Feral Cat, What Say You?

30 11 2010

Back in August I came close to posting a blog “Enough of the Empire State Building Already” but that one faded away.  In case you never read anything about energy savings and sustainability, the building is undergoing a $20 million renovation to improve energy efficiency.  The project would shave the facility’s $11 million energy bill (a cool $4 per square foot) by 38%.  Johnson Control ran ads in every trade magazine I get and various publications, including major newspapers, ran articles by the dozens.

Coming in a close second to the Empire State Building was the Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, WI.  Apparently it was the first LEED Gold certified High School for New Construction Version 2.1.  Ok.  It seems everybody associated with the project ran an ad for their greatness: manufacturers and vendors of stuff used for construction, contractors, service providers, congress people, the governor, priests, rabbis, dog catcher, and the feral animals themselves.  This went on for months.

Well it all hit the fan.  As I was flipping through my stack of trade magazines this long holiday weekend, I saw in HPAC (short for Heating Plumbing and Air Conditioning but they actually go by HPAC – HPAC.com) in their August issue that a group of stakeholders including the building committee, a couple licensed professional engineers, and other taxpayers are appealing the certification with the USGBC.  They claim the design does not and cannot meet indoor air quality standard ASHRAE 62, minimum energy performance, ASHRAE Standard 90.1, OR the minimum commissioning requirements.  Ouch!  What do you feral animals have to say for yourselves now?

I’m not going to do a ton of investigating of this crime but I have no reason at all to believe the appellants are not standing on firm ground.  What is interesting is the firestorm of HPAC reader comments, which read like blog comments of far left and far right cutting each others’ livers out.  Jeezo, the comments are still swirling three issues AFTER the first mention of it in August.  Comments include the following, each of which I respond to:

  • One of the points I raised concerned legal liabilities and the USGBC’s refusal to accept responsibility for advice about guideline compliance.

o   The USGBC shouldn’t have responsibility for advice it gives.  It’s up to the design and construction teams.  The guidelines are available.  If they can’t read, find new firms to do the job.

  • The USGBC seems to prey on undereducated, uninformed owners and the public.

o   Nice.  There are certainly uninformed folks, but I’m sure the USGBC is a deceitful money grubbing outfit headed by Gordon Gekko’s offspring.  The guy would probably dump a five gallon bucket of used motor oil in the lake if you paid him $100.

  • LEED is a standard of relative greenness, not a contract for overpaid lawyers and underemployed engineers to litigate.  …the LEED process has been a powerful force bringing green design mainstream.

o   Agreed.

  • LEED is bogus.  Let common sense prevail.  Why can’t you simply tell the architect/engineer firm(s) to design the most EE building you can without a third party intervening?

o   Because cheap and crappy always wins the bid and the average firm doesn’t really know squat about REALLY producing an efficient, comfortable, and code-compliant facility.

  • I agree [not me – the next guy reader/commenter].  USGBC does not check if equipment is installed per drawings.

o   If it did, it would cost a fortune and no one would do it.

  • [in response to the previous statement the next guy says] Get a life.  LEED is a standard of relative greenness… blah blah.  [The exact same statement as above by the same guy, published two months in a row]
  • [in response to the previous]  Mr. Perkins just doesn’t get it.  Building green just to get LEED points, rather than building a building that will improve the health of occupants[with minimal] lifetime costs, is total BS… Too many folks just care about LEED certification, not if a building really works.

o   In my opinion, LEED actually improves the odds that a building “really works”.  It requires somebody to at least fake their way through commissioning and at least think about designing for efficiency and healthy environments.  To say LEED diverts designers and contractors away from these things is irresponsible.

I mentioned before in this blog that our MO is to fix immediate problems first and take corrective action later.  Too frequently building owners/stakeholders go after the party they think is responsible and meanwhile the building festers away.  The second too-frequent approach is to hire the same fools responsible for the kludge to fix it.

Owners and stakeholders should first fix the problem by hiring somebody who knows what they are doing.  This does two things, both of which they want to fix a screwed up building: (1) gets the building working optimally as soon as possible and (2) by doing so gives them leverage with the responsible parties for some sort of settlement.

