Thursday, December 18, 2008

Upcoming events related to Sustainability

Here's a list of some upcoming events relating to green building and sustainability. Many listed here are located in Minnesota or the Midwest:

Growing Cooler: How Land Use Can Help Minnesota Reach Its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals. January 5, 2009. Minneapolis, MN.

Bringing Renewable Energy Home: Energy Policies To Maximize Energy Security And Economics. January 9, 2009. Northfield, MN.

University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Initiatives: Second Advanced Biomass Workshop. January 15, 2009. Morris, MN.

A Lumberyard's Perspective on Green Building. Northwestern Building Products Expo. January 19, 2009. Minneapolis, MN.

USGBC Mississippi Headwaters Chapter Recap of Greenbuild 2008 and Chapter meeting. January 20, 2009. St. Paul, MN.

Applying LCA Building Design - Easier than you Think! January 20, 2009. Long Beach, CA.

LEED® Core & Shell - Gold Tour: 8200 Tower. January 22, 2009. Bloomington, MN.

Green Building Basics and LEED. February 2, 2009. St. Paul, MN.

Introduction to Renewable Energy Options & Opportunities. February 7, 2009. St. Paul, MN.

Minnesota Renewable Energy Roundtable. February 9, 2009. Saint Paul, MN.

Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) 2009 Conference: Harnessing Resources & Teamwork for Minnesota’s Energy Future. February 10-11, 2009. St. Cloud, MN.

Green Building Programs: Are they Really Leading to Green? Wood Solutions Fair. February 24, 2009. Raleigh, NC.

Forest Values and Carbon Markets: Opportunities for Minnesota. February 25-26, 2009. Cloquet, MN.

Minnesota Shade Tree short Course. March 17-18, 2009. Arden Hills, MN.

Enhancing the Bottom Line through Certified Forest Products: A Primer for Wholesalers and Retailers. March 29, 2009. Plymouth, MN.

WindEnergy Business 2009: US-German Opportunities for Cooperation in Wind Energy. February 24, 2009. Chicago, IL.

Solar Energy: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Photovoltaics. April 4, 2009. White Bear Lake, MN.

Solar Energy: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Solar Water Heating. April 18, 2009. White Bear Lake, MN.

Residential Energy Auditor Training. Jan. 12 – 16, 2009, Feb. 23 – 27, 2009, April 20 – 24, 2009, May 11 – 15, 2009

Living Green Expo. May 2-3, 2009.

Greening the Heartland Conference. May 31-June 2, 2009. Detroit, MI.

Materials are only Green in Relation to Each Other. SWST Annual Meeting. June 24, 2009. Boise, ID.

The Eco-Experience at the Minnesota State Fair. August 27-September 7, 2009. Saint Paul, MN.

EEBA Excellence in Building Conference & Expo. September 28-30. Denver, CO.

2009 Minnesota Solar Tour. October 9, 2009. Various locations in Minnesota.

Greenbuild. November 11-13, 2009. Phoenix, AZ.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Changes to LEED Professional Accreditation

The USGBC has recently approved the latest standard LEED 2009, and now they are also unveiling a new accreditation program for professionals. There are going to be some changes in LEED 2009 for sure, but one major change is how the accreditation process is going to work. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), formed by the USGBC, has been in charge of implementing these changes and helping professionals learn more about LEED.

Accreditation Program Changes
Here are the major changes from the old AP program to the new one:

  • There will be three levels of accreditation, called tiers (see below).
  • All exam levels will have eligibility requirements
  • As the standards evolve, additional testing will be required, in addition to continuing education hours. $50 credential maintenance fees occur every two years.
  • Levels of Accreditation
    The three tiers, according to GBCI, are as follows:

    Tier I
    LEED Green Associate: Evoking good environmental practice and being the first step in the LEED professionals career pathway the LEED Green Associate credential attests to demonstrated knowledge and skill in understanding and supporting green design, construction, and operations.

    Tier II
    LEED AP+ : The LEED AP+ credential signifies an extraordinary depth of knowledge in green building practices and specialization in a particular field: commercial building design & construction, commercial operations & maintenance, commercial interiors, residential design & construction, and neighborhood development.

    LEED AP Fellow: LEED Fellows enter an elite class of leading professionals who are distinguished by their years of experience and a peer review of their project portfolio. Fellows contribute to the standards of practice and body of knowledge for achieving continuous improvement in the green building field.

