Biophilic Design as a Holistic Approach to Healthier Buildings

Biophilic design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities. It prioritizes integrating innovative building materials and techniques into living spaces that are beneficial to our health. People spend around 90% of their time indoors, implying that public health highly depends on the health of indoor ecosystems. Relative to affordable housing, biophilic design provides a path forward for healthier and more beautiful spaces, and has the potential to rectify the negative impacts of living in what are too often depleted and insufficient living environments.

Biophilic design exemplifies the notion that spaces should be cultivated for enhancing public health and nurturing humans’ innate desire to feel connected to natural systems. In buildings, incorporating environmental features such as natural ventilation and daylight, views and vistas, green walls and flora, or access to a garden provides occupants with a direct visual and experiential connection to nature. Integrating organic shapes and forms such as tree-like columns, botanical motifs, and spirals into design is another effective way of evoking nature.1 Projects that draw inspiration from surrounding geography, history, ecology, and culture create an environment for occupants to experience a sense of belonging in having their unique community reflected in their dwelling spaces.

The building materials that comprise our living spaces have the ability to affect cognitive functionality and performance, psychological health, physiological health, and our overall well-being. Indoor air is often polluted by building and consumer products containing hazardous chemicals, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can cause long-term damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system2. Respiratory ailments, prohibitive proper cognitive development, high stress levels, high blood pressure, toxic legacies, depression, anxiety, and cancer can be developed or exacerbated if our built environment does not create a positive nurturing habitat that acknowledges people as biological entities.3

A visual connection to nature curated with the power of healthier building products and design strategy can have a positive impact on attention restoration, stress reduction, and overall health and well-being. Studies have shown that biophilic indoor environments correlate with increased cognitive function, reduced stress and anxiety responses, and an increase in positive emotions as compared with those in non-biophilic environments.4 This has been demonstrated in certain studies, which showed that bright sunlit rooms resulted in a 26-41% reduction in the length of a hospital stay,5 and a 10-15% increased mental function and memory recall when given access to a view.6 In addition to the positive effects on mental health, biophilic design frameworks can contribute to cleaner indoor air quality through increased ventilation and fewer toxicants in building materials. It is shown that when schools upgraded to displacement ventilation to increase fresh air, occupants benefited from a 69% reduction in asthma.7 Additionally, when people had access to natural ventilation a 16.7% reduction in doctor visits was shown.8

Healthier building materials aid in the implementation of biophilic design in a space through multiple facets. Light, air, natural ventilation, sounds, texture, colors, and materials all provide opportunities for building products to embody characteristics of the natural environment. Incorporating minimally processed organic materials such as cork, compressed earth, or clay and lime paints and plasters–into our interior spaces provide residents a visual and tactile connection to nature while also benefiting from low- to zero- VOC building products. Emerging biomaterial markets and products are promising the adoption of more natural materials in our dwelling spaces. Cross laminated timber (CLT) and mass timber–which consist of wooden planks glued together to form structural walls, floors, and beams–offer positive benefits to building occupants in connecting them to exposed wood grain, while contributing to climate resiliency with its inherent carbon-storing properties.9 Additionally, the rise in research and production of 3-D printed homes could expand the possibilities of incorporating organic shapes and non-linear spaces into our buildings, providing new frontiers for biophilic design in homes, schools, hospitals, and retail spaces.

Green building certifications can play a vital role in contributing to the creation of healthier and biophilic spaces. A renewed interest and a growing path to resource conserving biophilic buildings has been led by the International Living Future Institute and their Living Building Challenge (LBC). In their “deep green” building certification, they require that design and build teams incorporate biophilic design strategies into building projects by looking to their local ecology, climate, and culture for inspiration. Project teams seeking LBC Certification must participate in a day long workshop dedicated to exploring the potential for biophilic design for their projects, and must result in a framework and plan for addressing how projects will integrate place-based relationships, public art, nature-inspired patterns, and environmental features10. WELL Certification, a green building certification focusing on health and wellness in the built environment rewards points for a variety of biophilic design features outlined in their building standard, including occupant access to nature; deliberate restorative spaces; nutrition education; proximity to local food production; and circadian lighting design.11

