Making it Easier to be Green
Green design includes energy conservation, but that's not what it's all about. It's about having good air quality both indoors and outdoors, making the environments in which we work, live, study and play healthier and more comfortable and conserving all of our natural resources.
This site will provide a balanced, holistic view that includes advice about saving energy, water and other natural resources, improving indoor air quality, using environmentally responsible design and construction techniques and minimizing waste.

I will be focusing on interiors for three reasons:

  • We spend about 90% of our time indoors.
  • Buildings in the United States annually consume about 30% of our total energy and 75% of our electricity.
  • As a New York State Certified Interior Designer and a LEED Accredited Professional, I want to share my knowledge and expertise with you.
Sustainable design and construction can be done in many different styles and using a wide variety of materials. There are examples of healthy, sustainable, comfortable and inviting interiors for commercial, not-for-profit and residential clients on the web site for Interior Design Solutions.
You can use the labels on the sidebar to locate entries that you want to read. For instance, most people might want to look at the entries for "Green Homes," but "Green Finance" would be of more interest to professionals involved in the design, construction, management, financing and marketing of buildings.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

TIPS FOR GREENER RESTAURANTS --- INCREASING PROFITS BY REDUCING WASTE


If you own or operate a restaurant saving energy, water and other natural resources and limiting waste is not just citizenship, it's good business. By adopting environmenally sound practices you can improve your profit margin without raising prices or comprimising quality. 
Restaurants use five times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings and five times more energy in the kitchen than in the rest of the building.  And all of the energy you waste doesn’t just disappear --- it turns to heat and makes everyone uncomfortable unless you crank up the air conditioner.  The New York Restaurant Association estimates that a 10% decrease in energy costs has the same impact on operating income as a 1.26% increase in sales.

This blog entry offers practical ways to save energy and water and to reduce some other forms of waste, but the most valuable part of it is in  the “USEFUL RESOURCES” section. That’s where you’ll find web sites with a wealth of information and the email address of someone who can arrange for a free audit of your restaurant sponsored by the New York Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

SAVE ENERGY   
  • Make sure that all equipment is in good operating order, including heating and ventilating systems, appliances, and lighting controls.  Filters should be changed and coils should be cleaned often, especially in a restaurant.
  • Only run equipment when you need to.  During slower times, turn off things that are not in use.
  • When purchasing new appliances, computers or other equipment, get the most energy efficient models you can.  The EPA’s Energy Star designation is indicative of energy efficiency, but some of the listed items are even more efficient than others.
  • If you are installing new lighting, consider engaging a lighting designer who is a LEED Accredited Professional. Good lighting design is an art and a science.
  • For a very modest cost you can change old fashioned fluorescent bulbs to more efficient T8s.  You’ll not only save energy and money with this quick and easy change, the kitchen staff may feel more comfortable because more efficient lighting generates less heat.
  • Turn off computers and other electronic devices when they are not in use.  Electronic devices use some power even when they are off, so it’s best to plug them into a power strip and power that off.
  • Demand response systems or variable speed motors in range hoods can save a lot of money, both by reducing the energy consumed by blowers and by reducing the load on the heating and ventilation system.
SAVE WATER
·        Check for leaks. Everywhere.
·        Put aerators on faucets that you are not replacing.
·        Low-flow pre-rinse spray valves can save a lot of water.  They are inexpensive and easy to install.
·        If you are replacing plumbing fixtures or fittings purchase models that save water.  Low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets are being used in all the best places.
·        Appliances vary in their water consumption, just as they do in their energy consumption, so if you’re buying anything new get the most efficient model possible.
·        It’s even more important to save hot water than cold water, because heating water takes so much energy. Insulating pipes and equipment is an easy and inexpensive way to conserve hot water. 