    Specialty Tracks
    There are also 5 specialty tracks to pursue (for LEED AP+):
    • Operations and Maintenance (old EB) 2009 O&M
    • Residential Design and Construction (HOMES) 2009 HOMES
    • Building Design and Construction (old NC) 2009 BD&C
    • Interior Design and Construction (old CI) 2009 ID&C
    • Neighborhood Development (ND) 2010 ND
    Continuing Education Requirements
    LEED Green Associate: 15 hours required every two years, 3 of which must be from an approved program specific to the LEED Rating System, credit categories, and LEED updates

    LEED AP+: 30 hours required every two years, 6 of which must be from an approved program specific to the LEED Rating System, credit categories, and LEED updates

    LEED Fellow: information not available at this time
    Changes to the Exam Format
    There are a few changes to the exam format itself. For LEED Green Associates, the exam is computer-issued, multiple choice, and takes up to 2.5 hours. The LEED AP+ exam has two parts, the core exam (same as the LEED Green Associates exam) and a specialty examination on one of tracks listed above. The LEED AP+ exam may last 4 hours. If only one portion of the exam is passed, you have three chances and one year to retake that portion until you pass. Qualifications for LEED Fellow are still under development.
    Credential Fees
    In addition to seminars, study guides, and handbooks, the following costs apply:

    LEED Green Associate:
    $50 application fee; $150 USGBC National Member fee per exam appointment ($200 for non-members); $50 maintenance fee (every two years).

    LEED AP+: $100 application fee; $300 USGBC National Member fee per exam appointment ($450 for non-members); $50 maintenance fee (every two years). Additional specialty exams are each $150.00 members ($200.00 non-members) plus the application fee.

    LEED Fellow: $50 maintenance fee (every two years); other requirements are currently being developed.
    Existing LEED AP's
    If you are currently a LEED AP, you will now be known as a "Legacy LEED AP" and have two years to "opt in" to the new system, beginning June 2009. Until you opt in your status will be listed as inactive. You must sign the disciplinary policy and agree to complete the required hours of credential maintenance to officially opt in (30 hours continuing education every 2 years, 6 of which must be LEED-based). Once opted in, you will be able to use the new LEED AP+ designation and be listed in the active registry (after the second exam is passed). If you choose to not opt in, your LEED AP status will be listed as inactive until June 2011, at which point you will be required to fulfill eligibility requirements and retake the test. The fee for opting in is waived until June 2011, at which point it becomes $50 for credential maintenance every two years (same maintenance fee as for non-current LEED AP's).

    To obtain additional designation as a LEED AP+ (ie, pursue a specialty track), a current LEED AP that has opted in only has to take the specialty track portion of the test. This costs $150 for USGBC National members and $250 for non-members for each exam appointment.

    The beta testing for Tier 1 (LEED Green Associate), and also LEED AP Operations and Maintenance exam will begin in February 2009. More beta exams will be launched first and second quarter of 2009. Stay tuned for more information as it develops.

    For more information on the new LEED Accreditation, visit GBCI or email

    Minnesota Rebate Update

    The CERTS network has just released updates on energy happenings across Minnesota, including the MN Solar Hot Water Rebate (there is still $46,000 available) and the MN Solar Electric Rebate Program (program is now full but they are taking applications for a waiting list in case the program is extended). There is also information on the MHFA's Micro-Energy Loan Program and Fix-up Fund for residential home energy improvements, updates to Minnesota Schools Cutting Carbon (deadline is December 15th) as well as information on what is happening in each region in Minnesota.

    Click here to see the full update, or to see what is happening in your region.

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    Green Building in Crookston

    The University of Minnesota, Crookston, is hosting an event to provide education about green building, economic development, and responsible materials. See below for more information.

    Director of Eco-Affordable Housing Program at Minneapolis-based Dovetail Partners to Speak Tuesday, December 9, 2008, at the U of M, Crookston at 7 p.m. in Bede Ballroom

    Contact: Elizabeth Tollefson, assistant director of communications, 218-281-8432 (

    Crookston, Minn. (December 3, 2008) – With a focus on sustainability, the University of Minnesota, Crookston will feature guest speaker Alison Lindburg, director of the Eco-Affordable Housing Program at the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Dovetail Partners, Inc. The event, sponsored by Crookston Students for Sustainable Development and a grant funded by the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), is at 7 p.m. in the Sargeant Student Center Bede Ballroom. The public is welcome and admission is free.

    Lindburg, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture with a focus on sustainable design, is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional. Through her work at Dovetail Partners, Lindburg has worked with economic development and housing interests in many communities and presented at educational conferences across the country. Raised in a rural community herself, she is deeply committed to addressing housing challenges and is dedicated to energy-efficient design and the use of responsible building materials.