Attacking USGBC for establishing green building methods and metrics but not enforcing them with an iron fist is ridiculous.  Why not go after ASHRAE for not coming down on people like a ton of bricks for not following ASHRAE’s standards?  Energy codes that are state law in many states aren’t even enforced in some of them.  I’m not sure about the rest of the parties involved with LEED projects but engineers have codes of ethics.  I would say blowing off owner desires, cutting corners and lying about what was or was not done probably violates these ethics.  How about attacking these losers and scoundrels and running their underwear up the flagpole instead?


I would guess you haven’t heard but the Chicago Climate Exchange is shutting down.   At one point in this blog I explained I think that trading something that has no value in and of itself is unprecedented.  Currency is only thing I can think of that has no intrinsic value but currency is actually a means to put value on things.  I can buy groceries with currency.  I can’t buy anything with a carbon credit.

Numerous corporations were buying carbon credits and even “supporting” the legislation in the event some sort of cap and trade passed.  The legislation disintegrated and there remain only a few ashes of political will to even whisper the phrase.  The carbon value that existed was 100% speculation.  The value that remains is 100% nothing.

As I mentioned in a recent post, if cap and trade didn’t pass during last congress with unstoppable majorities in both houses and the White House, I don’t see it happening.  This does not rule out the EPA creating their own laws to put a price on carbon dioxide.

In “The Nebulous Green Job” I ranted about Green Jobs, of all things.   As it turns out the green jobs stimulus portion of the stimulus has not been too stimulating.  The Washington Post reports that the recently green-educated graduates are having difficulty finding work in solar energy installation, green landscaping, recycling, and green building demolition.  Well, heeeyeah!  Electricians and plumbers are on the prowl for PV and solar water heating systems.  There is already a live and well recycling and building demo industry.  I just burned up “the tube” in my microwave oven this weekend and the nice local do-everything, small but mighty superman store otherwise known as Coon Valley Dairy Supply replaced it.  I asked what they did with the old ones.  A local guy picks them up and strips them down into piles of materials to be sold to buyers – no government green-job intervention included.  Cool!  If there is a market people will find it and fill it.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP

Upside Down Consequence of EE?

5 10 2010

Many posts ago, I wrote “The More You Spend, The More You Save” explaining how poor system control wastes energy but results in even greater energy savings for efficient equipment.  For example, consider an air handling system that wastes heating energy provided by an efficient boiler.  The boiler saves x% versus a conventional model, so x% multiplied by greater use (wasted energy) results in “more” savings.

Recently I picked up on buzz that argues greater efficiency results in greater energy consumption.  At one point I recall reading in the Wall Street Journal an editorial that argued more efficient vehicles just result in people driving more.  They live further from work.  They go on joy rides.  They visit the in-laws more.  I scoffed at this argument, at least at current gasoline costs and anything near them.  If I buy a hybrid that gets 50 mpg versus a “sports car” like an Infiniti G35 coupe that goes half as far on a gallon of gasoline, I will drive more.  No.  Way.

I will drive more (barely) if (1) I have a car that is fun to drive and (2) I am in an area where it is fun to drive.  While I haven’t driven a hybrid, I don’t think it would meet my criteria for #1.  As for #2, western Wisconsin is a driver’s and biker’s paradise because (1) it is scenic (2) there are lots of smooth, paved, and curvy roads on which to drive and (3) there is minimal traffic.  Quite frankly, I’m much more concerned about striking a deer, coon or coyote than another vehicle.  I used to live in the DC metro area.  Forget it.  You might as well drive a tin can because you are going nowhere fast.  I grew up in Southwest Minnesota.  Forget it.  You can drive for miles without moving the steering wheel.  But even so, living here in driver’s paradise, I have limited time so I never, ever think, “ooh boy, a 45 minute drive is only going to cost me $2.79 in gasoline – let’s drive!”

That’s one argument that doesn’t hold water in my opinion.  On the other hand, some people do run efficient stuff like lighting for longer hours because it’s efficient.

