Complexity of Contemporary Buildings offers a course on achieving enduring value through better use of building science. From their announcement:

"Whether newly built or retrofitted, high-performance buildings begin with envelopes that involve increased thermal demands, greater assembly complexity, and wider material choices.
To meet these challenges, architects and builders must get the building enclosure details right the first time, starting with the earliest stages of schematic design and continuing during construction and during occupancy."

He has it almost correct. The folks that lived in the 100 year old house didn't expect to be able to walk around barefoot in the middle of winter, or to stay cool and refreshed in the summer's heat. 

Still, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information in the syllabus:


Unit 1: The Science of High-Performance Assemblies

Hygrothermal Performance: The Key Driver
How water moves through buildings
Continuous water barriers
Capillary breaks
Drained and rainscreen systems: Managing bulk water, capillary water, and drying
Continuous air barriers
How Blower-Door Tests Measure Airtightness
Continuous thermal barriers
Understanding thermal bridging
Reducing Heat Flow Through Windows
Vapor profiles vs vapor retarders
How "smart" vapor retarders work
Combining control layers
Using WUFI to prevent moisture problems
Vented and ventilated wall assemblies
"Vented" crawl space foundations
Vented and unvented attics and roofs

Unit 2: Getting Details Right

Residential and Commercial High Performance Assembly Examples
The Special Challenges of Curtainwall
"Perfect" Assemblies
Alternative Assemblies
Joints: Sealants, Tapes and Gaskets
Putties and caulks
Agreeing on terms, and applications
Avoiding failed seals with bond breaks
How to choose a sealant that works
"Hybrids"–MS Polymers
Making tapes stay put
Rubberized asphalt
Butyl rubber
Tape performance: Other considerations
Assessing service life
Compression and memory
Wet versus dry glazing
Service life of gaskets
Assessing product safety
Liquid Sealants and Chemical Safety
Flashing Tapes and Chemical Safety
Gaskets and Chemical Safety
Case Study: Cape Cod Passive House

Unit 3: High-Performance Design and Construction Process

How high performance Scopes Of Work differ from standard SOW
Verifying Performance with Building Envelope Commissioning
Cx vs. BECx
Pre-design phase
Design phase
Achieving continuity
Construction Phase
During construction
What gets tested
Occupancy and operations
Guidelines and standards
HOBO data loggers
Integrated High Performance HVAC
Case Study: Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

Unit 4: High-Performance Retrofits

Getting to know the building
Case Study: Renovation of 46 Blackstone
Historic masonry in cold climates
Reduce airflow, encourage vapor flow
Ongoing monitoring
Case Study: Edminster-Bohner Home Retrofit
The damp crawl space
Ongoing monitoring
Design Review: Existing and Planned Elements
Design Review Drawings: Edminster-Bohner Home Retrofit
Comprehensive Home Assessment Checklist

Innovations at International Builders Show - Day 2

Observations today relate to environmental impacts of building products

1. Only a few exhibitors had booth signage proclaiming, "sustainable" or "green". This is not to say they are not promoting green products -- energy and water conserving products were there in abundance. But the market, at least the home builder market, is no longer painting itself green. Few booths had signage tauting recycled material content, VOCs, LEED, or other green buzz words. It is just a part of regular business now.

2. Not withstanding the above, IBS and the co-located Kitchen and Bath Industry Show are full of signs of conspicuous consumption. 12-tall doors. Shower drains that automatically light-up with colored LEDs when wet. Ironing boards and irons with digital controls -- for $3000. And more. Or, in the spirit of excess, more and more and more...

3. Many foreign manufactures were at the show testing the market or introducing products. I was shocked, however, that several of them would not disclose ingredients in even general ways. A Polish company, for example, has an innovative dry-stack masonry system made from perlite and binders. Other than saying that it did not contain portland cement, they would not disclose anything about the binder. There reluctance to disclose will hinder their introduction at a time when the US construction industry is increasingly asking for transparency.

Trending towards unSMART buildings

In fifty years, our industry has forgotten a lot.