    LEED, a green building rating system, provides technical criteria for environmentally sustainable construction. A new residence hall, slated to open in summer 2009 on the Crookston campus, received LEED certification. Students, Chris Waltz and Erick Elgin led the effort for the certification of the $10.6 million, 128-bed facility. The certification verifies that a building project meets the highest green building and performance measures.

    The mission of Dovetail Partners is to provide authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use, and policy alternatives. To learn more, visit

    For more information on the event, contact Chris Waltz at

    Today the University of Minnesota, Crookston delivers more than 25 applied-science undergraduate degree programs and 50 concentrations, including several online degrees, in agriculture; arts, humanities and social sciences; business; math, science and technology; and natural resources. To learn more, visit

    To learn more about Dovetail Partners, visit


    Monday, December 1, 2008

    Wood is Good - Choosing Wood Flooring

    It's no secret that I believe that one of the biggest misconceptions in green building is that we need to find replacements for wood. Wood is a great building material - it's non-toxic, renewable, durable, and natural. It can be reused, refinished, or recycled. And now wood products are available that come from sustainably-managed forests, so you can be sure that the trees are harvested in a way that considers ecosystem and environmental impacts as well as ensures rights to the workers that harvest them.

    Because of the number of flooring options out there, choosing the best "eco-friendly" wood flooring can still be a confusing ordeal. Fortunately, there are some great resources to help you make an informed decision. Remember that in addition to considering the items outlined below, choosing a local product is one of the most sustainable things you can do. And be sure to check out Some Dos and Don'ts of Picking Green Products.

    Wood Characteristics - A simple overview of the different characteristics of wood, including color, character, durability, and hardness

    Flooring types - Explains the difference and benefits between veneers, solid wood, and engineered wood flooring

    Wood Certification - Forest certification originated from a desire to positively impact social, economic, and environmental issues in the forestry sector. The certification systems of today are similar to each other and cannot easily be categorized as one better than another; this link provides an unbiased resource to learn more about the different systems.

    Bamboo Flooring - Some basics about bamboo. Bamboo is great because it's natural, durable, and rapidly renewable, but not all bamboo is created equal; sustainable forest certification is especially important for bamboo. For more information on this topic, try the report, Bamboo, Environmental Silver Bullet or Faux Savior?

    Flooring Installation - The different types of wood flooring installation, and some tips and facts to remember when choosing your installation method. Also try this link to Subfloors and Finishes, which can help if you're thinking of installing over concrete or radiant heated floors.

    Wood Care and Maintenance - Wood is a durable material and can last for centuries if properly installed and cared for. Here are some tips to keeping your wood strong and beautiful.

    Friday, November 28, 2008

    The Natural Step Framework

    In March I will be going to Sweden to study eco-communities and Sweden's approach to sustainability. One big contribution we'll be learning about is the Natural Step process. The framework of the Natural Step is broken into four basic concepts.

    1. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust. Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, meaning that we cannot completely get rid of anything mined from the earth, and chemicals and toxins we create from earth's minerals do not simply disappear over time. Anything we bring into our atmosphere is forever ours.

    2. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to the systematically increasing concentrations of substances produced by society. We are creating synthetic substances much faster than they can be broken down. Of the over 70,000 chemicals not commonly used*, many do not break down easily and can move easily into other ecosystems. Some chemicals are known to cause cancers, interfere with brain development, and are increasingly found in many species of animals, including humans.

    3. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing degradation by physical means.
    Natural systems, such as land, water, forests, soil, ecosystem, not only provide us with places of recreation and peace, but are also our life-support systems for oxygen, water, food, and carbon sequestration. Human activity is currently breaking down natural systems faster than they can replenish themselves.

    4. In the sustainable society, people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.
    In order for sustainability to succeed, the basic human needs of air, water, food, and shelter need to be satisfied first.

    Movement toward any one of these goals is good, but the most sustainable projects are ones that strive to achieve the four conditions simultaneously. The Natural Step outlines four guiding objectives that stem from these conditions that can help communities obtain these goals successfully.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Greenbuild and Greening the Economy

    I just returned from Boston for Greenbuild, the nation's largest green building conference. While I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of affordable methods to build green and information for rural communities, I came away very inspired and hopeful that America may finally be moving in the right direction, and that sustainability for all might one day be possible.

    One of the master speakers was Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy. He gave an inspirational speech on how green jobs will both fix our economy and positively impact climate change. He also stressed the importance of our new president - not as the first black president, but as the first green president who is dedicated to improving sustainability, and how that is something everyone in the country will benefit from.