REDUCE WASTE
  • Limit the use of disposable goods.
  • Recycle cooking oil.  Your cooking waste is someone else’s biodiesel fuel.
  • Track food waste and modify purchases accordingly.
  • Donate surplus food to food banks.
USEFUL RESOURCES

The New York State Restaurant Association Education Foundation has a Green Hospitality Initiative. There is a workbook on their site that you can use on your own, and they have an EPA grant that allows them to offer restaurants free audits for energy, water and waste.
http://nysraef.org/

Flex Your Power – Provides a very useful best practices guide for restaurants called Boosting Restaurant Profits with Energy Efficiency.  The following link will get you to the section of the site I just mentioned, but poke around a bit because there’s also quite a bit of useful advice in other sections:

Food Service Technology Center – Provides information about demand response kitchen exhaust, among other things. http://www.fishnick.com/ventilation/demandventilation/

Energy Star – Provides tips for saving energy and appliance efficiency ratings: 
www.energystar.gov

Saturday, November 12, 2011

WE ARE WHAT WE EAT --- AND WHAT WE BREATHE - RENOVATION TIPS FOR HEALTHIER INDOOR AIR

Good indoor air quality is important for our health and well-being. Studies by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Federal Government and private entities demonstrate correlations between improved indoor environments and increased productivity and measure that increase in terms of reduced absenteeism. Other studies show that students attending green schools have higher than average scores on standardized tests.
Indoor air quality is typically five times worse than outdoor air quality, and standard construction procedures can degrade air quality and increase health risks. But green design and construction can greatly improve the quality of the air we breathe and create healthier, more pleasant environments at little or no additional cost.
As buildings become more airtight to conserve energy, it is more important than ever to reduce the amount of pollutants and increase the amount of fresh air that we introduce into our homes, schools and businesses.

Here are a few simple steps that you can take to minimize problems with air quality.    
BUST THE DUST   
  • Air conditioning vents and equipment should be covered properly during the entire construction project.
  •  Window fans installed and used specifically for construction can help exhaust dust and fumes.
  • Possessions should be removed from the job site, if possible.  Anything left on the premises should be covered and placed in a separate, sealed-off space.
  • Whenever possible, windows should be left open while work is being done.  
  • Job sites should be kept clean and isolated from other areas.  
  • The filters in all air conditioners should be changed when construction has been completed and before occupancy.  It is best to use the highest rated filters that will fit the units.
  • Allow time for the dust to settle and be removed and for odors to dissipate before you move in. 
  • Consider replacing air conditioners with high-performance models that have improved filters.  A filter’s efficacy is indicated by its Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or “MERV.”  MERV ratings range from one to 16, with higher numbers being better.
MINIMIZE MOLD
  • Limit the use of organic building materials in wet or damp areas.  For instance, use moisture-resistant sheetrock in bathrooms, basements and other damp areas.  Use cement backer board for wet areas like showers.
  • Fresh air is especially important in moist areas and cooking areas.  Use bathroom fans and range hoods that vent to the outside, if possible.  
  • Bigger is not always better.  If you install new air conditioners, make sure that you don’t oversize them because a unit that is too powerful can cause problems with humidity and mold. 
FOCUS ON FUMES
  • Wood and bamboo products (whether used in construction materials or furniture) should have no added urea formaldehyde.     
  • Certain solids and liquids, especially composite products, paint, stains, adhesives, sealers and cleaning products emit gases called Volatile Organic Compounds (“VOCs”), and some VOCs have adverse health effects.  Use zero or low VOC materials, whenever possible.  Improvements are constantly being made to the  performance and toxicity limits of low-VOC products.
  • Avoid products containing vinyl (Poly Vinyl Chloride – “PVC”), whenever possible.  Studies have linked the use of such products with serious health problems, especially in children, and the manufacture of PVC releases material that the EPA considers hazardous.
  • Carpet, carpet pads and fabric can also emit toxins.  Organic textiles are not necessarily healthier, unless they are pesticide-free and untreated.
  • If you have a choice, opt for furniture manufactured with water-based or other low-VOC finishes.
  • Antique and vintage wood furniture that has its original finish will not off-gas.
USEFUL WEB SITES
EPA - Environmental Protection Agency - Provides useful advice for safeguarding our indoor and outdoor environments: www.epa.gov/gateway/learn
Green Seal, Greenguard and SCS – Organizations that test and certify products for lower toxic emissions:
http://www.scscertified.com/program_standards.php

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)- A not-for-profit organization that sets and administers voluntary standards for sustainable design and construction called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).  USGBC not only certifies buildings, it also accredits design and construction professionals. The web site includes a search engine for LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED APs) by practice area and zip code:www.usgbc.org
   

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Solar Decathlon - Market Appeal Contest


The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon consists of ten contests; architecture, market appeal, engineering communications, and affordability are evaluated by jurors or contest officials who are professionals in relevant fields. Comfort zone, hot water, appliances, and energy balance are measured contests. The final category is home entertainment category and involves completing certain defined tasks as well as hosting dinners and a movie night for neighbors, who vote for their favorites.