Strategies that uphold equity and fairness should be at the heart of affordable housing, and biophilic design frameworks have the potential to guide building design and construction into spaces that promote occupant and community health.12 By looking to green building certifications such as Living Building Challenge and WELL, project teams can have accountability in implementing systems and features that will lead to healthier and more equitable buildings and communities. Biophilic design as a health promotion mechanism can be profoundly beneficial for under-resourced and marginalized communities who are more often living in older, less efficient homes, and are disproportionately exposed to–and have their health impacted by building materials which contain hazardous chemicals. The demonstrated therapeutic benefits resulting from connection to nature, proper daylighting, natural ventilation, and healthier materials could be utilized more readily as strategies to improve indoor air quality and other environmental conditions in affordable housing.

Endnotes
1. International Living Future Institute (ILFI), Biophilic Design Guidebook, 2018. Available online: https://www2.living-future.org/l/464132/2019-03-25/ghpnlf?RD_Scheduler=BD
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. Available online: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality
3. Building Clean, Six Classes: A New Way to Eliminate Harmful Chemicals. Found online: https://buildingclean.org/harmful-chemicals/six-classes-new-way-eliminate-harmful-chemicals
4. Jie Yin, Shihao Zhu, Piers MacNaughton, Joseph G. Allen, John D. Spengler, Physiological and cognitive performance of exposure to biophilic indoor environment, Building and Environment, Volume 132, 2018. Found online: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2018.01.006.
5. Choi, Joon Ho. Study of the relationship between indoor daylight environments and patient average length of stay (ALOS) in healthcare facilities. Diss. Texas A&M University, 2007.
6. Heschong Mahone Group, Inc. – Daylighting and Productivity. “Heschong Mahone Group, Inc. – Daylighting And Productivity.” H-m-g.com. N. p., 2017. Web. 20 Dec. 201
7. Smedje, Greta, and Dan Norbäck. “New ventilation systems at select schools in Sweden—effects on asthma and exposure.” Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal 55.1 (2000): 18-25
8. Heschong Mahone Group, Inc. – Daylighting and Productivity. “Heschong Mahone Group, Inc. – DaylightingAnd Productivity.” H-m-g.com. N. p., 2017. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.
9. Terrapin Bright Green, The Nature of Wood: An Exploration on the Sciences of Biophilic Responses to Wood, 2022. Found online: https://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/blog/2022/01/the-nature-of-wood/
10. International Living Future Institute, Living Building Challenge 4.0, June 2019. Available online: http://living-future.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/LBC-4_0_v13.pdf
11. WELL Building Standard™ version 2 (WELL v2™) International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), 2022. Available online: https://v2.wellcertified.com/en/wellv2/overview
12. Minnesota Undergraduate Research and Academic Journal, Anne Debertin, Biophilic Design, Regenerative Design, and Equity: An Intersection, 2021. Found online: https://pubs.lib.umn.edu/index.php/muraj/article/view/3618

Building Clean: Policies to Accelerate the Presence of Locally Made, Healthy Materials in Multifamily Housing

Building Clean’s “Buy Local, Buy Healthy” motto is a concept and approach to purchasing building products that focuses on supporting jobs in the local or regional economy, while lessening exposure to hazardous substances in the home through a better understanding of a product’s ingredient content and how it might impact the health of residents and installers. When applied in conjunction with building products that are energy and water-efficient, this concept can help transform lives and communities by creating buildings that save resources, grow jobs, and protect public health.

The benefits of healthier retrofit products that are locally made are numerous. By ensuring the products used in affordable housing retrofits are healthy and locally made, we can create more energy-efficient jobs; improve affordable housing conditions; increase tenant savings; improve tenant comfort and health; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This toolkit contains effective and innovative policies and programs highlighting the commitment to healthy and locally made materials by cities, states, and utility companies. It provides links to specific policy language as well as case studies detailing the impact of buying local and buying healthy.

