesting optional metrics for reporting more granular environmental impacts on asset level GHG emissions, renewable energy, water consumption, waste management and stakeholder engagement, alongside the issuer’s overall ESG profile or rating. This ESG profile provides additional context useful when validating the issuer’s prior track record of engagement, selecting Eligible Green Projects, and providing assurance and ongoing investor reporting.

Combined with independent verification underlying rigorous green building certifications and benchmarked energy ratings, a corporate ESG profile may even serve as an alternative to second party opinions which assess and verify the project selection process of the issuer.

 

WHO

Close ties to capital market participants and real estate industry stakeholders motivated and informed the development of the GRESB Real Estate Sector Guidelines. Drawn from recommendations by experienced green property bond originators, underwriters, and investors, these Guidelines provide sector guidance for the full spectrum of real estate investors. Engagement pathways exist for the most environmentally progressive portfolio owners and for those just beginning to consider transitioning their assets to higher levels of sustainability and efficiency.

GRESB is a global, industry driven organization with more than 150 members, comprised of institutional real estate investors, property companies and funds, real estate solution providers and advisors in 59 countries worldwide.  In 2014, 637 listed property companies and funds participated in the global GRESB benchmark, reporting sustainability data on over 56,000 properties covering $2.1 trillion in asset value. Green bonds as a source of financing linked to disclosure of improved environmental outcomes is aligned with GRESB’s mission to create transparency regarding the sustainability performance of the global real estate sector.

Going forward, GRESB will provide industry stakeholders a dynamic Green Bond Working Group designed to bring together potential issuers, underwriters and investors capable of further catalyzing green property bond transactions through information sharing and evolving best practices.

 

LEARN MORE

The Green Bond Guidelines for the Real Estate Sector are publicly available:

Posted by GRESB: https://www.gresb.com

Posted by ICMA on the Green Bond Principles website:http://www.icmagroup.org/Regulatory-Policy-and-Market-Practice/green-bonds/resources-for-gbp-use-of-proceeds/