BuildingHealthy.org Examines Healthy Building Practices within Building Certifications

A new website released today examines the healthy building practices in more than 20 residential building certifications. The site, BuildingHealthy.org, focuses on healthy building practices that have a direct impact on occupants and that are considered permanent features of the building.

BuildingHealthy.org includes numerous healthy building practices such as environmental site assessments, smoke-free policies, air filtration, indoor air quality testing, ventilation best practices, water quality best practices and testing, and materials free of the most harmful substances—among more.

“The goal is to incentivize a broader consideration of healthy building practices among building professionals, such as developers, owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and more,” said Michael Miranda, Outreach Manager for Building Clean. “The lack of health-related mandates in building certifications creates a barrier in fully integrating health considerations into the built environment. We’re working to eliminate the barriers and support current and future efforts that incentivize comprehensive building standards.”

BuildingHealthy.org supplements the growing movement to incentivize green and energy-efficient building within different sectors and at different levels of the government.

“Buildings that are healthy for the environment and are healthy for occupants will benefit every community and the availability of a tool allowing homeowners and tenants, architects, engineers, builders, and building managers to discuss and integrate these principles into their projects is instrumental in fulfilling BuildingClean’s vision,” said Miranda.

BuildingHealthy.org is a project of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation and is part of the organization’s BuildingClean program (BuildingClean.org).

INFORM Magazine Article: Specifying American-Made Building Products

Builders experienced shocks to their supply chain in early 2020 from COVID-19. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) reported in April 2020, 45% of contractors experienced shipping delays or supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 as manufacturing facilities and ports closed overseas.

The building product industry is highly globalized and contractors are often reliant on imports. According to Richard Branch, chief economist at Dodge Data & Analytics, 30% of all building products used in the U.S. are from China, with another 20% sourced from Mexico and Canada. Smaller, lower-cost, and more standardized products are typically manufactured outside the U.S. The products most likely to be sourced overseas include hardware, electrical materials, lighting fixtures and bulbs, plumbing, and fire protection systems. Domestic manufacturers also rely on raw materials and components from overseas to build their finished products.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues these impacts are expected to remain, leading to higher prices and supply chain bottlenecks for contractors, especially as construction rates return to normal. As a result, contractors and manufacturers are seeking ways to build a more resilient supply chain.

For many common building materials, it is possible for builders to find a domestically made alternative. Contractors can ensure their projects are flexible enough to avoid tariff risks by specifying and purchasing American-made building products. Always specifying at least one product made close to home makes sure your project’s contractors have options.

Read the full article at INFORM. 

BuildingClean.org Adds Building Enclosure Products to American-Made Building Product Database

BuildingClean.org, an online tool that links the energy, housing, and health sectors together, today announced the addition of building enclosure products to its American-made building product database.

“We are excited to expand our database to include building enclosure products,” said BlueGreen Alliance Foundation National Program Manager Dana Saylor. “These products—from drywall to brick—are crucial to the construction of every building. Using American-made building products helps guarantee a reliable supply chain, it also sustains more than 4,600 building product manufacturing facilities across the United States. Energy-efficient products and recycled building materials alone support more than 320,000 American manufacturing jobs.”

The new building enclosure section of the database includes 1,985 production sites making products from grout to masonry, wood framing, sheathing, waterproofing materials, and more.

For an exterior wall, the building enclosure typically includes all building components from the interior surface of the wall outward to the exterior surface of the building, including windows and doors. Similarly, for a roof the enclosure typically includes all building components from the interior surface of the ceiling outward to the roof membrane, asphalt roofing, or roof shingles. For foundations, building components extend from the interior surface of the foundation wall and floor/concrete slab outward to the foundation insulation and soil. BuildingClean.org has separate sectors on roofing, insulation, joint sealants, and windows, doors and skylights that together with the building enclosure listings represent all the U.S. manufacturing in this important building concept.

Building Clean is an initiative of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation and the Building Clean American-made products database also includes appliances, lighting, plumbing, roofing, sealants, HVAC, and water filtration products. The database is easily searchable by manufacturing location, material, product type, or CSI-code to  find products.

