TexasIsHot – Energy Efficiency

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Apr 01 2011

Green Building: Rethinking eco-valuation

The current U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design system is under fire, after a class action lawsuit was filed in New York last year, alleging the LEED program lacked building-performance measurement and that energy efficiency claims were often deceptive.

Although the majority of the industry approves of LEED standards, critics say the program’s standards don’t necessarily make a building as energy efficient as it can be, said Meghna Tare, director of sustainability for the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Those standards are open to interpretation,” Tare said. “A building can be a very efficient, without having LEED certification.”

How “green” is measured and the definition of LEED certification could gain some enlightenment from the Urban Living Laboratory, a $128 million private-public partnership between Arlington-based Realty Appreciation Ltd. and Texas A&M University.

The laboratory has already attracted more than 20 companies and more than a dozen universities throughout the country to the project.

Each outlet, faucet, light bulb and appliance placed in the 1.1 million-square-foot, 38-building laboratory in North Dallas will have sensors measuring and tracking data for researchers.

The researchers — from the private-sector as well as academics — will study the data and develop earth-friendly, cost-saving products for consumers, such as new toilets, light sensors and other technologies, said Kevin Rogers, director of real estate with Reality Appreciation Ltd. and project manager on the laboratory.

The laboratory includes 600 apartments, 150,000 square feet of office space, 105,000 square feet of retail space and two hotels equaling 250 rooms. The laboratory will have room for about 3,500 residents and provide enough on-site space for 1,800 employees.

Realty Appreciation is investing roughly $35 million to $40 million to build the Urban Living Laboratory and will finance the remainder of the project, Rogers said.

“Cities are the core of the world’s environmental problems, because cities occupy 2 percent of the world’s landmass and consume 75 percent of its resources,” Rogers said. “It’s a huge problem.”

Within those cities, buildings account for a significant amount of that energy consumption, he said, and there’s a need, driven by conservation and companies, for measurable energy efficient products.

The laboratory has drawn interest from some big-name companies, such as TXU Energy, General Electric, and Johnson Controls Inc., he said.

“These companies don’t know how consumers use their products, but with the laboratory’s sensors, they’ll know,” Rogers said, adding that those companies will study human behavior through the laboratory to design future consumer products.

The company partners on the project will continually replace laboratory devices throughout the development, which has a long-term commitment to remain LEED certified for 75 years.

The laboratory is expected to break ground by November.

With green technology — such as motion-activated sensors and heating and cooling technology — changing so rapidly in the past decade, it’s difficult to stay on top of the latest sustainability technology, said Sandra Heffernan, president of McKinney-based Sustainable Partners LLC, an environmental consulting company.

The Urban Living Laboratory will help measure the impact of sustainability and bring hard facts to the “green” movement, she said.

“We work on the return-on-investment at the end of the projects and the costs leading up to certification,” Heffernan said. “There’s a misnomer that sustainability programs cost more money to operate.”

Local school districts are also looking to incorporate energy efficiencies into building construction and into school operations, said Eric Horstman, a principal at Dallas-based Corgan Architects.

Corgan Architects designed the nearly $30 million Lady Bird Johnson Middle School for Irving Independent School District, which conceived the idea of using a sustainable building to teach students about sustainability.

The middle school will use solar and wind energy to offset the school’s energy consumption and will be the first middle school in the United States to be considered ‘net zero,’ or an energy-neutral structure, which produces as much energy as it uses, Horstman said.

“With the LEED certification program, you acquire points, (for improvements) such as putting in a bike rack, but it doesn’t change the energy consumed by the building,” he said.

Because the school district is a long-term owner of the building, it made fiscal sense to invest an additional $3.7 million into making it a net-zero building, he said. Irving ISD will recoup the costs in the 12th year.

“I think more people are starting to realize that LEED only gets you so far,” Horstman said. “Net-zero will encourage things that don’t necessarily mean you will save money in year-to-date operating costs, but year-to-year, you’ll save money. The technology is getting better every day.”

Read more by Candace Carlisle, Staff Writer, Dallas Business Journal: Green Building: Rethinking eco-valuation | Dallas Business Journal

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