    We should never lose sight of why we are doing what we're doing - Van Jones
    In order to make green jobs successful, a complete shift toward sustainable thinking is needed. The only true way to get us out of this economic slump will be to invest in sustainability and green jobs, and basically do the opposite of the current model of our failed economy. Jones spoke of three shifts we need to make:

    -Local Production. We're the largest consumers in the world, not producers. We currently consume 5-7% more than we produce, something that in Nature simply could never sustain itself.Shifting production of goods locally will not only produce more green jobs in our country, it also poses an opportunity to bring social benefits to everyone. And of course using local materials minimizes negative environmental impacts as well.

    -Thrift. Our economy is powered by debt instead of smart savings, by credit instead of creativity, by borrowing instead of building. In Nature, nothing is free and no animal can survive a winter without harvesting and rationing energy wisely. In addition to saving money and being smarter about monetary choices, we should be more thrifty in our consumption as well. Think smaller homes, smaller cars, and more energy-efficient everything, and nothing bought on credit. Reward those that are doing a good job, not those that are failing.

    -Environmental Restoration. Our economy runs on environmental devastation instead of protection and restoration. This model is simply not sustainable as there is no such thing as an endless supply of anything in Nature. Every choice we make needs to have an environmental focus. Choose materials and methods of energy that are renewable and durable, and practices that give back to the environment instead of taking away.

    It seems so logical, doesn't it?

    So where do we start? Looking at green building standards and finding good information at places like Dovetail's Eco-Affordable Housing Program is one good place to begin. According to Greenbuild master speaker Kevin O'Connor from television series This Old House, America currently has over 125 million homes that were built before today. So while looking at new construction is important, we need to be retrofitting America first to really change how our buildings are impacting the environment. It's also a great place to build some green jobs. Minnesota currently has its own green remodeling standards - among the very first in the country. Click here for more information on Minnesota GreenStar.
    We need to retro-fit America - Van Jones
    I found his speech very inspirational and believe that this economic downturn, while difficult, will prove to be the very thing we need to become more sustainable as a whole. It's really exciting, if only we can remember that now we're free to fly or fall - and we have the choice of which way to go. We can no longer ignore sustainability - it is going to be the thing to make us succeed instead of being something to be afraid of.

    One thing to note is that as green building shifts even further to the mainstream and more green jobs become available, those of us that have been doing green for a long will no longer be the alternative, we will be the cornerstone of the industry and the economy. It is important that we are informed by good information and that we continue to help others who ask for it, even though we are essentially competing for a piece of the green pie. This shift is already becoming apparent at Greenbuild, where vendors were much more informed of environmental jargon than last year, and which was attended by more green building consultants than ever. Let's continue to help each other by both being open with our environmental information and also choosing sustainability for the wellness of our society as a whole.

    Van Jones's speech can be found here.

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    20/20 Community Development Expo

    If you are interested in sustainable community development, there is another upcoming conference that might fit the bill.

    The 20/20 Community Development Expo, hosted by the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD) and the Local Initiatives Support Corporative (LISC), will focus on what needs to happen for Minnesota's communities in the future. Some sessions include Neighborhood Recovery from Foreclosures, Regional Growth and Opportunity, Building Sustainable Communities, Transit Investment, Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Equity Agendas, Building Stronger Communities, and more. All of these areas sound like great opportunities for rural and/or small communities in which to incorporate sustainability.

    The 20/20 Community Development Expo
    November 19 & 20th
    Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis
    Early bird registration ends November 7th!

    Friday, October 31, 2008

    Bowling in the Fog

    Yesterday I attended the first annual Twin Cities Compass meeting. I'd never heard of this resource before, but it looks like a great place from which to gather information on a variety of topics (including education, health, civic engagement, early childhood, economy and workforce, housing, public safety, and transportation) and easily compare them to each other. The information is currently focused on the greater Twin Cities region, but it looks as though they are hoping to expand it to "Minnesota Compass" sometime in the future.

    At the meeting they unveiled their new data in the area of environmental issues in Minnesota. The results are pretty amazing, and the meeting really honed in the idea that information on where we currently stand on environmental is really so important in order to measure our progress. It's time to stop bowling in the fog, as Peter Hutchinson from the Bush Foundation said. Things always look better than they really are in the dark, so it's time to turn on the lights. We, as people trying to "green" the built environment, need to keep up with this type of data to ensure that we're putting our efforts where they have the greatest and longest-lasting impact.

    Click here for information on the environmental indicators for the Twin Cities area.

    Twin Cities Compass is looking for feedback and other sources of reliable data, so please contact them if you have any.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    The Natural Step - training seminars in Minnesota

    We had our first meeting for the GSE trip to Sweden last night. We basically went over some of the information that will be needed to from the Rotary Club in order to go on the trip. It was so great to meet all of the other women that are going on the trip; they all have incredible stories and a passion to learn about sustainability can be incorporated into their lives and careers. It is going to be a really interesting and educational trip!