BuildingClean.org Report Finds “Buy American” Policies Would Dramatically Boost Manufacturing Jobs Making Energy-Efficient Products

The report, entitled Manufacturing Efficiency: How Buy America Policy Can Boost Jobs Manufacturing Energy-Efficient Products, compared the manufacturing job creation potential of strengthening all retrofits to full deep retrofits, increasing the retrofit rate, and implementing Buy American policies.

“Increasing the retrofit rate, strengthening retrofits, and enacting Buy American policies will deliver more than 170,000 manufacturing jobs across the nation, while driving down emissions and securing a more sustainable future for the nation,” said Jason Walsh, President of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation. “This report shows the tremendous opportunity in making the products we need to make our homes and buildings more energy efficient at a time when America’s manufacturing sector is in need of revitalization and millions of Americans have applied for unemployment during the ongoing pandemic.”

The study found that increasing demand for American-made energy-efficient housing products through Buy American policies and deep retrofits will boost job creation in manufacturing, with appliance and HVAC manufacturing showing the most growth. At the current estimated retrofit rate of 2%, just strengthening retrofits to full deep retrofits would support 132,000 manufacturing jobs. Adding a Buy American policy to a deep retrofit rate of 2% would create another 20,000 jobs. Finally, the report explored the impact of increasing the deep retrofit rate to 4% while also enacting a Buy American policy. Under this scenario more than 170,000 additional jobs would be created.

“Our nation is long overdue for a massive infrastructure investment, including funds to modernize our existing buildings,” said United Steelworkers (USW) International President Tom Conway. “Using American-made materials as we upgrade our homes and businesses will not only ensure that they are safer and more efficient, but will also create good, union manufacturing jobs, helping rebuild our battered economy and laying the foundation for a brighter future for all.”

With the right policies in place, energy efficiency could be a driver of significant growth of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Deep retrofits go beyond basic weatherization and feature exterior continuous insulation; energy-efficient appliances; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); and windows.

“The benefits of enacting the actions outlined in Manufacturing Efficiency are undeniable,” Walsh said. “The creation of manufacturing jobs in communities across the nation will help our nation heal from the devastating economic impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Stopping energy waste will strengthen our fight against climate change. And, ramping up residential deep retrofits—especially in affordable housing—will make the buildings we live and work in healthier and safer.”

Click below to download the report.

Home Radon Levels Go From Low to Dangerous within 150 Feet

By Michael Miranda, LEED AP, HERS Rater, Building Clean Outreach Manager

A HIDDEN PROBLEM

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer. Radon is released as radioactive metals uranium, thorium, and radium break down in rocks, soil, and groundwater. It enters homes primarily through openings in the basement or slab. You can’t see or smell radon. The only way to know your level of exposure is to test for it.

After reviewing state historical testing data for radon levels in the Rochester area, Building Clean suggested that Flower City Habitat for Humanity—a builder of high-quality and healthy affordable housing—perform radon testing on its latest homes. Flower City Habitat for Humanity conducted radon testing on four new homes built within 300 feet of each other.

TESTING FINDS A SURPRISING RESULT 

Despite the four homes having been built the same way—by the same builder and during the same time period—the tests found that radon levels varied significantly within just 150 feet. The results found low levels of radon on one side of the street but dangerous levels on the other side. 

Radon testing in three of the homes on the same side of the street found levels of 1.0 pCi/L or less. Testing in the fourth home, which is across the street from the other three homes, found a radon level of 8.12 pCi/L. To put these numbers in context, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers it necessary to remediate a home if the radon level is 4 pCi/L or higher, and urges remediation if the level is between 2 and 4 pCi/L. Internationally, the World Health Organization recommends action if radon levels are above 2.7 pCi/L.

Luckily Flower City Habitat has a valued volunteer in Jim Bradley, who has been working closely with the Building Clean team and has experience dealing with radon.

To test the Flower City Habitat homes, Jim used his own electronic radon monitor. Testing was performed in the basements of the homes while the homes were in the final phases of construction with finishes and appliances being installed. The electronic radon monitor has a screen that constantly displays the long-term and short-term radon level, updated daily and hourly respectively.

The electronic radon monitor results were confirmed with a traditional short-term radon test kit that is mailed to a lab for analysis. The short-term radon test kit revealed that sealing the sump pump cover produced a small reduction in radon levels.