The other argument made in these articles is that the money freed up by spending less on energy results in redirection of that extra money toward other goods and services – and those goods and services result in more energy consumption to extract, process, manufacture, transport and operate.  I do buy into the merits of this argument whether the end-user is a homeowner, service provider, or manufacturer.  I never really bought into the notion that energy efficiency programs result in lower revenues for utilities.  Maybe they understand this and hence the rah-rah from utilities for energy efficiency programs.  I don’t blame them.  By far the main driver of EE is saving money and increasing profits.  See “This is Not Tee-Ball“.

Just think how this turns the energy efficiency business and policies on their heads.  In “Paying to Lose,” I discussed how utilities have to make their savings goals or they may get hammered by regulators.  This, in turn, improves the bottom lines of their customers allowing them to expand.  What a racket.  Rather than utilities spending money for their customers to use less of their product, they are actually using their CUSTOMERS’ money to sell MORE of their product.  And how about “Decoupling Stupid,” that allows utilities to recover revenue “lost” to energy efficiency?  They spend their customers’ money to increase sales and meanwhile essentially get reimbursed for the “savings”.  Cool!

We have also discussed the underperformance of LEED facilities.  In “LEED and the NOT Happenin’ Savings,” I described how LEED buildings weren’t meeting energy performance targets because of lousy commissioning.  Well hail to the lousy commissioning agents!  They are actually reducing global energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.  Now that end user won’t be able to afford a new vehicle manufactured in Ontario with steel from soot belching plants in China shipped across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal to the Gulf of Mexico and transported by rail to Toronto or someplace – and tires from tariff protected Ohio that are shipped to Canada and back to the California border once installed on the automobile.  They also won’t be driving their phantom car.  (California won’t allow the car cross state lines because of the embedded energy, so Los Angeleans have to drive to Reno to pick up their car – I just made that up but it is probably true or at least accurate or emblematic, but certainly driving a new car across state lines into the golden state causes cancer and birth defects like everything else in CA does)

And I consider Michaels Energy.  Our facility uses practically no energy but in recent years our air travel has gone from virtually zero to hundreds of thousands of passenger miles per year.  And from the destination airport, we drive all over the place.  Soon for example, we will have about five people zigzagging all over California verifying energy efficiency measures that probably save less than the gasoline burned to prove it.  Somebody has to do it!

So go ahead and turn that thermostat up, open the window for some fresh air and click on that 70 inch plasma TV, have a beer and save the planet, Homer.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP

Beer or Air

22 12 2009

Last week these columns featured Wal-Mart and its silencing of critics via green and sustainable business practices.  Are they really saving energy compared to their peers?  Skylights, dimming fluorescent lights, and LED refrigerated case lights triggered by occupancy sensors – but what’s the totality?

Lexus makes hybrid vehicles.  One is a $110,000 sedan with a 5 liter V8 with fighter-jet horsepower weighing in at 20 miles per gallon.  A Caterpillar earth mover may get that kind of highway mileage.  The point is, a facility / organization can be green in name only.  Note that in no way am I inferring Wal-Mart stores are Caterpillar earth movers.

I think to a large extent the sustainability of many facilities and organizations are like those presents under the tree in the food court at the mall that I used to go to in the 1980s.  It looks good, but you know there’s nothing in there.  Conversely, a wrapped present under our office tree that looks like a 12 pack of beer is a 12 pack of beer!  Believe me when I tell you that when a guy whose name is drawn has a choice between a concealed package that looks like beer and one that could contain clothing or worse, like some knickknack, the beer-looking one will be snapped up like my dogs on cheese.

This one always cracks me up: “We are going to follow the LEED® method, but we’re not going to pay for the certification”.  This is foolish.  If an organization is honestly going to follow LEED, the price of registration, documentation, and certification is minimal – like less than buying the custom mats for the new car.  The LEED wannabe process is toothless.  Anything that is worthwhile has a high risk of getting dropped: energy modeling, efficient design, and components that achieve efficiency, and commissioning.  Decent commissioning costs 75 cents per square foot depending on the type of facility.  You’re going to spend $75,000 on commissioning and jump through all kinds of other hoops but skip the few thousand dollars for certification?  This is like getting enough credits to graduate but skipping the degree.  Try explaining that one to the state examining board when you try to get your professional engineering license.