I served on the market appeal jury.  The criterea that we considered when evaluating the houses were:

Livability 
  • Does the design offer a safe, functional, convenient, comfortable, and enjoyable place to live?
  • Does it feature intuitive house controls?
  • Does it meet the unique needs and desires of the target client? 
Marketability 
  • Does the house have curb appeal, interior appeal, and quality craftsmanship?
  • How well do its sustainability features and strategies contribute to its marketability?
  • Does the house offer potential home buyers within the target market a good value? 
Buildability 
  • Would the construction documents enable a contractor to generate an accurate construction cost estimate and then construct the building as the design team intended it to be built?
  • Can the house's materials and equipment be immediately adopted and built in the private sector?
The top score for market appeal was awarded to "Self Reliance" by Middlebury College (Vermont). The team created a beautiful and comfortable two-bedroom home that seemed to have an ideal balance between public and private spaces.  And although no mention was made of LEED, this house addressed every aspect of sustainable design and construction.

This house would appeal strongly to potential homeowners in New England because the design, both inside and out, stays close to the vernacular architecture and extensive use is made of plentiful local materials.  For instance, the wooden floors were made of trees culled from the woods on campus and finished with a locally manufactured whey-based product.  The floors of the kitchen and entryway were made of Vermont slate, which would be easier to maintain in those areas than wood.

The kitchen is  especially attractive and features a glass wall that doubles as a greenhouse for fresh herbs and vegetable seedlings.
      


Photographs by Jim Tetro / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons from the Solar Decathlon



Good things come in small packages.  Recently I was privileged to serve as a juror for the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.  The Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. Each house could be no larger than 1,000 square feet, yet the students were able to create beautiful and comfortable homes. Small houses and lots are environmentally preferable in a number of ways, since they reduce the amount of materials needed to construct them as well as the amount of energy needed to heat, cool, and power the space. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

This year despite cloudy and rainy weather nearly half of the houses operated at net zero energy, which means that the energy generated by their solar arrays equaled or exceeded the energy they used.  Techniques used to reduce the energy load included:
  • Superior insulation, including thermally insulated windows
  • Strategic window shading devices such as overhangs, trellises and shutters 
  • Efficient HVAC systems, often incorporating energy recovery units
  • Efficient appliances and lighting
  • Energy reporting and management systems that facilitate occupant control    
A number of the teams reached beyond energy to address other challenges.  The University of Maryland team won the overall competition with their WaterShed. As the name implies, the house focuses on preserving a resource essential to life on earth --- potable water. The house is a model of how the built environment can help preserve watersheds everywhere by managing storm water onsite, filtering pollutants from greywater, and minimizing water use.  Rain water is collected and reused, a green roof reduces storm water runoff, landscaping features drought-resistant plants and constructed wetlands filter greywater that can then be used for irrigation.

The house is made more comfortable by reducing humidity with an innovative solar-thermal liquid-desiccant system developed by the university.  Controlling humidity not only enables people to feel more comfortable at higher temperatures, it also discourages mold growth.


Photographs by Jim Tetro / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gradually Greener


Often people view green design as an all-or-nothing scenario, but I routinely make incremental improvements in sustainability at little or no additional cost in all of my design projects.  For instance, a prestigious medical school asked me to make the floor that houses the offices of admissions and other critical student services comfortable and welcoming while ensuring that it was durable and flexible enough to periodically  accommodate very large groups.  I was able to incorporate a number of sustainable features into the design for the lobby and hallways at no additional cost.

The furniture is Greenguard Certified, which means that it has passed rigorous tests for indoor air quality.  The wood is  FSC Certified, which means that it meets the Forest Stewardship Council's standards for ensuring the preservation of precious natural resources.

The carpet tiles are from Interface, a leader in sustainable manufacturing that provides a model for "Doing well by doing good." The company's closed-loop process uses less water and energy than standard production.  I opted for a glueless installation, which improves indoor air quality and facilitates future replacement of tiles. Because this is a very high-traffic area I chose a purposely random pattern so that any new tiles can seamlessly blend with old ones. 

One of the major changes to my design practice as I became increasingly focused on the potential health impacts of certain materials has been to avoid using vinyl whenever possible. Suitably durable wallcovering alternatives are more expensive, so I only installed them on two relatively short walls where they would make the most impact (visually and for maintenance) and specified low-VOC paint everywhere else.