FIXING THE PROBLEM

The EPA classifies every U.S. county into one of three radon zones—Zone 1, 2, or 3—based on predicted average indoor radon levels. The four homes that were tested are in a Radon Zone 2—counties with predicted average indoor radon levels from 2 to 4 pCi/L. During its Rochester work, Building Clean found New York State Department of Health data showing that 10% of homes with basements in Rochester have radon levels greater than 4 pCi/L.

Zone 1 counties are expected to have the highest radon levels, with predicted average indoor levels greater than 4 pCi/L. Zone 3 counties are expected to have the lowest radon levels with predicted average indoor levels less than 2 pCi/L.

The EPA stresses that no matter where you live, and no matter the radon zone, the best practice is to test your home for radon. In multifamily buildings, the EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all units below the third floor for radon.

After the test findings, the next step was to install a pipe from the sealed sump pump cover to the outdoors, so that radon under the foundation has an easy path out before having a chance to enter the house. Installing the pipe is called “passive radon ventilation,” but that is not always enough and a fan (powered ventilation) is sometimes needed to pull the radon out. Follow-up electronic radon monitor results showed no impact from passive ventilation connected to the sump pump cover, and powered fan ventilation would be needed.

HOW AND WHY TO TEST YOUR HOME

With energy efficiency and healthy homes being more valued, closing openings that let in pests and pollution and let out expensive conditioned air also has the potential to change home radon levels. Home improvement work such as installing a sump pump, adding a bath fan in the basement, air-sealing, weatherization, and more may allow more radon in or stop it from leaving. Re-testing your home’s radon levels after making these types of improvements is highly recommended. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test (2 to 90 days) is less likely than a long-term test (more than 90 days) to tell you your year-round average radon level.

There are two types of do-it-yourself radon test methods, a traditional radon test kit that is mailed to a lab for analysis and an electronic radon monitor that displays radon results on a screen or a smart-phone app.

Both methods can be used to perform a short-term test (2 to 90 days) and a long-term test (more than 90 days). Before buying a mail-in short-term radon test kit, be sure to confirm how long you can test as some only test for 2 to 7 days.

Builders might consider investing in an electronic radon monitor, like the one Flower City Habitat for Humanity used, so they can monitor radon levels within multiple homes and buildings. According to the EPA, nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States is likely to have elevated radon levels. Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.

BUILDING CLEAN IS HERE TO HELP

Remediation techniques can differ by home. An experienced radon mitigation professional should be consulted to reduce elevated radon levels.

Building Clean offers free assistance to non-profit affordable housing organizations to help build healthier and energy-efficient affordable housing with American-made building products. If you are interested in learning more about Building Clean’s free services, email danap@bgafoundation.org.

Radon Testing Resources

  • Check with the local or state health or environmental protection agency to see if they offer radon test kits for low or no cost.
  • The EPA lists organizations within your state that you can contact about possible discounted or free radon test kits.
  • If you would like to have a professional conduct the radon testing, the EPA offers direction.

Resources to Reduce Radon Levels

If elevated radon levels are found, the following information can help:

  • EPA Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction: How to Fix Your Home;
  • EPA resources on choosing a radon mitigation specialistand
  • The American Lung Association blog post on a staff member’s radon mitigation experience in her own home.

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Continuing Our Mission During the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are taking proactive steps to protect the health and safety of our staff and allies, including:

  • Allowing our staff to work remotely and closing our physical offices for the near-term to protect our staff, the workers in our building, and members of the public; and
  • Temporarily postponing in-person meetings and events.

While our physical spaces will be closed, our full team of professionals will continue to operate remotely in an effort to practice safe social distancing, as recommended by public health officials.

You can continue to reach our team members via their email (during this transition, email will probably work best) and phone.

Building a stronger, cleaner, more just economy is important work and we will continue to do it. We will tackle it differently by using remote meetings and other technology to allow us to communicate with our members and supporters—at least for the foreseeable future.

We hope that you and yours are safe and healthy during this trying time.

Sincerely,

The BlueGreen Alliance Foundation Team

Does Daylight Saving Time even save energy? Spring forward on energy efficiency anyways!