Building Clean is a program operated by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation (BGAF) that aims to educate builders and other housing stakeholders about the importance of using energy- and water-efficient building products made in the U.S. and free from chemicals that could impact the health of residents and workers. Using healthy and locally made materials in retrofits of multifamily, affordable housing projects both increases the demand for U.S.–made energy-efficient products and decreases exposure to harmful chemicals found in many housing products.

Zero Energy Ready Strategies

Written by Michael Miranda and Linnea Morgan from the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation’s Building Clean initiative. 

What is Zero Energy Ready?

Net-Zero Ready or Zero Energy Ready buildings are designed and built to meet a certain level of energy efficiency so that if a renewable energy system were installed, the building would then produce as much energy as it consumes. While a Net-Zero or Zero Energy building is an energy-efficient building with a renewable energy system installed that produces as much energy as it consumes.

Zero Energy and Zero Energy Ready buildings typically have very well insulated roofs, walls, and foundations, along with energy-efficient appliances, heating, ventilation, domestic hot water, lighting, and, if needed, air conditioning systems. Assuming a typical occupant’s energy consumption behavior, the end goal is the home’s utility bill showing zero energy consumption at the end of a year. The building’s designer works back from that goal.

If the building is tall and skinny, so that the relative roof space for a solar PV system is small compared to the size of the building, then a more efficient building is needed, which means more insulation and higher efficiency HVAC and hot water systems. However, if the relative roof space for a solar PV system is large, then a slightly less efficient building is fine (if cost-effective).

This is all determined by creating a building energy model, with all the numerous building components that impact the energy performance of the building included within the model, such as the type of construction and energy performance of the roofs, walls, foundations and windows, and the energy performance of the appliances, heating, ventilation, domestic hot water, and air conditioning systems.

Building Certifications

The U.S. Department of Energy has a Zero Energy Ready Homes program where participating homes are verified by a qualified third-party and are at least 40%-50% more energy-efficient than a typical new home. This DOE program generally corresponds to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index Score in the low- to mid-50s, depending on the size of the home and the region in which it is built. The PHIUS Passive Building Standard goes beyond the Zero Energy Ready Homes program and requires an even more energy-efficient building. A true Zero Energy Home will have a HERS Index Score of around 0 by producing as much energy as it consumes.

Costs

A recent Rocky Mountain Institute report found that new zero energy homes are almost at cost parity, with a small incremental cost difference to code-built homes. In some areas of the United States, zero energy homes do not cost more to build.

Zero Energy Ready Strategies

Below are some strategies to successfully achieve Zero Energy Ready buildings, along with some real-world examples of Building Clean work with Flower City Habitat for Humanity.

Take Advantage of the Incentives: Your local energy efficiency incentive provider, which might be your utility company, city/town, or a state agency might provide incentives for building zero energy ready or zero energy buildings. Below are some resources to find incentives or rebates. If you can not find zero energy ready incentives, look for funding for achieving similar certifications that can provide you with some additional funding to get you there. Similar certifications include ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction, LEED for Homes, LEED New Construction, National Green Building Standard, Enterprise Green Communities, or PHIUS Passive Building Standard.

Funding resources:

  • Local and regional energy efficiency incentive providers, such as your utility company, city/town, and/or state agency
    • New York State, through NYSERDA, offers Net-Zero rebates and smaller ENERGY STAR rebates. Both rebate amounts are increased for low-to-moderate-income housing. The NYSERDA Net-Zero rebate is $4,200 and the NYSERDA ENERGY STAR rebate is $1,700 for a single-family low-to-moderate-income home.
    • In Michigan, Consumers Energy has a Zero Net Energy program
    • The Energy Trust of Oregon offers incentives through their Path to Net Zero program
  • The Zero Energy Ready Homes program has also compiled a list of some of the incentives available
  • Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE)
  • ENERGY STAR certified building incentives
  • Energy efficiency incentive providers, such as utility companies, commonly provide custom rebates for commercial and industrial buildings, and it might be worth asking for a custom rebate based on the energy reduction you achieve beyond the minimum required by ENERGY STAR.