When I was a youth in the 1960's, my mother taught my sisters and I to keep the house cool without refrigeration:
  • Close the drapes and exterior sun screens on the side of the house receiving sunlight.
  • Use window fans to exhaust air on the hot side of the house to draw cooler air in from the shady side.
  • Plant trees and vines strategically to mitigate weather extremes.
  • Retreat to the cooler basement during the hottest times of day.
  • Cook on the outdoor hibachi to avoid heating the kitchen.
  • Dress for the weather. 
Meanwhile, my father worked in a downtown office building with shafts for natural ventilation and light. Borrowed lights and operable transoms allowed daylight and breezes to reach deep into the building.

The standard today is to seal the building and use automatic controls to maintain comfort. Our appliances may be more energy efficient, but we still depend on machines in our homes and workplaces.

Yet we may be seeing a backlash that could be significant to building product marketing. Consider these items:
"It takes a smart architect to make a dumb building." Link.
1. The Seattle architecture firm of Weber + Thompson has moved into what is touted as the "first modern office building without air conditioning". It has as a central courtyard that affords natural lighting and cross ventilation to all workstations. Operable windows allow staff to actively manage their environment.

2. "Dumb is the New Smart", an upcoming lecture at the University of Toronto asks: "Is a 'Smart Home' really the smart choice? ...Reliance on interconnected and often incompatible gadgetry... isn't necessarily the most effective way to accomplish a responsive, responsible, and resilient home. Using a suite of devices that utilize multiple apps to monitor and operate your heating and cooling systems arguably consumes more energy than opening a window or turning on a fan."

3.  Government initiatives to promote building resilience in the face of disasters encourages a reexamination of ways to keep buildings in operation when the infrastructure goes down.

4. The effort to create "net-zero" buildings requires us to question dependence on energy consuming appliances and systems.

What opportunities and risk will this pose to your building product business.  Contact me at +1 818 219 4937 or to discuss your concerns.  And, if you come to see me on a a hot day, dress for the weather.

Assessing Sustainability is Difficult

LCA-final3LEED and other sustainability scorecard systems can have the effect of distilling difficult decisions to a few simple points.  This can be useful for some, but not all product selection decisions.

Fiber reinforced plastics (FRP), for example, are difficult to assess. Here is how one company, Kreysler and Associates, explains the sustainability of their product:

Sustainability is a popular and important issue facing designers, builders and building owners. Unfortunately, it is also complex. Recent developments have shown that programs such as LEED assessments do not always reveal the correct or best decisions about material selection or building strategies. The more appropriate but also more rigorous method is “Life Cycle Assessment” or LCA’s where a material’s total, cradle to grave environmental impact is compared to an alternative. These exercises are complicated and project specific. For example, often the weight of a product plays a significant role in impacts like transportation, installation, and back-up structure. All these factors vary from project to project and to measure all these factors is usually beyond the scope of most conventional construction projects.

Since 2009, Kreysler & Associates has worked with Professor Michael Lepech PhD and his graduate students at Stanford University’s School of Environmental Engineering to compare FRP systems to other materials in given situations. We have done studies comparing an aquarium tank made of FRP to one made of shotcrete. We looked at GFRC vs. FRP for a large rain screen project in Eastern Europe, and limestone vs. FRP/polymer concrete building ornament replicas for a rehabilitation project in San Francisco. We measured the impact of FRP reflective acoustic panels on a new concert hall at Stanford vs. an alternative concrete system at the EMPAC Performing Arts and Media Center in Troy, NY. We are currently comparing a large FRP sun shade to a float glass alternative and another GFRC rainscreen to a new, highly fire resistant FRP system for the SFMOMA facade.

Both ourselves and the students have often been surprised at the results. For example, things like stainless steel anchors, the type of particle board use for mold making, and the effect of sandblasting a surface instead of sanding it have all played significant roles in these studies. Intuition suggests that FRP would not be a very “green” solution since it comes from petroleum. Surprisingly however this assumption is nearly always wrong. Although we have not always been the “greener” alternative, so far it has never been because of the FRP material. In the two cases where the study suggested the alternate to FRP was better, it had more to do with the choices we made about mold making material, anchors and structural support. One important factor to keep in mind however is that these are student studies, not professional peer reviewed papers. They are however carefully developed reports using state of the art technology, ISO standards, and up-to-date data. If you have specific questions, please let us know and we’ll do our best to answer.
This type of thoughful analysis helps to establish the firm as a leader in their industry.