    In Sweden, one thing we will be learning about is the Natural Step process, but thankfully you don't have to go all the way there to learn about it yourself; there are local seminars as well. It's very short notice, but the Alliance for Sustainability is hosting a two-day Natural Step Framework Seminar on Oct 30 & Nov 6 at the Edina Community Lutheran Church. The cost is $95. More information can be found here.

    If you are not able to make these dates and will still like more information, the pdf of the Powerpoint presentation by Terry Gips is available for download here. Thank you to the Alliance for providing this information!

    I will post more information on locally-available resources as this GSE trip moves forward. Three great sources to learn more about sustainability in Minnesota include:

    NextStep - A website for Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN) and others to use to share information about events, networking opportunities, and resources all related to environmental sustainability.

    Alliance for Sustainability - Their mission is to bring about personal, organizational & planetary sustainability through support of projects that are ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane. Included in their list of many projects are the Natural Step Framework, The Living Green Expo, Sustainable Sweden Tours, and the Green City Initiatives.

    Dovetail Partners - Dovetail's mission is to provide authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use, and policy alternatives by creating inventive solutions to challenging questions.
    Some of their projects and areas of expertise include Land Use, Responsible Trade & Consumption, the Eco-Affordable Housing program and the Minnesota-Made Home project, Sustainable Forestry and the FSC Family Forest Alliance, and their monthly e-newsletter The Outlook, which reaches over 10,000 subscribers every month.

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Sweden Group Study Exchange

    I was selected to go on the Rotary Club's Group Study Exchange to Sweden!

    I am very honored and excited; it's going to be a great trip. I will be documenting the experience on this blog so continue checking in so you can learn as I am learning. Hopefully the ideas will facilitate more rural green building and generate creative conversations about developing eco-communities in Minnesota (and beyond). The posts should also serve as a resource to connect you to Swedish professionals and information on different aspects of sustainability and green building.

    is a link to Dovetail's press release about the exchange.
    Here is a link to more about the Group Study Exchange program.

    If anyone has any suggestions for places and projects to explore, or has any special requests in items they'd like to see posted on this blog specifically for the tour, please let me know.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Taking Natural Steps and Looking to the Bright Side

    Yesterday I took part in an interview for the Rotary Club's Group Student Exchange (GSE) program to Sweden. I didn't know much about the Rotary Club before hearing about the program, but was pleasantly surprised that their mission statement is "service above self," and that this particular GSE focused on sustainability and The Natural Step. The Natural Step was actually born in Sweden and I have been trying for to a long time to experience it first-hand. I believe it could provide some excellent models and suggestions for Minnesota to build more green communities. I really hope to be chosen for the program! It sounds like it's a very enlightening, life-changing experience.

    One Rotarian that I met is working on a housing project in Africa, and is trying to build it in a green, sustainable way. It sounds like they are having some challenges with solar and other innovative heating methods, but that they are on their way. One interesting thing he mentioned is a project called Millennium Villages, whose organization, the Millennium Promise, has a mission to end extreme world poverty by 2025. They focus on building up communities so they can take care of themselves economically in the future (sort of like the Eco-Affordable Housing program!), and they do it by hitting all aspects simultaneously - hunger, disease, inadequate education, lack of safe drinking water, and absence of essential infrastructure. Part of this also includes environmental sustainability. I found their handbook to be especially interesting and potentially helpful to rural community development. I am astounded and happy that so many people are doing good things in the world.

    The interview, while nerve-racking, was very illuminating. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of great, heart-warming people that I met there. I would suggest to anyone to take part in such a program and apply for a GSE if you have the opportunity, and to look into the Rotary Club as well.

    So I have been a little bit enlightened from this experience. Instead of focusing on the downturn in the housing market and the problems our economy is facing - which are of course very hard on our industry - let's focus on how we can help each other instead. There is still so much hope out there - so hang in there.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Minnesota GreenStar Credits related to Windows

    In a previous post, I mentioned how LEED credits relate to windows. If you are installing windows in a new home, replacing windows in an existing home, or manufacturing/selling window products, knowing the Minnesota GreenStar credits that relate to windows might also be helpful.

    Minnesota GreenStar is only related to residential projects, not commercial. It has both a Remodeling program and a New Homes program.

    The Minnesota GreenStar checklist and manual are extremely detailed, and for a person who has not yet gone through the process, it may seem a bit daunting. I have taken out the credits relating to windows and posted them below. Click to enlarge the photo. If you'd like a larger version, please contact me and I'd be happy to send you a pdf version of the file.