In 2008, The United States Department of Energy Department examined the impact of the extended Daylight Saving Time on energy consumption in the United States and found that Daylight Saving Time saved about 0.5% in total electricity per day. While this might not sound like a lot, it adds up to electricity savings of 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours—or the amount of electricity used by more than 100,000 households for an entire year.

Although Daylight Savings Time saves electricity used for lighting, another report from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the time change causes a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling, stating that Daylight Savings actually increases residential electricity demand.

Despite what experts argue, you can spring forward with energy savings on your own. Here are some easy-to-do spring energy savings tips:

Embrace the fresh spring air by cleaning your air conditioning/HVAC filters

Over the winter unused A/C units gather dust and debris, which can strain the components necessary to make your system work efficiently. This spring, remove any leaves and debris from inside and around your unit, ensure all the grills and vents are unobstructed, and replace your unit’s air filter to ensure your unit isn’t overworking and using excess electricity.

Look for the energy-efficient products when shopping

Looking to upgrade some appliances around the house for spring cleaning? Don’t simply look for the best deal on the shelf; you can save even more if you let energy efficiency drive your decision. In 2017 alone, ENERGY STAR and its partners helped Americans avoid $30 billion in energy costs. The next time you’re in the store or shopping online, look for the EPA’s WaterSense label or ENERGY STAR certification.

Retire those old light bulbs and replace them with LEDs

Increase the life of your light bulbs by investing in energy-efficient LED and CFL bulbs, which use 75-80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last 25 times longer. As your light bulbs need replacing, consider efficient light bulbs to save you energy and money! Easily find the LED lights you need on BuildingClean.org.

Adjust your smart thermostat to for spring

The weather is changing as we move into spring and so are our schedules. Since you will likely be spending more time outside the house, program your smart thermostat accordingly. You can save big by adjusting the temperature in the house a couple degrees while you’re sleeping or away. It’s hard to remember to do it every day; a smart thermostat can be programmed to remember when you are gone and take care of the hassle for you!

Use shades to block direct sunlight from heating your home

The sun is a great way to allow light and heat into your home during the winter months, but as outside temperatures rise the sun’s heat can become unbearable. Close your shades and blinds when you are away from home to block direct sunlight from beaming in and heating up your living space.

Let your dishwasher do the dishes, stop handwashing

Dishwashers consume less water per load than washing dishes by hand, 3 gallons instead of a whopping 27! Handwashing dishes can use up to 5,000 more gallons of water annually compared to using an Energy Star rated dishwasher. Quickly find certified, American-made dishwashers using BuildingClean.org.

Change your ceiling fan setting to run counterclockwise

When ceiling fans are moving counterclockwise they are pulling heat from the room towards the ceiling, allowing the cooler air to make the room more comfortable. If you switch your ceiling fan to clockwise in the winter to get the opposite effect, a winter energy efficiency best practice, make sure you switch it back in the spring.  A ceiling fan can make a room feel several degrees cooler, especially when used in conjunction with an air conditioner.

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Winter Energy Saving Tips

Use a Humidifier

Indoor air, particularly in winter, can have humidity levels as low as 10 percent, but the ideal humidity level for your home is between 30-40 percent. Using a humidifier can offer a variety of benefits including fighting dry skin, soothing the respiratory system, protecting your furniture, and making your home feel warmer. The more moisture that is in the air, the warmer it will feel.

Program Your Smart Thermostat

A smart thermostat is Wi-Fi enabled and can be programmed to automatically adjust heating and cooling temperature settings in your home for optimal performance. Optimizing your temperature settings will help you save money. By lowering the thermostat 8 degrees during the daytime while away from home and during nighttime when you sleep, you can save up to $180 a year.

Let In the Sun

Follow the sun’s lead! Take advantage of the sun’s path by opening the curtains on south-facing windows in your home during the day to capture the sun’s natural warmth. It’s an efficiency win because the sun’s energy is free. It’s important that after the heat is harnessed to close the curtains to keep the heat in.

In Between the Cracks

Sealing air leaks in drafty buildings can save more than 20 percent on your heating bill. Apply tape or felt weather stripping to doors and caulk the joints around window frames and between the frame and the wall. Foam sealing may be a little easier but could trigger an assortment of illnesses. Weather stripping  can be low-cost and easy to do yourself. Remember, measure twice, cut once!

