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

LEED and Immortality

22 06 2010

I was recently reading a letter to the editor in The Wall Street Journal where the reader blasted ag biotech companies like Dow Chemical and Monsanto for creating “superweeds”.  Monsanto transformed crop farming with the development of Roundup herbicide, which kills practically anything with roots but is otherwise quite benign (oxymoron alert).  They later developed genetically modified seeds for plants that are immune to the weed killer.  But weeds, like bacteria, have morphed to become immune to Roundup.  The letter goes on to compare the superweeds to antibiotic–resistant organisms.  Except, nobody is going to be killed by a superweed.  So I finished reading that and thought, “yep, we should just surrender to the weeds.”  The guy proposed no solutions.

The bottom line: there are tradeoffs with just about everything.  Likewise, LEED is not without flaws due to a nuisance called reality.  This recent report by Environment and Human Health, Inc. seems to indicate LEED certified buildings are as dangerous as catching a falling knife while standing on a mixture of burning coals and broken glass in a cloud of radon and asbestos dust while bathing in beams of UV and high energy gamma radiation.  Good grief.  What do they expect?  LEED buildings to be as safe as surgery suites with massive air changes of fresh air, positively pressurized and filtered to 0.1 micrometer (that’s 3x better than required)?  LEED is not intended to be the fountain of youth and anyone who thinks it is will have buyer’s remorse because LEED will not make you immortal.

These people are whining that the tight buildings promoted by LEED lead to higher concentrations of “toxic” chemicals indoors.  Anything can be considered toxic. A year or two ago a woman overdosed on water for a stupid radio contest to see who could down the most water in a short period of time – all to win some concert tickets or something.  It was lethal.  Dead.  The EPA has declared CO2, a vital gas we cannot live without, to be dangerous enough that they must regulate it.  The Supremes obliged.  Peanuts can also be lethal.  Should we have a credit for a peanut-free facility?  What about fire?  We have fire codes, alarms, strobes, exit signs, multiple egresses, emergency lights, sprinklers, and extinguishers.  People still die in fires and explosions.  What should LEED become? A specification for a bomb-proof rubber room with no sharp objects, electricity, or natural gas with 20 air changes per hour?

Study finding: There is no federal standard or regulation of green building standards.  Thank God!  One of the reasons LEED has been spectacularly successful is it’s directors are primarily engineers, architects, developers, and manufacturers – people who live in the real world, want to make the world a better place, and they need to get things done and move on.  If this were turned over to the feds, count on the price of certification to triple.  The whole thing would become politicized and the companies with the deepest pockets will turn Washington into their primary delivery channel for their products and services.  NO THANK YOU!

Finding: Energy efficiency has priority over health.  Note to EEHI: The two Es in LEED stand for energy and environmental (design).  The primary objective is sustainability, which means something different to everyone but everyone would agree it includes elements of resource preservation and minimal impact on environment due to garbage, water runoff, energy and water consumption, transportation and a bunch of other stuff.  The objective is to minimize these impacts while improving indoor environment by promoting the assurance of ventilation levels, air filtering, minimization of volatile organic compound emissions (paint and adhesive smell), and in fact there is a credit for extra ventilation over and above the minimum “required”.

Finding:  The Green Building Council’s award of “platinum,” “gold”, and “silver” status conveys the false impression of a healthy and safe building environment.  What?  How is this?

Finding:  Energy conservation efforts have made buildings tighter, often reducing air exchange between the indoors and outdoors.  It is becoming clear, these people haven’t gone beyond the list of credits.  Ventilation is governed by ASHRAE Standard 62, which states “This standard is intended for regulatory application to new buildings, additions to existing buildings and those changes to existing buildings that are identified in the body of the standard”.  So there you have it – regulation!

Finding: Tens of thousands of different building materials and products are now sold in global markets. Many of these products contain chemicals recognized by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the CDC, or the World Health Organization to be hazardous.  And the point is….?  Gasoline is explosive, therefore, LEED is bad.  OH, I get it.  Sorry for being so slow minded.

Finding: No Level of LEED Certification Assures Health Protection.  Tell me.  Does ANYTHING assure health protection?  Answer: NO.  Why?  Because somebody is doing something really stupid somewhere every second of the day and if they get hurt the “assurers of health protection” get sued out of existence.  These people should look on the back side of their sun visors in their cars.

Finding/conclusion: LEED Credit System—Something For All, Guarantees for None.  That is correct sir!  If LEED guaranteed anything, it wouldn’t exist.  There are a thousand reasons for no guarantees, starting with the main one: the design and construction team responsible for LEED certification cannot prevent the owner from doing stupid things from day one.

Academic “experts” can blast anything to bits from the ivory tower.  Perhaps they should consider the cost of living by their creed and what the market will bear.  LEED, even when done poorly reduces resource depletion, pollution, and improves indoor environment compared to the status quo, on average, all else equal.  Maybe they should start their own LEED on steroids and just sit and wait for the phone to ring before assaulting the next advancement in comprehensive sustainable design and construction practices.

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