The client chose not to undertake lighting redesign at this point, but all of the fixtures were replaced with more efficient ones.

Below is a "Before" photograph of the same area.

      

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why A Patio Could Cause Problems


Greenwich, Connecticut is considering legislation that would require homeowners who want to increase the amount of non-permeable surfaces on their property to go through a procedure that includes evaluating and mitigating the environmental impact of potential stormwater runoff.

Local realtors are concerned that the legislation could decrease property values by making it more difficult and expensive for buyers to make changes to their property.  For instance obtaining permission to adds a stone patio, which is now a simple process, would become more complex.

Although environmental legislation sometimes does inconvenience individuals, such legislation is meant to benefit citizens. Stormwater runoff pollutes local water, and surely such pollution could impact property values more than regulations to avoid it would.  Another drawback to fully paved patios is erosion in the surrounding areas.

Having a high level of aesthetic discernment is essential to my interior design practice, and a hallmark of any good design is that it is appropriate for its context. Hopefully, this should make it easier for people who are concerned about   restrictions on pavement around their homes to take my word for it when I say that one of the most attractive and appropriate patio materials for a suburban or country home is, in my professional opinion, flagstone laid without mortar.

                

Monday, June 13, 2011

Warning “Green” Products May be Hazardous to Your Health



Green products are not always healthy products. As a matter of fact, some of them can kill people, either through their use or through their production and disposal. Green claims for such products make me see red.

Some materials commonly used in the construction and furnishing of buildings contain substances that are persistent bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs)* or contribute to the formation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs),** and should be avoided whenever possible. “Toxic” in this context refers to serious adverse health risks, such as cancer, birth defects or neurological or reproductive disorders. There are brief descriptions of PBTs and POPs at the end of this post.

Greenwashing is the deceptive use of marketing to promote a misleading perception that a company’s products or policies are environmentally friendly. It takes many forms, from making totally bogus claims to not providing information about negative impacts of a product that actually has some green aspect. The worst form of greenwashing, as far as I’m concerned, is making environmental claims to encourage people to use something that can have adverse health impacts.

Manufacturers of products containing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) such as vinyl wall coverings and floor coverings might claim that they are green because they contain high recycled content, but the manufacture and disposal of these products produces dioxins (persistent toxins that the EPA and National Academy of Sciences link to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems). Most vinyl products contain phthalates, PBTs that are continuously emitted from such products and that are linked to reproductive disorders. Yet at least one manufacturer of vinyl tiles has worksheets on its website showing how using its product can contribute to LEED certification.

Bamboo is a perfect example of a “natural and sustainable” material that should be carefully evaluated. Products containing bamboo are widely viewed as “green,” and they do all meet one of the criteria of sustainable design and construction. Because bamboo grows much more rapidly than trees, it does save natural resources, and using it can qualify for LEED points in the “rapidly renewable material” category. But most flooring materials and other products made with bamboo contain added urea formaldehyde, a type of volatile organic compound (VOC) which the EPA considers especially harmful. In addition, this “green” material is grown with pesticides, rainforests are sometimes clear-cut to create space to plant bamboo, and most bamboo growers are not committed to fair trade practices including fair compensation for employees.

Although post-consumer waste is considered better than postindustrial waste when it comes to conserving natural resources, how can we be sure that something contains no toxins if we cannot trace each ingredient it to its origin? An extreme example would be a product made from tires that had been used for vehicles operating in a hazardous waste dump.

When in doubt, just think of your mother saying “don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where it has been.” If you think that putting something in your mouth could cause health problems, perhaps you should think twice about using it. For professionals involved in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings one of the best ways to “know where it has been” is to read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the manufacturer of a product that you are thinking of using.

The Green Guide for Health Care puts considerably more emphasis on the potential health impacts of interior design, construction techniques, and product choices than other systems.