Balancing Environmental and Performance Concerns

Environmental concerns often require finding a balance between environmental and performance concerns, as illustrated in the following case study:

Use Prudent Specifications with Titanium Dioxide
Michael Chusid, RA FCSI CCS – Letter to Editor, Environmental Building News, Vol.17 No.7

I read with interest your article on photoactive titanium dioxide (TiO2) in concrete [see EBN Vol. 16, No. 5]. I have been following the product launch of the material for several years, have published articles on the technology, and have spoken about the material at an American Concrete Institute's nanotechnology conference. My research has satisfied me that the material performs as the manufacturer claims with regards to the removal of organic grime (but not inorganic stains) from the surface of concrete and the depollution of nearby air.

White concrete at Jubilee Church, Rome
I note one inaccuracy in your article. Due to the small size of the particles and their low density on the surface of the concrete, TiO2 does not affect the visual properties of the concrete. The whiteness of the Jubilee Church results not from photoactive TiO2 but from white portland cement, white marble aggregate, and metakaolin—a bright white pozzolanic concrete additive.

Despite my enthusiasm for photoactive concrete, I have some environmental concerns with the current generation of photoactive TiO. First, does photoactive TiO2 pose a threat to microorganisms when it enters into surface water or groundwater? The class of TiO2 used as a pigment—rutile—has a record of safe use. The class of TiO2 used in photoactive products, however—anatase—is comparatively rare in nature, and the behavior of its nano-sized particles in ecosystems has not been fully studied.

The catalytic characteristics of the material do not diminish with time. Consider what could happen, therefore, if a photoactive structure is demolished and concrete from the structure is used as riprap on the shore of a shallow sea. As the concrete erodes, what damage could be done when photoactive particles settle onto coral polyps or other vulnerable species?

I know this risk seems blown out of proportion in light of the product's proven benefits and given the small use of photoactive compounds today. But consider that the compounds are already finding inroads into many products worldwide—including disposable consumer products. Must we wait for another Silent Spring before establishing guidelines?

Prudence suggests that concrete producers and the project team should minimize the release of photoactive material into the environment. At the very least, a designer should discuss the risks with the building owner. Specifications should require the concrete supplier and the contractor to dispose of waste TiO2 in a manner that will not contaminate the environment. And a permanent plaque should be mounted on the building notifying future generations that the concrete may require special handling upon demolition.

We also need to study the byproducts of depollution. As photoactive TiO2removes pollutants, it forms new chemical compounds. While these chemical byproducts are considerably less environmentally hazardous than the pollutants they replace, there is no such thing as a free lunch in a closed ecosystem, and the potential runoff from a photoactive surface should be studied for environmental impact.

Thirdly, the photocatalytic reaction can draw calcium out of the calcium silicate hydrate (CSH) that is the cementitious component of concrete, accelerating erosion. This degradation is estimated to be “just a fraction of a millimeter per decade,” a rate that can amount to a fraction of a centimeter per century and could be especially visible at corners or other surface relief. Adding metakaolin to the concrete mixture enriches the CSH content of the concrete and may retard erosion. Moreover, the erosion of the concrete can also release photoactive compounds into the environment.

I remain optimistic that photoactive titanium dioxide is a valuable tool for making the environment cleaner and healthier. This goal, however, will be achieved only if we make informed tradeoffs between environmental benefits and risks.

******************UPDATE **********************
The first comment below draws our attention to a recent study by the EU* that finds nano "TiO2 nanomaterials with the characteristics as indicated below, at a concentration up to 25% as a UV-filter in sunscreens, can be considered to not pose any risk of adverse affects in humans after application on healthy, intact or sunburnt skin." While tightly worded and qualified, it sounds like a positive assessment.

The report, however,  DOES NOT ADDRESS MY CONCERNS. My blog post concerns environmental impacts of construction use of anatase TiO2, the highly photocatalytic type; the EU report considers human health, regards TiO2 that "are mainly the rutile form" and taht "do not have a substantially high photocatalytic activity." It still leaves unaddressed the question I posed about corals and other vulnerable species. 

There are many differences between human health and environmental health. One is that a building will stand for many years while consumer products like sunscreens can be removed distribution channels quickly. The report points out that, "If any new evidence emerges in the future... then the SCCS may consider revising this assessment." It is not so easy to revise a building or highway.

If you are the one that posted the report, please contact me to discuss this topic further.

*Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) Opinion on Titanium Dioxide (nano form), COLIPA No. S75, 22 July 2013.

More on GreenFormat -- Comment Deadline is Friday

In a previous post, I expressed concerns about the proposed revisions to GreenFormat. have the following, thoughtful letter from George Middleton, AIA CSI, Chair of the GreenFormat Revision Task Team:
Michael – Thank you for your comments about GreenFormat. You have highlighted an important issue we face in the GreenFormat Task Team where we typically receive two kinds of feedback:

1. Technical Feedback – what gets said, how it gets said, where something goes, what headings should be, etc.

2. Existential Feedback – we need GreenFormat, we don’t need GreenFormat, it should be broader, it should be narrower, give us more, make it stop, etc.

For the moment we answer the existential comments by simply saying that GreenFormat exists. That decision was made some years ago and it is currently a CSI standard. It has moved on to be a standard separate from its earlier iteration as a product search and comparison website. So since we serve at the behest of CSI’s Technical Committee and CSI as a whole, our charge is to bring our best thinking to what GreenFormat could be or should be going forward. Presumably the market will determine whether it is useful or not, and will vote with its support and dollars, using GreenFormat as the basis for useful secondary products not unlike we see today with MasterFormat, SectionFormat, etc.

With that said, I tend to agree with you that perhaps all the materials, products, systems and technologies we deal with could be adequately described using a universal set of salient feature criteria. As you point out, it’s probably true that the industry has no pressing need for a FireSafety Format, a ProductMaintenance Format, or a DecorFormat.

But what separates GreenFormat from those hypothetical formats is an important component of sustainability that historically has been advocacy for a green point of view. There are people in the marketplace for whom GreenFormat’s sustainability-related content is potentially useful in marketing and selecting green products that presumably have lower environmental impacts and are therefore better choices for the planet and its people, than products not having green properties. As you point out, whether or not that ends up being true depends on how those products are actually chosen. Many would agree that a comprehensive life-cycle (holistic) approach is better than depending on single attributes which might in fact lead to choices that don’t perform as intended. There is nothing sustainable about that.

Perhaps GreenFormat’s role going forward can be that of a filter or a sub-set of a much larger set of product selection criteria. It can serve to organize and classify the information that building owners, designers, constructors, suppliers and even regulators exchange as they consider the environmental, economic and social impacts of the products they make and use. The challenge of course will be for the tools based on GreenFormat to enable good decisions by being sound, objective, science-based and comprehensive enough for users to make choices that are actually better.
I have expressed my existential feedback in my blog post. George's letter motivated me to also submit my technical feedback directly to the committee.

If sustainability is an important part of your product marketing, I urge you to send your feedback in the next few days.

You can download a draft of the proposed GreenFormat and a White Paper by its drafters at

Public comments can be submitted until February 28th (02/28/14). Submit comments to

GreenFormat Revisions: Public Comment Invited

Manufacturers could use this on collateral.

Formats are key to transforming data into usable information. The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) has played a vital role in our industry by developing formats to organize construction information.

A decade ago, CSI launched GreenFormat, a website for organizing data about the environmental sustainability of building products. In the early days of "green construction", GreenFormat was a useful marketing tool for building product manufactures, a place to publish their information and demonstrate commitments to sustainability. Now, the GreenFormat website is off line and an Institute task team has proposed revisions to GreenFormat.

I question the continuing need for a GreenFormat. While our industry needs a way to organize the types of information included in GreenFormat, I argue that "sustainability" should not be separated from other types of product information.  My son is fond of saying, "the green building movement is over. It won." His point is that green considerations are now on par with other product attributes. "No one speaks about a 'fire safety' movement," he explains, "because fire safety is part of building design. So is sustainability."

In the effort to obtain LEED credits or achieve other sustainability goals, we are too often tempted to select products to meet a single criteria, for example, whether wood is FSC certified or if a product is PVC-free? These may be important criteria, but they are not the only ones. I believe there are no green products, only intelligent choices.  

Instead of GreenFormat, we need a comprehensive format for building product information. The format will have a place to indicate VOC emissions and life cycle performance, but it will also include installation instructions, structural and operational data, product limitations, cost, and other information necessary to make a sound decision about a using a product. CSI used to have Spec-Data format and  Construction Specifications Canada has a Product Format that deserves greater utilization. Sustainability information fits nicely into either of these programs.  For more info on them, click here.