    Minnesota GreenStar Remodeling related to windows

    Minnesota GreenStar Remodeling checklist
    Minnesota GreenStar Remodeling manual

    Minnesota GreenStar New Homes as relating to windows

    Minnesota GreenStar New Homes checklist
    Minnesota GreenStar New Homes manual
    Minnesota GreenStar New Homes points thresholds for home size

    Just a note about the program - Windows made with FSC-certified materials or local materials can attain points. However, it currently does not state that windows made from environmentally preferable materials, such as rapidly-renewable, recycled-content, or salvaged material-content can attain points. However, if such a product did exist, it would be taken into consideration for point allocation. So if you've got a great idea for this type of window, be sure to let the Minnesota GreenStar people know.

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    Local Materials in LEED

    I hope this post helps to answer any questions about how LEED addresses 'local' materials.

    LEED-New Construction (Credits MR 5.1 and 5.2) requires that the product be extracted, processed, AND manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the site. Either 10% (or more) or 20% (or more) of total materials in the whole project have to fit this criteria, based on cost of materials. If only a certain percentage of a product fits these qualifications, then that percentage of the total price of that product is used in the calculations of total materials cost in the project.

    LEED-Homes (Credit MR 2.2) requires that the product be extracted, processed, AND manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the site. LEED-H bases this per building component and not as a percentage of total materials in the project. In this way, components would not need to rely on other products in the project to qualify for local credits. At least 90% of the component per weight or volume must meet the local criteria to qualify.

    Click image to enlarge

    Here's a link to a report we did on local materials that also highlights how other green building programs address "local":

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Made in Minnesota - Cold Spring Granite

    Choosing a local material is a great way of supporting your local business and being environmentally sensitive. In the near future, I will be looking at different types of local materials and their various attributes in order to identify what products we have right here in Minnesota.

    Last week the Mississippi Headwaters chapter of the USGBC hosted a bus tour of Cold Spring Granite company. The tour included visiting a granite mining operation, the fabrication plant, and also their new LEED-NC office facility. According to the tour, by taking the bus instead of driving all separately, we saved over 500 gallons of gasoline on our trip to Cold Spring, MN.

    Cold Spring Granite company has been in business for over 110 years, and has been dedicated to new technology and innovate thinking since started by Scottish stonecutter Henry Alexander. This mission for innovation kept them in business through the Great Depression, war rationing, and other hard fiscal times. They have produced not only granite and natural products, but also ships and engines, in order to stay in business. Currently Cold Spring has 28 active mines in
    North America and imports natural stone from all over the world. The Cold Spring west facility (which we toured) has over 750 employees, of which 28% have been there for over 25 years. They produce many different products in many colors, from countertops and memorial stones to structural building components. Cold Spring Granite is committed to best mining practices and learning how to be a more sustainable company overall.

    Attributes of natural stone products
    Remember - all building materials have some sort of impact on the environment and use up something, and are only green in relation to other building materials. According to the tour, granite and natural stone have both green and non-green attributes.
    Going Green
    Part of Cold Spring’s commitment to sustainability is participating in the Natural Stone Council’s (NSC) green initiative. Like many building products industries, the natural stone industry is looking at how their products work as a green building material in the eyes of many green building standards, including LEED. In order to maintain integrity, the NSC wants to be very transparent and honest about the attributes surround natural stone materials, and hired a third-party research organization, the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products, in 2007. Currently 70% of the domestic stone industry is contributing information for life cycle analysis data in hopes of understanding where natural stone products fit with life cycle analysis around the issues of embodied energy and water. After this research is completed, the NSC hopes to have a clearer path for how to move forward with greening their industry.

    One potential path is to create certification standards for environmental stewardship in the natural stone industry. Federal and State Agencies currently guide practices, but the industry wants to go beyond to set other guidelines. In much the same way that FSC has done with sustainable forestry, environmental organizations and the natural stone industry could potentially work together to create the certification standards. Creating their own certification standard could reward companies for environmental stewardship and potentially make a standard for USGBC's LEED program to set preferences for. The natural stone industry already has the advantage of an existing product tracking system. This could minimize the challenges of chain-of-custody tracking that certified wood products currently have. When the results from the NSC research project are in, we can see how the natural stone industry decides to move forward with their environmental practices.

    On the tour, we learned some areas of environmental stewardship that Cold Spring Granite is already attempting to address.

    1. Water Consumption
    Large quantities of water are consumed in natural stone extraction and fabrication. Water is used in mining to minimize dust, which can be a health hazard to workers. Steps are being taken to try to minimize the amount of water used, but it is an important part of the process. Recycling all of the water used in fabrication has become standard practice of Cold Spring Granite in an effort to be more environmentally-conscientious.