* Persistent bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) pollutants are chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in food chains and, thus, pose risks to human health and ecosystems. The biggest concerns about PBTs are that they transfer rather easily among air, water, and land, and span boundaries of programs, geography, and generations. (From the EPA website)

** Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains,[1] and to have potential significant impacts on human health and the environment. (From Wikipedia)

Friday, May 6, 2011

EPA Tips for a Healthier Home


I've written a number of blog entries on the importance of healthy indoor air, but because I'm a professional interior designer and LEED Accredited Professional most of my focus has been on sustainable design and construction.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has useful information about everyday measures to protect indoor air quality in your home.  The Indoor Air Quality House on the EPA site provides a room-by-room tour.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Appraising the Value of Green



I met real estate appraiser Tim Runde when we were both speakers at the recent GreenBuildingsNY show at the Javits Center, and I was pleased to learn of his analytical market-based method for establishing the value of green buildings and green improvements to existing buildings. Tim takes the recognition of green building as evidence of a new market force (sustainability) and describes how one can quantify its value impact. He was kind enough to share with me an article that he and Stacey Thoyre wrote for the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate (JOSRE) called "Integrating Sustainability and Green Building into the Appraisal Process." I am briefly summarizing some of the salient points in this blog entry, as well as including a link to the full article below.

Sustainability means many things to many people. Tim and Stacey suggest the following definition of sustainability for applied real estate valuation: "Sustainability is the principal of seeking to avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate adverse current and future social, environmental and economic impacts (externalities)."

The authors emphasize that green buildings and green features are more valuable in areas with sustainable orientations and present a three-step Sustainability Valuation Model that can be used to guide appraisers in valuing real property, both green and brown, now and as market conditions with respect to sustainability change. Such a model can help to (a) identify and measure ways in which sustainability impacts market value, and (b) price the impact.

Assessing the Market Uptake of Sustainability

A not surprising but often overlooked aspect in determining the value of green real estate is location, location, location. The impact of green building on asset value has a direct correlation to whether the market in which it is located is Sustainability-Oriented (SO) or Not Sustainability-Oriented (NSO).  Green buildings and green features are worth more in an SO market than in an NSO one.  Relating a building's level of greenness to its market's sustainability orientation is important so that the appraiser knows whether to adjust the subject building and its comparables for green (or brown) features.

Key indicators of the degree to which a specific market values and practices sustainable principles include:
  • Regulations and incentives, especially at the local level
  • Voluntary implementation of green beyond the compliance level by building owners and landlords
  • Prevalence of green buildings beyond those that might be mandated (such as government buildings)
  • Demand for green buildings by tenants and owner-occupiers
  • Active local USGBC chapter and/or other NGO's concerned with sustainable initiatives
  • Evidence of community uptake, such as triple waste stream recycling, hybrid cars and farmer's markets
The authors emphasize that studies using small-scale data sets designed to capture the nuances of specific markets can be more relevant than those reflecting mega-trends.

The Green Building Opportunity Index created by Cushman & Wakefield and BetterBricks provides valuable insight into the sustainability orientation of major real estate markets. It focuses on the primary factors that influence successful development, retro-fitting, leasing and sales of investment grade "green" office buildings in the 25 largest U.S. Central Business Districts and compares a market's relative position to its peers in six categories: Office Market Conditions, Investment Outlook, Green Adoption and Implementation, Local Mandates and Incentives, State Energy Initiatives and Green Culture.

Green features that add value in one market might not in another one. Markets can differ in their uptake on specific aspects of sustainable building due to factors such as scarcity of particular resources and differences in operational costs, like utility rates and waste removal. A cutting-edge green building in an SO market might include features that do not increase its asset value, and an otherwise brown building in an NSO market might incorporate certain green features that can increase its assest value.

Assessing the Building

For purposes of valuation, green features must be independently verifiable, and actual results must be consistent with modeled performance. The most commonly occurring categories of green building features are the following:
  • Energy Efficiency: Reduction in use of energy, especially non-renewable
  • Resource Use Efficiency: Water, materials and waste stream reduction
  • Site Efficiency: Location specific characteristics, such as proximity to transit and infill development
  • Quality of the Interior Environment: Daylighting, low emitting materials, green cleaning, etc.
Analysis of green features can be used to determine if the features add value (for example, by eliminating or significantly reducing energy demand from the grid), incur additional cost (for instance, by requiring replacement or special ongoing maintenance) and/or enhance marketability.

Assessing the Risk

Assessing potential risk is an important function of any appraisal. So in addition to the characteristics of the local and the individual building, the appraiser should consider the impact of any specific sustainability-related risks related to Resource Use, Obsolescence, Transparency, Externalities (ROTE) and make any necessary adjustments. ROTE risks like escalating energy costs and materials costs respond to global market forces and will adversely affect all properties, irrespective of the local market's sustainability orientation. Obsolescence risk can arise from outside the local market as well, due to state and federal legislation, and could affect the market by setting a new minimum standard for new construction, thus creating implied obsolescence for the existing building stock.