You can download a draft of the proposed GreenFormat and a White Paper by its drafters at

Public comments can be submitted until February 28th (02/28/14). Submit comments to

The Blooming Infrastructure of Greenness

Sustainability is such a broad concept, it should surprise no one that its implementation will require a lot of pieces being put in place.

And that's happening.  Seen at the Alt Build in Santa Monica, CA:

A green realtor called the The House Agents was exhibiting.  A green realtor helps sellers green their homes for sale, including hooking up the homeowner with incentive programs and financing options to facilitiate necessary work.  A green realtor identifies green-minded buyers, and helps those buyers tell the difference between sustainable homes and greenwashed properties.  They also can help package up a "hydrid" loan that provides up to $50,000 for cosmetic repairs, sustainability improvements, and energy efficient upgrades.

This is a positive development.

It's also a positive indicator.  It means there in a rising number of customers for this kind of thinking.  Sustainably-driven living choices that are translating into buying and selling decisions.

If you've been thinking that green is just a fad, think again.  It's not going to fade away. The sooner you make sustainability part of your business model, the better you will fare.

Green Apple Day of Service is a Chance to Do Well By Doing Good

The Green Apple Day of Service is an event coming this fall, organized by USGBC, the folks who bring you LEED.  The idea – and it’s a really strong one – is to generate a myriad of volunteer events across the country on that day that will improve the sustainability of schools.  There are many types of events, but most of them are the hands-on, get something done type.

The official website, describes it thus:

“On Sept. 29, 2012, the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council will host the first annual Green Apple Day of Service. For one day, advocates from around the world, including students, teachers,  parents and elected officials, as well as international green building councils, USGBC staff, chapters, member companies and more, will come together in support of healthy, sustainable schools by taking action in their communities. Our vast network of champions will demonstrate the strength and breadth of our movement, leaving a meaningful and lasting local impact.”

This is a great opportunity to make a contribution to the environment and to your community, to contribute and show off your products and let people see how they are used, and to raise awareness of your company’s commitment to the environment.  It will make needed improvement to our schools.  It will help raise our kids' awareness of sustainability issues.  And a lot of people will know about it, including people you want to market to: owners, architects, engineers, and contractors very frequently have kids.   In other words, it's a classic opportunity to do well by doing good.

The Greenapple Day of Service will provide sustainable upgrades to schools
across the US.  Events are already being scheduled.  

Go to the website and get involved.  Now!  Sept. 29 is coming sooner than you think.

There's a webcast about how you can get involved tomorrow, June 14, at 2 PM ET.  You can sign up for it here.

Is Sustainability Hazardous?

Recent studies have turned up a correlation between construction aimed at LEED certification and worker's injuries.  In an article in Engineering News Record Mountain States, Katie Frasier describes a pair of studies that found an increased number of injuries associated with certain construction activities often performed on LEED projects.

Some of the reported hazards included "perceived increased risks" of falls from roofs while installing photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels; falls due to installing or working on high reflectance white roofing materials; falls from installing skylights and atriums to meet daylighting requirements; and increased cuts, abrasions and lacerations from handling construction waste - specifically, from dumpster-diving to retrieve mistakenly-trashed recyclable materials.

When the initial study revealed the basic correlation between LEED certification in increased injuries, they did a follow-up study to identify specific risks and uncover the nature of the risk.  The study offers a list of risks, and recommends possible mitigations (quoted extensively in the article).  Many of the suggestions seem very sensible, but not necessarily obvious: they really needed to be pointed out.

This list of risks and mitigations - to my eye - also suggests that some of the increase is due to construction crews not yet being experienced at handling materials and working in the situations they encounter installing skylights and heavy PV panels.

 In that regard, manufacturers can help.  Makers of materials associated with these increased risks may well consider adding to their packaging precautions and safety suggestions based on this study (and others like it that are sure to follow).    Manufacturers might even consider doing some studies of their own, aimed at increasing workers' ability to install their products safely.

LEED 2012 Comment Period Opens Thursday March 1

LEED 2012 is in the final stages of development.  The third draft is being opened for public comment starting Thursday, March 1 through March 20.  If you want to comment, you must be a USGBC member in good standing as of March 1.

According to the LEED 2012 Development page, "This third draft of the rating system is focused on providing a simple-to-use, technically advanced and more robust system. Once the comment period process concludes, LEED 2012 will be balloted this June and launch in November. "

If you want to have your say in the shaping of this highly influential sustainability certification system,  now is the time.  If you're not a member in good standing, you'll need to join or re-up by March 1 if you intend to comment.

Carbon Neutral Shipping

Did you know that UPS can calculate the carbon footprint of of your shipment, so you can buy carbon offsets to neutralize the environmental impact of your shipping?

TRI-KES, recently implemented a program to do just that with 31,000 sample shipments.  (see their website)  They are a distributor of interior finishes, so samples are a big deal.  They claim to be the first company in the architecture and interior design industry to do this.

We hope there will be more.

Greenwash On Wheels

No knock against Toyota or its Prius hybrid.  I'm thinking of the driver.  In this hot climate, what environmentally conscious person buys a heat-absorbing black Prius? 

Someone for whom the purchase is not really a sustainable choice, just a sustainable statement. 

When the weather heats up and she turns on the air conditioning, it becomes pretty obvious to anyone who thinks about it that her sustainability credibility is pretty thin.  Her black Prius is pure greenwash.

Every day, Chusid Associates helps building products manufacturers tell their “green” stories in websites, press releases, magazine articles, sales sheets, data sheets, guide specifications, trade show displays, continuing education, social media and more.  Green has become a major aspect of marketing.  This means that the consumers – in our case, design professionals, contractors, and building owners – have gotten and continue to get more sophisticated.

In the current environment, a green story gets attention, but increasingly, greenwash gets seen through.  Design professionals can smell it.  LEED AP’s are cropping up in every architectural office.  And they care.  Owners and even contractors are starting to know, and they’re starting to care.

Green is not a fad, it’s not going away.  As has been noted here before, it’s becoming standard.  Products that can’t meet the standard will see their markets shrink.

If you have a green story, now is the time to tell it. 

If you don’t know whether you’ve got a green story, now is the time to figure it out (we can help).

If your product has a green problem, now is the time to address it.  There are many avenues to tackling a green problem, and there are experts available.  Get some help, save your product, save the planet.

But don’t waste your time trying to greenwash a black Prius.

Greenwashing Doesn't Pay

Greenwashing is a bad practice (I'm sure we all agree on that) that hurts the credibility of the industry, and the perpetrator, when it's discovered.

Compounding the sin is Bad Greenwashing, which not only distorts the truth, but insults the reader's intelligence, as well.

I recently read a manufacturer's trade association paper that notes 35% of the manufacturing plants in this field "have investigated alternative energy sources."  (It refers to an historically energy-intensive process, and the chief sustainability knock against the product in question is energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions in its production.)

Decoded: 65% haven't even looked at the possibility of alternative energy.  To make matters worse, the other 35% merely have investigated, with no indication that any of them have done a blessed thing about actually changing.  

The statement was intended to provide reassurance that the industry is improving on its thorniest environmental problem.  But if you think about their argument for two seconds, it's so weak that it becomes an embarrassment.  The facts are bad. The attempt to greenwash them actually highlights how bad they are, and damages the credibility of the entire paper.  (Pity, too, since the paper raises some other honest points about the sustainable performance of the product.)

Greenwashing, like crime, doesn't pay.

Keep Thinking, Keep Greening

There are many real, substantial ways that you can green your products and operations.  Everyone thinks about recycled content and carbon footprints, but sustainability is a broad concept with many facets.

If you want to be greener - and evidence is mounting that it's good for your business as well as the planet – look at all aspects of your operations, your products, and what happens to your products after they leave your hands.

Some manufacturers in the brick industry, for example, are using an innovative method of packaging their products for shipment.  They've eliminated the palettes and the shrink wrap, and thereby significantly reduced jobsite waste.  That may contribute to a LEED point for their customers.
Photo courtesy of Boral Brick.
This palette-less cube of brick is held together by thin bands that create minimal waste.  Instead of wooden palettes to provide lift-points for the forklift tines, the cube has integral slots that a forklift can engage with.

(And just to make it cooler, these cubes were packed by robots.)

The first step to being green is thinking green.

Life-cycle assessments of products

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote 20 years ago. To a limited extent, increased attention to environmental sustainability have increased focus on life cycle performance of buildings. LEED, for example, requires buildings to be commissioned to ascertain that mechanical systems perform as required. Also, the "cradle-to-cradle" concept encourages examination of the flow of materials from extraction to re-purposing.

Operational costs typically, 
exceed construction costs.

Tools that can help architects make life-cycle assessments of products

The architectural community too often disregards the life-cycle costs and operation of buildings. This attitude is not expressed overtly but nonetheless permeates architectural practice:
  • We grovel before a project's bid price and all but disregard a building's cash flow, the streams of operational and maintenance expenses, financing, revenue and tax consequences, which spell economic success or failure to a building owner. 
  • When designing an addition or renovation, we too often fail to involve the building's maintenance staff in a serious discussion about their resources, schedules, and experience with the building's existing materials and systems.
  • We rarely retain qualified building maintenance consultants on our design teams.
  • And frequently, we pass along a hodgepodge of submittals and call it an Operation and Maintenance Manual without considering whether the accumulation really communicates.
Over the economic life of a building, operation and maintenance costs will typically equal or exceed first costs. And when we consider how a maintenance program can affect a building's resale or salvage value, the importance of building maintainability becomes even more apparent.

Building Economics
Building design and product selection decisions should be made with benefit of life-cycle cost analysis. Recently issued ASTM standards provide the building industry with clear guidelines for performing an economic analysis of building designs and components. In a life-cycle cost study, each future cash flow must be adjusted for anticipated inflation and escalation and then discounted to a present value. When performed manually, these time-consuming calculations limit the use of life-cycle cost analysis. New computer-based programs, however, make it much easier to conduct life-cycle installations.

Even though calculations have been simplified, a building life-cycle cost investigation still remains difficult because reliable data on product longevity, maintenance schedules, and operation and maintenance expenses are difficult to obtain. How soon will a roof really be repaired or replaced? How frequently will various types of door operators require servicing? How will the selection of a sealant or weatherstripping affect energy use? Such information is not contained in the typical references found in an architectural office, but a new family of facility management publications and references is beginning to fill this gap. For example, Means Facilities Maintenance Standards [now out of date] discusses the mechanisms that contribute to building deterioration, and building maintenance scheduling and management.

Architects must also take more initiative to discuss maintenance issues with their clients and consultants and to collect and analyze the maintenance history of their buildings. This information must then be transmitted to the drafters and specifiers who actually make product decisions.

Product Data
Although building product manufacturers and trade associations are a primary source of product information, few offer well documented data on their product's life-cycle performance, offering only inconclusive laboratory testing or anecdotal case studies to document their claims. They claim they are unable to predict a product's life-cycle because of conditions beyond a manufacturer's control, such as environmental conditions or maintenance procedures. Yet these variables can be quantified and applied to a sampling of historic product performance data. The resulting analysis could be used as a valid basis for predicting product performance and comparing product alternatives.

Some manufacturers have responded to the need for better information about product life-cycle costs. USG Interiors, Inc., for example, offers a computerized comparison of relocatable partitions and drywall partitions. called DesignAid for Walls, the program enables a designer to consider the economic impact of partition relocation, financing alternatives, tax benefits and accelerated depreciation, and the escalation of waste disposal costs associated with drywall partition remodeling. A similar USG DesignAid program compares several floor construction and wire distribution systems to determine life-cycle costs vis-a-vis workstation relocation. [Chusid Associates wrote both DesignAid programs.]

Building productivity is
also a life cycle factor.

Operational Assurance
Since many architects assume "building maintenance" means "janitorial services" or occasional redecorating, it would be useful to introduce a new term into our professional patois. "Operational assurance" is a concept more familiar to industrial engineers who must assure that manufacturing equipment is kept at optimum operating capacity. An operational assurance approach to buildings must consider the building operational goals and specify systems and products in view of their longevity and the ease and cost of their maintenance, repair, and replacement. Operational assurance can be applied not just to mechanical and electrical systems, but to the building envelope, finishes, and other architectural components as well.

Capability in operational assurance planning would enable an architectural or engineering firm to differentiate itself from its competitors and position itself for growth in industrial, commercial, or institutional markets. Maintenance programming, value engineering, training of the building staff, and post-occupancy evaluation also could be lucrative extended services and could lead to a continuing relationship with a client.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Progressive Architecture, ©1991.

Zero-Landfill Manufacturer

Here's an example of a building product manufacturer going an extra step to make their products greener:
Tremco Commercial Sealants & Waterproofing’s Toronto, Ontario facility has achieved a major milestone: zero landfill. The facility reached its goal through a reduction of waste, recycling of waste and reuse as fuel feedstock. The facility is being monitored for the next 12 months to ensure there is no waste going to landfill. Initiated in 2008, this is part of a five-year project designed to eliminate Tremco’s landfill waste in its North American Sealant and Waterproofing facilities. In the program’s first year, the organization reduced its ratio of landfill waste to materials shipped by 40 percent. (March 31, 2011)
 The press release goes on to describe other green initiatives the firm is undertaking.

Impressive Animal Architecture

As a treat to start your weekend, check out Cracked's list of The 7 Most Impressive Examples of Animal Architecture.

These reminded me of Janine Benyus's book on Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. It's amazing how many issues we as an industry still struggle with - such as energy efficient air conditioning - that these animals solved millenia ago, without even using BIM!

Does transparency actually increase sales?

As the sustainable design movement becomes increasingly mainstream, the focus of of green marketing has shifted. It used to be about telling the green story as fully as possible; now it is about transparency. Every part of a product's environmental impact needs to be documented and discussed, positive or negative, so designers can make informed, accurate decisions.

The concern many manufacturers have is that such a high level of transparency will hinder, rather than help, sales. "If we disclose our negative information and our competitor doesn't," goes the argument, "we'll lose sales to them!" Is the goodwill generated by full disclosure enough to offset the potential impact of revealing your dirty secrets?

Seth Godin thinks so.

In a recent blog post, Godin came out as a strong advocate for transparency. "When book reviews are posted," he says, "sales go up." As he says about a new law in Iowa,
If every chicken coop has a video camera in it, quality will obviously go up. Confidence in the product will go up. Employee behavior will improve as well, because it's hard to torture a chicken if you know you're going to get caught.

His theory is that full disclosure, and allowing people in to see your process, gets them more engaged with the quality of your product. In his example above, people will pay more for better chicken.

Does this hold true for construction?

I believe it does. Look at the post-LEED green movement; the amount of sustainable construction is increasing, but the rate of LEED certification is going down. Designers have changed the way they design - USGBC's original goal - and have outgrown the structure and limitations created by LEED.

To achieve that, however, they need information. Lots of it.

Godin describes avoiding transparency as a "race to the bottom". In other words, who can hide the most about their product and deceive customers? Better to race to the top. Your company's disclosure creates a pressure for your competitors to comply, because as designers learn you offer the transparency they will become conditioned to ask your competitors for it as well.

Green Advantage: Coming to a Job Site Near You

Green Advantage (GA) is filling one of the missing links in sustainable construction. No matter how carefully a project is designed, environmental goals may be compromised if construction crews do not understand principles of sustainability nor how to best manage a jobsite to protect the environment.

To meet this challenge, Green Advantage offers a personnel certification program by which a builder can demonstrate competency in these areas. Chusid Associates is providing marketing and technical support to the organization.

While the Green Advantage program has been gaining adherents since its launch in 1998, I believe it will soon gain critical mass and become part of the construction mainstream. One reason for this optimism is that USGBC has determined that a LEED Innovation Credit can be earned if 30 percent of a project's field supervisory personnel are Green Advantage Certified Practitioners. The Green Advantage Field Personnel Standard can also be embraced by building owners, designers, and contractors that are not pursuing LEED certification.

There are several ways by which building product manufacturers can take advantage of the Green Advantage program:
  • Employees that go onto jobsites can become GA Certified Practitioners. This credential will enhance their professional stature and help establish their credibility.
  • Having GA certified employees reinforces your brand's commitment to sustainable construction.
  • GA certification can also be a criterion in the award of subcontracts since the 30 percent standard also applies to subcontractor personnel that provide services on the jobsite.
Consider getting GA certification for all members of your field crew. Liz Boastfield, Director of Communications at Green Advantage, can help you arrange for training and testing for your organization. Call her at +1 540 822 9449 x105 or email

Finally, Green Advantage is a non-profit organization and needs corporate financial support to supplement its income from certifications. Support of the organization can provide PR and other benefits to your company. I encourage you to contact Liz to discuss this opportunity.