    2. Site Practices and Reclamation
    Large amounts of waste, site impacts, and the abandonment of mines post-use are big concerns. Extracting stone is still mining the earth, and that process remains the most efficient way to get to natural stone products. Thankfully extraction processes have greatly improved with new technology. Twenty years ago the blasting practices resulted in 50% waste, but today mines produce 20% waste in the mining process typically. Waste products can be recycled into a variety non-dimensional aggregate products, resulting in no waste products at all. Cold Spring produces no waste and also uses a new non-explosive process for some of the their mining. The process uses slot drilling, diamond wire for cutting rock and plastic bladders filled with water to push the stone out. This process results in even less waste around the edges of the block, eliminates blasting, and also requires less labor. Cold Spring does not abandon mining sites, and is looking to ways to help communities redevelop them into something else post-use. Currently about 2/3 of mining companies are concerned with mining abandonment.

    3. RadonAll products from the earth potentially contain a certain amount of radon. The EPA has determined that most stone is not at dangerous levels, although some are higher than others. On the tour, the guide stated that there is no standard protocol or mechanism for testing a certain product specifically for radon, rather that it depends on the air in the space. She also said that she has never heard of a case of radon poisoning from natural stone, but that the NSC and Cold Spring Granite are taking radon very seriously and keeping abreast of progress for radon testing of specific products.

    Cold Spring Granite and LEED
    Cold Spring is dedicated to building all of its facilities to LEED specifications, and is looking at LEED for Existing Buildings to green some of its existing plants as well.The last part of the tour was their new LEED-NC office building. This building, waiting to attain LEED Silver certification, is attached to one of the fabrication plants. It takes advantage of natural daylighting, has outside views in 95% of its spaces, used low-VOC products, and is highly water-efficient. The project received Innovation and Design credits for using large quantities of extremely-locally sourced granite for most of the building; even some of the furniture is made of granite!

    LEED-NC points related to natural stone and granite
    MR 3.1 and 3.2 – Material Reuse/Salvage – Granite countertops and other stone treatments can be taken from existing buildings and reused in projects in either the same application or new ones
    MR 5.1 and 5.2 – Locally sourced materials – Stone can be easily tracked from its source so it’s easy to decipher if it fits into the 500 mile radius
    SS 7.1 – Heat Island Effect – using light colored stone in building fa├žade or for paving applications reduces the amount of heat radiated from the sun and helps reduce the heat island effect.
    Overall, the tour was great - really informative, fun, and well put-together. I am currently exploring the possibility of incorporating granite from Minnesota into one of our Minnesota-Made Homes. Stay tuned for more information on local materials!

    For more information on Cold Spring Granite, click here.
    For more pictures from the tour, click here.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    LEED credits related to Windows

    I often field questions relating to specific building components and how a business can determine how their product fits into LEED criteria. The following information is specific to windows and LEED but may also work for other building products as well. It should help to not only to find out how a product relates to LEED, but also to give perspective to what customers go through during the LEED process.

    All of this can be found through the USGBC's website, but I thought it might be helpful to place it all in one place. I've included LEED-NC and LEED-H because those are the standards I get the most questions about. Of course, everything depends on the product, the project, and how the builder/customer ends up using and documenting the product.

    LEED-Homes relating to Windows
    LEED H Checklist – Customers use this to determine which points their project is eligible to receive and help them through the documentation process.

    LEED H v2.0 Guide – The latest version of LEED Homes. See Table 18 for information on EnergyStar requirements for windows. A new guide is coming out in 2009.

    LEED H Pricing - if your customer is building a LEED-Homes project, here are the fees they may be incurring in addition to the green products they are including.

    LEED H EPP list – To see a better list, see page 80 of the LEED H guide. LEED Homes allows each building component to be eligible for points based on their environmentally-preferable attributes. For windows this includes FSC-certified wood, recycled-content, or reclaimed materials, and if all materials are extracted and manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the site they are eligible for the local credit. VOC content and other emissions do not count for points in LEED-Homes in windows.

    LEED H VOC and Stains and Sealant list – Although windows are not technically eligible through emissions points in LEED-H, here are the limits for other products that might be used as a benchmark for your own green standards.

    LEED-New Construction relating to Windows

    LEED NC Checklist – Customers use this to determine which points their project is eligible to receive and help them through the documentation process.

    LEED NC v2.2 guide – The latest version LEED New Construction

    New Errata for LEED NC as of Oct 2007 - Please see MRc7 for information on FSC content as within LEED NC for components in windows.

    LEED NC Certification Fees – if your customer is building a LEED-NC project, here are the fees they may be incurring in addition to the green products they are including.