Valuation of Green Retrofits

Brown buildings in an SO market like New York City risk obsolescence. Tenants and buyers who are unwilling to pay a premium for green might demand a discount for brown. When there is clear evidence that the market is moving in the direction of green, a building might need certain features in order to meet the market standard, and the highest and best use analysis may need to include the financial feasibility of "greening up." The value of green retrofits in an SO market can include differentials in occupancy rates, rental income and sale prices, all of which may present a more compelling argument for green retrofits than the more commonly used method of focusing on ROI and payback periods for such improvements.

Proper Valuation Can be a Moving Target

The sustainability orientation of a market, and the "greenness" of a building's peers, will change over time and require monitoring, along with traditional market fundamentals like supply and demand, occupancy, net absorption, and rent levels. The important difference with sustainability is that the rate of change is rapid and can be sudden and unexpected. Information monitoring can be focused on the "big picture" rather than the primary local market and specific subject property. Examples of larger issues that should be considered are the new real estate sector-specific Global Reporting Initiative reporting requirements and proposed Federal legislation.

For Additional Information
The original article upon which this article is based is in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate
 

Green Cleaning and Greenwashing


I recently read an article in The New York Times entitled "As Shoppers Reduce Spending, Green Loses Allure," which turned out to be about shoppers' growing reluctance to pay a premium for cleaning products that have green labels but that are produced by major manufacturers of non-green products. The article goes on to say that smaller companies that offer exclusively green products are actually gaining market share. So perhaps what we're dealing with is at least partially a growing consciousness of greenwashing and distrust of unsubstantiated green labels. I'm not suggesting that major manufacturers are not reducing toxic chemicals in their greener products, but since the "recipes" for such products are proprietary, they are really asking potential buyers to take that on faith. Endorsements of cleaning products that are not based on tests by independent laboratories (or on full disclosure and scientific analysis of every ingredient) are meaningless, regardless of the prestige of the organization providing such endorsements, and are considered greenwashing. Although specialty brands might also keep certain things private, the fact that they make nothing but green products tends to inspire trust.

Green cleaning for commercial and institutional buildings is widely accepted, and the trend to use green cleaning products is growing. It's not because the owners and operators of such buildings care more about their occupants' health and well-being than people care about their families. It's because manufacturers of commercial cleaning products can, and do, voluntarily submit their products to highly respected independent laboratories for testing. Purchasers of products approved by Green Seal or Greenguard are assured that specific potentially harmful ingredients do not exceed certain levels.

For decades, if not longer, mothers of small children have said "Don't put that in your mouth; you don't know where it's been." As I pointed out in an article that I wrote for Sustainability: The Journal of Record, the old adage can be applied to what we put in our interiors, as well as our mouths. To a large extent, it is possible to clean house with things like baking soda, vinegar and lemons. So why pay a lot of money for something that you can't also use to prepare a meal?

As a professional interior designer who has always been concerned with the health and safety of my clients, I have often put locks on under-sink cabinets when there are small children in the home. But as a LEED Accredited Professional who specializes in indoor environmental quality, I now realize that highly toxic cleaning products do not belong in a home.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Saving Money by Saving Energy



The payback period for energy efficiency is getting shorter and shorter, and every parameter that we normally use to calculate it should probably be reevaluated. Typically, we calculate the payback period on energy efficiency as follows:

Payback Period = Cost of Improvement / (Kilowatts Saved * Cost Per Kilowatt)

The way in which this calculation is typically done may not include the following considerations:
  1. Most of our energy is still produced using fossil fuel, and the cost per kilowatt can be expected to escalate steeply.
  2. The total kilowatts saved by an energy efficiency improvement includes not only the watts saved directly by the new equipment, but also those saved by reducing the load on the air conditioning system because wasted watts generate heat.
  3. Reducing the air conditioning load can save money in two ways.  It can definitely reduce the cost of operating the existing equipment by saving energy. And it might also reduce the cooling capacity required in (and the cost of) new equipment.  
  4. When the energy efficient improvement involves replacing equipment that is toward the end of its useful life, we should not use the entire cost of the new system in calculating payback, but only the difference between the cost of the efficient system and a less efficient one.