Expertise within the Project Team: Depending on the expertise within the project team, a green building consultant or HERS Rater might be useful, or potentially required if you are pursuing a certification that is required to receive an incentive. Local and regional energy efficiency incentive providers might provide funding to cover some technical assistance and/or testing the HERS Rater provides.

Very well insulated and air-sealed roofs, walls, and foundations are typical in zero energy and zero energy ready buildings due to insulation and air sealing being the most cost-effective measures for dramatically reducing the energy consumption of buildings. Air leakage not only allows indoor heated and cooled air to escape, but just as bad, air leakage through the insulation in the exterior walls, roof, and foundation reduces the effectiveness of the insulation dramatically.

There is a perception that spray foam insulation is needed to build a tightly air-sealed and highly efficient zero energy building, which is not the case at all. Spray foam insulation is not only expensive, it is the most hazardous type of insulation product, with various ingredients of concern that are hazardous to installers and occupants. 

When renovating or building a new building, the design or on-site conditions can sometimes limit the amount of insulation you can add to the building. The building cavity might be smaller than expected or there isn’t sufficient access to properly insulate portions of the building. When this occurs, project teams might be tempted to use spray foam insulation to achieve the insulation value they wanted or are required to achieve due to building energy codes.

During Building Clean’s product consultation with Flower City Habitat for Humanity, Building Clean suggested using REScheck to avoid using the planned spray foam insulation and replacing it with common, less-expensive batt and rigid insulation, which resulted in savings of approximately $3,250 per home. Check-out our resource on How to Meet Building Energy Codes While Avoiding Costly & Hazardous 2-Part Spray Foam Insulation that explains how REScheck provides you with flexibility in meeting building energy codes, and allows you to avoid using hazardous spray foam insulation.

A well designed and tested ventilation system is important in every building, but even more so in tighter buildings. Tight buildings make typical exhaust-only ventilation even less effective since there is less air leaking into the building to replace the air that is trying to be pushed out. Balanced ventilation that brings in filtered, fresh air, while exhausting stale air at the same time, such as energy recovery ventilators (ERV) and similar heat recovery ventilators (HRV), are essential in highly efficient buildings.

Flower City Habitat for Humanity purchased American-made ERVs for $90 less than the major-brand foreign-made ERV they had started to install. The American-made ERV had easier to replace air filters, and, most importantly, it was more efficient when full energy performance was considered, both ventilation recovery efficiency and power consumption.

It is very important to right-size the HVAC system to ensure it operates at peak efficiency, short-cycling is reduced (increasing system life), and equipment costs reductions are also common. Load-sizing calculations, using ACCA Manual J and S, are completed to properly size the HVAC system for the building.

By right-sizing the HVAC equipment, Flower City reduced its HVAC equipment cost. However, this also reduced the heat pump energy efficiency rebate. This sometimes occurs when energy efficiency rebates are tied to the HVAC system capacity or size.

It is best to get multiple quotes for multiple competing products or models. To compare quotes, a higher efficiency product will have a higher SEER, CEER, EER, HSPF, AFUE, EF, or UEF efficiency rating.

After receiving a quote for one model of heat-pump hot water heaters, BGAF suggested getting another quote from a different brand with almost the same capacity (first-hour rating) that was American manufactured and had a higher efficiency rating (a higher UEF in this case). Flower City installed the American manufactured heat-pump hot water heater, while saving $300 per unit.

Getting to Zero Energy

The key here is the addition of a renewable energy system that will produce as much energy as the building consumes. Focus on three types of renewable energy systems, the very common solar photovoltaic (PV), thin-film solar PV, or large 100+ kW wind turbines, which are cost-effective systems with proven track records.