Dust Off Those Ceiling Fans

Are the ceiling fans in your home sitting still all winter? Most modern ceiling fans have a “winter” setting, which reverses the fan so that it moves clockwise instead of counterclockwise, pushing the heat near the ceiling down into the room. This is especially helpful if you have high or sloped ceilings. When operating the fan clockwise be sure to use the low setting as not to cool the warmer air you’re trying to circulate.

Check Your Vents, Move Your Furniture

Check that your home’s heating vents aren’t blocked. This will make sure every room is getting its maximum heat potential. Blocked return vents in a forced-air central heating system also could cause air pressure issues, which further disrupts the flow of heat. In addition, mildew and mold could grow in organic fabrics that block air flow.

BONUS: Keep Yourself Warm at Home

Regulating our home’s temperature is more difficult and costly than regulating our own. When home, wear a warm robe or sweater, break out the throw blankets, and invest in decent slippers. Being comfortable is key — you don’t want the thermostat so low that you have to wear a coat in your own home. But considering the potential cost savings, you may be able to find comfort with the thermostat just a couple degrees lower.

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Building Clean Teams up With HPN Select to Help Affordable Housing Owners Find Local Building Products

“Through this partnership, HPN Select and its members will have access to important information about the sourcing of their building products. Using locally manufactured products not only supports local economies and grows jobs, but decreases the environmental impact of these projects,” said Lauren Asplen, Director of Healthy Sustainability Programs at the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation. “We are thrilled to be partnering with some of the best nonprofit developers in the nation.”

BuildingClean.org is an initiative of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation and is dedicated to linking the energy, housing, job, and health sectors together in order to tap the benefits of energy efficiency for millions of low-income families. Building Clean has a database of U.S.-made, healthier energy efficient products designed to help architects and designers, consumers, contractors and developers, and manufacturers find products to help them capture the benefits of energy efficiency retrofits—including lower utility bills, improved tenant health, and increased economic development.

The mission of HPN Select is to provide high quality procurement solutions for the affordable housing sector. A Housing Partnership Network social enterprise, HPN Select focuses on delivering value-for-money contracts that achieve the right balance between price, quality, and service for its customers in order to give members greater financial capacity to fulfill their own mission related goals.

In addition to announcing the partnership, Building Clean and HPN Select announced that Select’s Vice President of Sustainability, Richard Kingston, would be presenting at the Building Clean 2019 Summit on November. 14, 2019 in Chicago. Registration for the summit is open and may be completed here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/building-clean-2019-tickets-70186470623

Failing Water Infrastructure Impacts Health

That’s right. It failed.

Water Quality Awareness Month is the perfect time to look at how our nation’s failing water infrastructure is impacting health.

Turns out that U.S. cities rely on pipes that are, on average, a century old. Age combined with strain from population growth, lack of investment, the pervasiveness of lead pipes, and emerging threats from extreme weather events have increased the burden on the current water infrastructure system and the health risks to our communities.

The pipes leak 6 billion gallons of drinking water daily, or about 14 percent of all treated water. This waste of energy and water costs $2.6 billion a year. It is estimated that the water and energy saved from stopping leaks could support 15 million households.

Leaks add water to the ground where it acts as a “universal solvent” to dissolve and spread many different types of substances, including toxic chemicals from factory runoff, construction sites, and other activities.

Health issues are associated with the water that remains in the systems as well. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently found that more than 27 million Americans get their water from systems that violate health standards.

Improperly treated water can expose Americans to harmful chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and PFAS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “young bottle-fed infants who consume mostly formula mixed with tap water can receive 85 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.”

Overall, America’s drinking water quality is still among the best in the world. But if the current state of neglect continues that may change.

It is estimated that $105 billion is needed to repair America’s water infrastructure. In addition to reducing the chance of chemical exposure, this investment could create hundreds of thousands of family-sustaining jobs. BlueGreen Alliance research has found that improving our drinking and clean water systems to a “B” grade over the next 10 years could create about 654,000 job-years across the U.S. economy. With strong labor and procurement standards, among other policies, we can make sure that these jobs are good jobs.

Safer water. Improved health. Quality jobs. That sounds like an A+.