LEED isn’t flawless or bullet proof, but it does serve as a hammer to get people to move and it forces the owner and other stakeholders to make difficult decisions rather than just throwing things out if they are too expensive or difficult.

For energy efficiency, a good rating system similar to the EPA gas mileage ratings is the ENERGY STAR® Label for Commercial Buildings.  Why?  Because it is based on actual energy consumption comparing to peer facilities (on a square foot basis) in the same climate zone.  Earning the ENERGY STAR means the building uses less energy per square foot than 75% of peer buildings.  In addition, ENERGY STAR requires a building inspection by a licensed engineer to ensure the owner isn’t cheating by not providing sufficient ventilation or enough light for required tasks or by letting air conditions drift out of the comfort zone, which believe it or not is well defined.  Registration is free.  The only cost is for the engineering services.  If energy efficiency improvements are needed, there are extra costs for that of course, but there is a return on that investment.

Finally, we at Michaels have developed a custom energy efficiency program that uses actual savings demonstrated by energy bills before and after implementation.  Rather than just doing studies, assisting clients with implementation and moving on to the next project, we monitor savings once after a few months and again after a full year of post-implementation operation.  We don’t run away from results, sweep it under the rug (watch the hand), or just hope for the best.  We embrace real results because we want to know things are working right, and demonstrated success sells more success.  If I’m buying, I want facts and references, not a dog and pony show where promises are made with no follow through on comprehensive savings.

Salesman, get away from me, and no, I don’t want your dopey maintenance plan.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP

LEED and the NOT Happenin’ Savings

27 10 2009

Studies have shown that LEED buildings are no more efficient and have no less of a “carbon footprint” than the average building of its peers.  I remember reading an old guy’s rant in one of the 20 building engineering and architecture magazines I get.  He was grousing that the reason is because there tends to be a lot more glazing and over-ventilation of LEED facilities, along with some other stuff I don’t remember.  Apparently, the guy was a proponent of living and working in igloo coolers with no connection the outdoors, which is a big deal for me and everyone else.

I think I have a better and more accurate assessment:  commissioning agents aren’t doing their jobs.  Demand for commissioning services has risen dramatically since LEED became vogue.  I believe as a result, many people who’ve never provided commissioning services, trouble shot systems, and generally figure out how systems are controlled and consuming energy, are declaring themselves commissioning agents and supplying “a service” that is in demand.

Just in the general population of buildings, we’ve seen ones that are wasting grotesque quantities of energy and ones that are sipping so little we have to double check that we have all the utility data.  What’s the difference?  I can tell you it isn’t because the former has 70% glazing and the latter has 5%.  Reality is closer to the former having screwed up systems.  The latter was either commissioned by somebody who knew what they were doing, had a controls contractor and engineer who knew what they were doing, or have facility engineers who know what they are doing.  It’s probably some combination of all three.

In many cases, the facility owner doesn’t have staff with the expertise to correct and operate screwed up systems.  They shouldn’t have to.  The commissioning agent should optimize system control, ensure documentation exists to help maintain efficiency over the long term, and train facility staff on how their building uses energy, and what aspects of the system and more importantly, the controls make their facility consume less energy than the average facility.

From my first contact with the LEED process seven or eight years ago, systems commissioning was one of the real and major benefits in my mind.  The building design and construction business has become so bloody competitive that commissioning-type services have been squeezed out of the process in recent decades.  The LEED process had better fix this.  After all, energy efficiency is the greenest component of occupying facilities.  The USGBC must agree since they added more weight to the energy efficiency credits.  If you’re not getting the savings, you are being slighted big time.  Moreover, the LEED brand, which at the moment is incredibly powerful, will be damaged badly unless this problem gets fixed.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP