2011 Building Green Chicago Conference & Expo

By Jon Sedey

On April 19th 2011, Index Publishing held the fifth annual Building Green Chicago Conference and Expo at the Swissôtel Chicago. After the keynote address, the educational sections consisted of topics ranging from deconstruction, energy consumption and non-potable water sources.

The day began with keynote speaker Susan Hedman of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hedman is the Region 5 Administrator, where she directs the operations in the six-state Great Lakes region. Hedman discussed how the EPA has achieved significant milestones in environmental history since the first earth day in April 1970.

Earth Day started out as one of the largest grassroots demonstrations in the country. Millions of Americans protested against poor environmental quality and demanded a better tomorrow. By the end of 1970, the EPA was established and charged with cleaning up the environment and making it safer. With its inception, Congress passed the Clean Air Act followed by the Clean Water Act two years later. These initiatives not only reduced pollution, but they established guidelines for all Americans to follow for the following years.

Water, as we all know, is crucial to our daily lives and Americans use 100 gallons of it each day. Hedman spoke specifically about our water resources and how the EPA is protecting America’s water. Today, the EPA is working to protect the water resources by treating pollution, clearing waterways and cleaning public drinking water. “Fourty years ago, two-thirds of the nation’s waterways weren’t fishable or swimable,” Hedman said. “Today, two-thirds are.”

The first panel discussed deconstruction and minimizing the construction and demolition waste stream. Deconstruction turns waste into an economic and viable asset by redirecting waste and debris from landfills, preserving resources and reducing pollution and carbon emissions. Panelists included Doug Widener from the U.S. Green Building Council, Elise Zelechowski of the Delta Institute, Kevin Kruise from Allied Waste and Lloyd Davidson of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.

Deconstruction and reuse reduces waste, increases energy efficiency and incorporates green purchasing. In addition to that, this process has been recognized as an economic development opportunity for struggling workers and disadvantaged communities. A typical deconstruction of a residential project can employ five to six workers for three to four weeks, compared to demolition where one to two people work for one to two days.

As discussed, the biggest challenge with deconstruction is changing the way we see the built environment. Instead of seeing a run-down building with parts being sent to a landfill, people need to see deconstruction as a chance to get the largest return on investment in materials, human experience and job opportunities.

The Delta Institute is on the forefront of increasing the scope of the deconstruction movement. Working with stakeholders in both public and private sectors, Delta evaluated opportunities for this industry and opened a building reuse center; the Rebuilding Exchange. Based on the study, Delta got funding, partnered with The ReUse People of America and launched this facility in 2009. The Rebuilding Exchange gets the majority of materials donated from sustainable deconstruction projects, and the others from renovations and new materials that would end up in a landfill. The materials at the Rebuilding Exchange are sold for a fraction of the cost and are available to residents of all income levels.

The second panel discussion of the morning focused on energy consumption and various ways to track, manage and save it. Alec Rexroat of M&O Insulation Company started the conversation talking about the many ways in which mechanical insulation can save a building money over the long-run.

Mechanical Insulation encompasses all thermal, acoustical and personnel and life safety requirements in industrial, building and commercial applications. Rexroat discussed that simple insulation techniques can reduce energy costs and polluting emissions, control condensation, mold and corrosion, improve work environment, reduce facility life-cycle costs and provide exceptional return on investment.

“It is estimated that between 10% and 30% of all mechanical insulation is missing or damaged” said Rexroat. “If this insulation were up to standards, it could help reduce costs, emissions and increase available carbon credits.”

Rexroat concluded by explaining the differences between bare insulators all the way up to a three-inch insulator. A bare insulator loses 23,180,000 BTU per foot per year, emits 3,376.0 pounds of carbon per foot per year and costs roughly $18.56 per linear foot. Compared to a three-inch insulator the heat loss is 679,100 BTU, emits 98.2 pounds of carbon and costs $14.76 per linear foot. The difference is clear; insulating is a simple step to increasing a building’s performance and cutting on wasted spending. It extends the life of surrounding equipment and improves the life-cycle cost.

Kathryn Eggers, Programs Coordinator of Center for Neighborhood Technology’s (CNT) energy division continued the discussion. “We like to think of ourselves [CNT] as a ‘think and do tank,’” Eggers said. “We are dedicated to helping communities and consumers save energy and money through dynamic pricing, energy efficient buildings and regional energy planning.”

Eggers talked about the lessons learned on energy savings from the CNT office’s recent renovation. The 15,000 square foot office was built in the 20’s, renovated in 2003 and received LEED NC Platinum rating several years later. In order to track the building’s performance, the staff monitored annual energy use intensity from 2005 to 2009, and adjusted for employment growth and computer usage.

The study showed that overall energy use had decreased, however it could have declined even more with further education. “The focus on sustainability should not stop after design and construction,” said Eggers “Ongoing performance evaluation should provide relevant actionable feedback to building owners, operators and occupants. A building’s best benchmark is its own performance.”

The final discussion for the day was about non-potable water sources. This topic was generated because of pending water legislation Senate Bill 38: Rainwater Harvesting for Non-Potable Uses. Rainwater harvesting is the practice of collecting, storing and using rain to ease stress on treated water supplies and reducing stormwater runoff. Since there is no existing legislation addressing this, SB 38 will require the Illinois Department of Public Health to establish minimum standards for rainwater harvesting systems by 2012.

Josh Ellis, Project Manager at Metropolitan Planning Council, has spent a considerable amount of time devoted to education and outreach for SB 38. “There are significant benefits to harvesting rainwater” said Ellis. “It saves money on municipal water and sewer charges, retains and utilizes stormwater, protects the environment, saves energy and the harvested water has a higher resale rate.”

In addition to that, SB 38 will enable and start the use of this simple, sustainable practice. It will create green jobs in various sectors like plumbing and landscaping. Finally, it will comply with Illinois’ conservation and efficiency obligations under the Great Lakes Compact.

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