Funding resources:

  • Local and regional renewable energy incentive providers, such as your city/town and/or state agency
  • Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE)
  • Non-profit organizations cannot take advantage of tax-based incentives, such as federal tax credits, so many have chosen to use common power-purchase agreements or lease structures to take advantage of those incentives.

 

Building Clean Case Studies

THE ZEM PROGRAM: USING BETTER MATERIALS TO IMPROVE OCCUPANT HEALTH

Over the next few weeks, Building Clean will be releasing a series of case studies highlighting successful programs across the country that incentivize buying local or buying healthy! 

Buy Local, Buy Healthy is a concept and approach to purchasing building products that focuses on supporting jobs in the local or regional economy and lessening exposure to hazardous substances in the home through a better understanding of a product’s ingredient content and how they might impact the health of residents and installers. This concept, when applied in conjunction with building products that are energy and water-efficient, can help transform our lives and our communities by creating buildings that save resources, grow jobs and protect our health.

You can find the first case study below.

The ZEM Program: Using Better Materials To Improve Occupant Health

Builders Share Their Thoughts on Health and Hazards in Building Products

The following post is from Dana Saylor, National Programs Manager, for the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation’s Building Clean initiative. 

The Building Clean project is interested in shaping research and educational materials that can help builders take a health-centered approach to understand building products, including what chemicals of concern are in building products and how to identify and purchase healthier options. A part of that goal has been to understand what education and training are currently available for building professionals on toxic materials in building products, their impacts on residents and installers, and healthier alternatives. By connecting with organizations who provide training to builders, we are developing a better understanding of the information being taught and where discussions on these issues could be expanded.

However, within this effort, it is also important to understand what issues surrounding hazardous chemicals in building products construction professionals consider to be of greatest interest and concern. Building Clean took a step towards doing that in our recent “Healthier Building Products and Practices in Construction” survey, which drew valuable feedback from respondents and is highlighted in the summary below.

“Healthier Building Products and Practices in Construction” Survey Summary

Who Participated

Respondents came from a variety of backgrounds ranging from architects to materials specifiers to carpenters, and almost all had a focus on green building and energy efficiency. 60% of respondents work in single-family, 26% in multifamily, and 43% in affordable housing. Several eastern and central states are represented here, including Washington D.C.

Of those who are seeking green building certifications, Energy Star was the most reported, followed by LEED, LBC, NGBS, and Earth Craft. Others mentioned were EPA Indoor airPLUS, Zero Energy Ready, WaterSense, and WELL.

All respondents were curious and concerned about hazardous chemicals in building products, with about a third stating they have received education or attended webinars related to this topic. Those who achieved professional certification hold HERS, LEED AP+, LFA, WELL, and LEED Green Associate credentials. Nearly half of the respondents have used online sources or databases to find healthier materials, including Pharos, HomeFree, Mindful Materials, Green Building Advisor, BuildingClean, SF Tool, Red2Green, UL Product Lens, and 4specs.com.

Topics of Interest

Overall, there was a high level of interest in all of the topics we listed, including which building products are most harmful to health, carry third-party certifications and ingredient transparencies, and which products/brands are healthier alternatives. There is also interest in getting a general overview of chemicals but keeping it framed to building products and brands.

Concerns About Products

Respondents were concerned about specific products, including PVC, resins, adhesives, caulks, paints, flooring, particle board countertops, treated lumber, glues in engineered products, foam board insulation, spray foam, and fiberglass. Other concerns mentioned include harmful dust from materials such as drywall, concrete, treated wood, and asbestos tile—issues that adversely impact workers and installers as they are typically only present during construction. VOCs were the only specific chemical or chemical group mentioned.

Cost was the most reported concern. One piece of insight provided was that “even clients who are aware of the concerns of healthier materials are concerned about the cost, ‘It would be great to have cost information to share to show people that the “mark up” is not always there.'” Although more needs to be done, Building Clean has done some research to show that efficient, healthier, and U.S.-made building products can be cost-competitive with their alternatives, which we highlight in the following “Buy Local, Buy Healthy and Save!” brochure and “Appliance Cost and Country of Assembly Survey.

Performance was also mentioned by one participant as a concern, as well as the legitimacy of classifying certain products as “healthier,” indicating they “would like to see certifications that truly meet green building standards.”

Buying Healthier Products

Of those who are in the position to buy healthier products, a majority indicated that they do so on a regular basis or sometimes. A few respondents indicated that they were unsure which products are healthier as well as where to purchase healthier materials. Accessibility and affordability were mentioned as deterrents for not purchasing them.

For builders of market-rate housing, when asked if the use of healthier building practices and materials has given them an edge in attracting business, about half of the respondents who answered this question said it has. For some, it is less clear as they have only just begun to market these ideas to clients and have yet to understand if it will lead to new business.

Conclusions

Overall, respondents agreed that more information and education are needed across the construction industry to understand hazardous chemicals in building products and identify healthier options. Pursuing or mandating green building certifications in construction projects is one way to increase the knowledge and use of healthier products among builders, but how do we get beyond that to where healthier products are the first choice or the only option? Outside the pursuit of green building certifications, how do we ensure that the products architects specify for a project are those being used? Additionally, including homeowners in the conversation is important, and educating them on potential hazards in building materials is also needed.

There is also the issue of classifying certain products as “healthier.” We use that term to simplify communications about products that are third-party certified to be free from hazardous chemicals known to have an impact on human health. However, some certified products still contain chemicals that may be harmful to human health, so the question remains as to whether those products should be labeled as healthier vs. less toxic. One respondent said that some educational presentations on healthier products are hosted by building materials suppliers, which made them skeptical.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Building Clean’s work with affordable housing builders to source cost-competitive products that are efficient, healthier, and U.S.-made is helping to address this concern, but it is on a small scale. Upcoming product consultation work with additional partners will hopefully help us continue to show that products with these qualities are not always more expensive. However, financial costs should also be balanced against the cost of using less efficient products, contain hazardous chemicals, and are manufactured far away.

You can read the full BPA eJournal here.

The Building Performance Association (BPA) is a 501(c)6 industry association committed to redefining the industry by supporting policies that will improve and increase the expansion of home and building performance, energy efficiency businesses, and industries.

Buy Local, Buy Healthy, and Save!

Cost is key when it comes to how building owners, managers, builders, and homeowners decide what products to purchase and can take precedence over other important qualities like a product’s health impacts and efficiency, especially when the budget is tight. Building Clean’s work with affordable housing builders over the past few years to help them source building products that are more efficient, healthier, and U.S.-made has shown that this compromise isn’t always necessary and that these products can be cost-competitive, if not cheaper than their counterparts.

The Buy Local, Buy Healthy, and Save! brochure highlights just some examples of Building Clean’s work helping affordable housing builders across the country select and purchase efficient, healthier, and U.S.-made products that save them money! It helps make the case for builders who want or need to use products with these qualities but are also concerned with the cost.

Our Appliance Cost and Country of Assembly Survey of ENERGY STAR refrigerators, clothes dryers, and clothes washers found that the United States made or assembled appliances are cost-competitive with foreign assembled appliances and that often the least expensive energy-efficient appliances are assembled or made in the United States.  Following our findings, at the end of the document, are some resources on how to find U.S.-made appliances to support American manufacturing.

Why You Need to Use a Certified HVAC Installer

The following post is from Michael Miranda, LEED AP, HERS Rater—Outreach Manager, for the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation’s Building Clean initiative. 

Your heating system (furnace, boiler, or heat pump) is likely to die during the middle of winter when it is working the hardest. The same is true with your air conditioner (A/C or heat pump) when it is trying to pump all that heat out of your home, during the peak of summer. It will typically die at the most inconvenient time, and you will want to rush to get it replaced.

