Buildings Focus on Energy Efficiency as the U.S. Moves toward a Low-carbon Economy

The George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas; the GSM headquarters garden roof in Pennsylvania; the Byron White U.S. courthouse in Denver; the CK Mondavi family Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif.; the International Solar Decathlon entries to be built by 25 different universities in Paris this summer; the soon-to-be-completed Habitat for Humanity homes in downtown Washington, D.C.; the Transitional Housing Corp. multifamily affordable housing Passive House in downtown Washington, D.C., planned for 2015. What do all of these award-winning buildings have in common?

They have all been recognized as having superior energy and materials management, excellent water management, excellence in reroofing, and/or excellence in life-cycle management and durability by nationally recognized high-performance building certification programs and groups leading change in the building industry.

The roofs on the George Bush building, courthouse and winery were honored by the RoofPoint program from the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing (CEIR), and the homes and affordable-housing developments will be LEED certified. Appalachian State’s Solar Decathlon Europe, as well as Solar Decathlon Europe’s other entries, have one thing in common: They all include rigid foam insulation as a key thermal-performance component.

Regardless of whether you believe in climate change, the issue of climate change and related energy security and resilience concerns are transitioning this country to a low-carbon economy focused on efficient buildings and renewables. This movement is facilitated by the revolution in information technology that already has exhibited itself in building construction technology and work in fracking, carbon sequestration, coal gas gasification, and all the renewable technologies we have heard about. The built environment continues to move to higher standards. Zero net energy goals for buildings in states from East Coast to West Coast are creating expectations for buildings and the building products.

Codes are going to be a vital component. Coming right behind the codes are energy-benchmarking requirements, which most recently were adopted by Montgomery County, Md. The county will require all commercial buildings state their energy performance for prospective tenants and buyers to see.

Even the Republican House of Representatives has joined the effort with the passage of two energy bills that promote the use of energy-service contracts in the private sector and create an information bank at the Department of Energy for green schools. Although this is a small amount of what the government can do, it does show that even Republicans that are skeptics of government can agree on the role of efficiency and buildings.

About the Author

Jared O. Blum
Jared O. Blum is Washington counsel for the EPDM Roofing Association.

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