    LEED NC IEQ credits relating to Windows – Mostly refers to VOC content for applications that occur within the building. All other adhesives and VOC levels are labeled here.

    LEED NC Adhesives Sealing Charts – The adhesive requirements for point eligibility (mainly used to applications on the site and not in a factory)

    Minnesota GreenStar's Remodeling and New Home Construction program also has points relating to windows. I will post those shortly.

    Saturday, August 2, 2008

    Following wood from the forest to the home

    Wood is a great building material; it sequesters carbon, can be grown and used in non-toxic organic fashions, and is both highly recyclable and renewable. It also has low embodied energy through its harvesting and manufacturing process, and can be tracked in a way that other materials can't.

    Forest Floor to Showroom Floor, Part 1

    The Blandin Foundation sponsored a very compelling video of Aitkin County, MN - one of the first forests in the United States to become FSC-certified - which follows wood from a sustainable forest through the manufacturing process, onto the showroom floor and into a green building project. It has been broken into two parts for easier loading. Enjoy!

    Forest Floor to Showroom Floor, Part 2

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Building a "locally-grown" house in Minnesota

    With increased supply and higher levels of consumer awareness, it's becoming easier to track where your food comes from, and ultimately localize your food purchases.

    In the building sector, some materials are following suit, the leaders being chain-of-custody certified wood products.

    But what about the other building products? It is still not quite as easy as identifying your locally-grown tomatoes at the supermarket, but if you look around in your own backyard, you just might find that a house can be built locally too.

    Read the Green Building Materials - Made in Minnesota report for more information and tips on how to build locally in Minnesota. See this map for suggestions of some building materials in your area.

    We are currently working on building a series of "Minnesota-Made" houses in an effort to show that building locally is actually possible. The projects will have both a small environmental impact and a large local economic impact. Stay tuned!

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    Making Windows More Energy-efficient, Part 1

    Restoring Old Windows for Energy Efficiency

    Green building is not only about new construction. Reusing and improving an existing structure rates very high on the green scale, and right now many people are looking for ways to “green” their existing home. Of course, there are many ways to do this, on many different levels, and deciding exactly where to start can be a very daunting task. Well, never fear because there is a lot of information out there from many reliable sources (check out Dovetail and also the list of other blogs on the right) and now many green building programs have their own remodeling standards that can be used as guidelines for your green remodeling project.

    Of course, you don’t have to completely remodel a home to make it more green than before. Here is a short list of ideas to improve a home’s greenness right now, without renovations. One thing that is common to all green remodeling lists is improving energy efficiency, and many times that involves fully replacing the windows on the home. This method can be very effective, but also very expensive. Thankfully, the alternative method of repairing existing windows can also improve a home’s energy-efficiency cost-effectively while maintaining the architectural design integrity of the home. Read on for some tips on restoring old windows for energy-efficiency.

    Thinking Beyond Glass

    Even with the best glass available, glass as a material is still inefficient. Windows are typically measured in U-value, which is inversely related to R-value, and while they do not measure exactly the same thing, it is helpful when comparing them to walls, which are measured in R-value. To give you an idea, 6” fiberglass batt insulation in an exterior wall is typically labeled R-19. A window that is double-paned low-e argon-filled has a relative R-value of around 3. One pane of glass without low-e glazing is around an R-1. Older homes typically have single-pane glass and a storm window, which results in an R-2 (if properly sealed). You can get new windows with triple-pane argon-filled low-e glazing, but you would be lucky to achieve over an R-4.

    So when thinking about windows, look beyond just the glass. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the fancy glass in new windows that makes them better, but the tightly-sealed components of the window. Older windows may become warped (due to a variety of elements), causing the seals loosen, allowing air to flow and heat to transfer. A window in this situation will not be efficient, even if it has low-e argon-filled glass or better. A properly-sealed window makes a big difference.

    Types of windows

    The type of material your window frame is made from will determine how much heat is lost as well. There are many types of windows.

    This article focuses on wood windows because they are the most common in older homes. Wood windows have great insulating properties, use natural materials, and have the ability to be repaired. They are also susceptible to rot, but can last a long time if leaks are sealed and the wood is treated properly or even clad in vinyl or metal. Wood windows typically are nailed together and not glued, and can be disassembled and reassembled in pieces, giving the option of being repaired rather than completely replaced. There are many books on wood window repair. Repairing the cracks and holes in the wood not only makes it look better but also can plug potential air leaks as well.

    Properly sealing the home and windows is the best way to ensure that moisture does not collect and cause wood to decay. The next entry will focus on how to seal leaks in old windows to maximize energy-efficiency.