Musings on Green Buildings

Published: October 18, 2012 - by Dan Holohan

Categories: Green


I was poking around the Internet and came across a report by Lux Research, an independent company that advises on emerging technologies. They had looked at 21 countries that account for 80% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product because they wanted to see what was driving green-building technology, of which there has been a whole lot lately.

I like green-building technology. I think it’s good for the planet and even better for business. It can also create some unforeseen situations for the neighbors. Recently, there was a story in the news about these high-efficiency Andersen windows that went into houses all across Massachusetts. Andersen makes terrific windows. They’re very green and oh so efficient. They lower the cost of cooling because they’re able to keep much of the sun’s energy from streaming into a house. The sunlight just bounces off these windows and onto the neighbors’ houses, where it’s been buckling the vinyl siding and melting the paint. You should see the news video. The sides of these houses look like grilled-cheese sandwiches. Oh, and the windows are also bouncing magnified sunlight onto the plastic parts of the neighbors’ cars, which wind up looking like S’mores.

Hmm, maybe you could sell these folks some solar-thermal panels. No need for direct sunlight these days. Just grab the bounce off those great windows.

But back to Lux.

They found that rich nations set the trend in green building. No surprise there, right? Countries with high per capita incomes are the earliest adopters of expensive technologies and emerging technologies, including (you guessed it) high-tech windows.

Rich countries also love green roofs. I’ve walked around a few of these. They’re very nice but you do have to make sure the roof is very watertight and you have to account for the added weight when you’re building. And then there’s the wind to consider. You don’t want your plants flying off into space, do you? One of the companies that provides this emerging technology notes on their Web site, “The task of designing a vegetative green roof can be intimidating, yet can be the most rewarding task given the blank canvas a rooftop presents.”

Intimidating, yet rewarding. Should I stay or should I go?

The other thing these countries are adopting in droves is photovoltaic panels that are built right into the new construction. The U.S. is one of those countries, which is great news for business if that’s part of your mix. And that’s a good question. Is PV a product for the traditional HVAC wholesaler? You’re probably selling solar-thermal panels, but what about PV?

This reminds me, I’ve been listening to some fun conversations between the solar-PV folks and the solar-thermal advocates. It’s like listening to Yankee and Red Sox fans in a sports bar. As both technologies emerge, each proponent thinks (or so it seems to me) that they have to bury the other. I’m seeing lots of articles about which is the better way to go, and that makes me wonder why we can’t just have both. There’s a place for both, isn’t there?

Lux Research also reports that global cooperation is growing and that’s certainly a good thing. Cooperating on green-building technology is better than just buying fuel from another country in exchange for dollars. Not much is gained from that beyond the obvious. It reminds me of a seminar I attended a few years ago. The trainer took a dollar bill out of his pocket and asked me if I also had a dollar. I did. He then asked if I would exchange my dollar for his. I shrugged and made the swap. He said, “What just happened?” and I stated the obvious. He then asked me if either of us had gained by our exchange. I looked at my new dollar. It wasn’t any less wrinkled than my old dollar so I shook my head. Nope, nothing gained.

Okay, here comes the cool part. He then asked me for an idea. “About what?” I said. He told me it didn’t matter about what. He just wanted one of my ideas. So I thought for a moment and then gave him one.

He returned the favor by giving me one of his ideas.

We both gained from that exchange.

Lux Research wrote in their report that when countries think about green-building technology in terms of international cooperation, rather than as just trade, one nation (a richer one) can help another nation (a poorer one) develop codes and standards, and that leads to all sorts of good things. They used as an example the recent cooperation between the United States Agency for International Development and India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency, which led to India’s Energy Conservation Building Code. Sure, that doesn’t immediately put money in your pocket, but since we’re all competing for limited natural resources, having poorer countries embrace green-building technologies is good stuff.

Think Global; Sell Local.

I was in Iceland about a year ago. I went there to look at their geothermal heating plant. Most of the people in Iceland get their heating water and domestic hot water right out of the ground. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where the tap water is 180-degrees Fahrenheit. It has a way of getting your attention during that first shower.

The folks in Iceland also get their electricity by tapping into the super-heated brine that’s not far below the surface. I got to see the turbines that make that electricity and they are one screaming bunch of mammoth machines. It was very primal and quite scary.

When I was driving around Reykjavik I noticed two things: The people are gorgeous and the windows on the buildings look like what we had here in the U.S. during the 1950s. These are not the sort of windows that will melt the neighbor’s vinyl siding. I asked about the windows and my guide told me that because heating is so cheap in Iceland, there’s really no reason to upgrade the windows. Surprised?

Lux Research reported that this is also the case in oil-rich nations. They’re not inclined to get involved with energy-efficient, green-building technologies. I’m looking forward to watching what happens in the U.S. as we release all this cheap natural gas by way of fracking. Think that will change things here?

Lux does mention that fast-growing nations are all about the new green-building technology because they need to contain ever-increasing energy costs (no fracking in China) and, at the same time, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I think it’s worth musing about these global trends, don't you?

Oh, and watch where you park your car.