Instead of scrambling to find companies online, looking through their reviews, calling to see how much they will charge and who is available to come by during their busy season, we recommend taking the following steps now, so you are ready when you suddenly have no heat or air conditioning.

1. FIND A CERTIFIED HVAC INSTALLER

U.S. Department of Energy Home Improvement Expert™ highlights that “research findings reveal most HVAC installations do not meet manufacturer specifications, which can reduce efficiency up to 20% and cause comfort problems.” In California, similar issues were found1 and even basic maintenance tasks were often performed incorrectly.2 Heating and cooling your home is typically more than 50% of your utility bills, so poor-quality installations will keep utility bill savings out of your wallet.

I’m sure you have heard horror stories about contractors, if not having experienced it yourself. That is why it is best to choose a certified HVAC installer, and you can easily find some below.

Three resources to find local, certified HVAC installers by zip code:
NATE-Certified Technician—some rebate programs require NATE-certified installers3.

The ENERGY STAR Certified Homes program requires that HVAC installers are credentialed by one of these two programs: ACCA’s Quality Assured (QA) Contractor or Advanced Energy’s Energy Star Credentialed HVAC Contractors.

2. GET TWO OR THREE QUOTES

Pricing can vary greatly between installers, so it is always best to get two to three quotes.

Is your air conditioner or heating system showing some signs of old age? If so, then you might want to call two or three installers for a quote on a new system during the off-season, when prices tend to be lower. Replacing your old HVAC system in the off-season can save you money, compared to prices you might get during the peak season. The lifetime of HVAC systems varies, with air conditioners lasting around 16 years, furnaces around 20 years, and boilers around 24 years.

3. INVESTING IN ENERGY-EFFICIENT EQUIPMENT IS WORTH IT

Installing ENERGY STAR-certified products is worth it. You should check the websites of your energy utilities or local energy efficiency organization, as they might provide rebates for energy-efficient systems. If you are having trouble finding rebates, check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) website, and enter your zip code.

To compare quotes, a higher efficiency product will have a higher SEER, CEER, EER, HSPF, or AFUE efficiency rating.

A good HVAC installer will do load sizing calculations (ACCA Manual J) to right-size your HVAC system. Right-sizing the HVAC system allows it to operate at peak efficiency, and oversized systems usually cost more than right-sized systems. An oversized system will also short-cycle, by turning on, running for a few minutes, turning off, and then turning back on just a few minutes later. This reduces the efficiency and life of the equipment. It is specifically important with air conditioners because the short cycling does not allow the air conditioner to dehumidify the air.

4. BUY AMERICAN MADE

You can find American made building products, including HVAC products at www.BuildingClean.org

You can search by product type/CSI-code, for furnaces, air conditioners, boilers, and heat pumps. Support American manufacturing and jobs, by buying American-made products. There are more than 900 manufacturing sites across the United States producing HVAC products and components.

Just 50 of the more than 900 manufacturing sites across the USA producing HVAC products and components

5. WANT TO CONFIRM YOU GET A QUALITY HVAC INSTALLATION

Tell the HVAC installer that you want them to add the U.S. Department of Energy Home Improvement Expert™ Checklist to your contract, and that they need to complete it and sign it before you will make the final payment.

You can download the checklists for different types of HVAC work, on their website under the Heating & Cooling and Fresh Air System sections.


1. The California Energy Commission (CEC) in a 2008 report estimated that 85% of central air conditioning system replacements and 50% of central air conditioning systems installed in residential new construction did not meet the manufacturer’s quality control specifications for airflow and refrigerant charge, and the CEC’s duct sealing requirement (less than 10% duct leakage to outside).

2. NMR: Field observations of 13 technicians servicing units with preset faults revealed that even basic maintenance tasks were often performed incorrectly.  Often the most impactful tasks for improved energy performance were not even attempted.

3. The Southern California Edison (SCE) residential quality installation and quality maintenance program requires that 50% of an HVAC contractor’s technicians be certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

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.