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Green Buildings Surge Amid New LEDs, Smart Windows

12:27 PM, Nov 14, 2012   |    comments
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(USA Today) -- As new LED light bulbs and smart windows debut, new surveys say the lure of lower utility bills is prompting a boom in green building despite a weak global economy.

Half, or 51%, of companies say most of their construction projects (at least 60%) will be certified as green by 2015, up from 28% in 2012 and 13% in 2009, according to a study Tuesday that finds saving money -- not the planet -- is their primary motive.

"It's a business decision," says Harvey Bernstein of McGraw Hill Construction, which released the report Tuesday in San Francisco on the eve of the U.S. Green Building Council's annual Greenbuild conference. The council is a private, non-profit group that certifies projects via its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.

"It's really shifted," Bernstein says, noting the top reason to build green three years ago was to do "the right thing" whereas now it's to meet client/market demand and to lower operating costs. He cites another shift, too, as more companies build green to improve indoor air quality and thus the health and productivity of occupants.

A second new report sees a similar boom in green building -- but not in LEED certification. In its 2012 survey of corporate executives, Turner Construction finds 90% are committed to eco-friendly construction, primarily to lower maintenance costs (84%) and improve indoor air quality (74%.) Yet the percentage "extremely or very likely" to certify their projects with LEED is now 48%, down from 53% in 2010 and 61% in 2008.

"Many believe they don't need LEED anymore," says Michael Deane of New York-based Turner Construction, which has used the program to certify up to 98% of its projects. He says survey participants cite the costs and staff time involved as the biggest factors. The LEED process, which requires inspections and extensive documentation, can cost thousands of dollars.

"There has been some frustration with LEED over the past few years," says Nadav Malin, president of Building Green, a consulting and publishing firm that writes a LEED user's guide. He says it has been cumbersome and slow to adjust, but he welcomes stricter rules that council members will vote on next year.

"The industry as a whole is getting greener," Malin says, giving considerable credit to the U.S. Green Building Council for defining a standard. He says construction codes are now more stringent and technologies more advanced, but adds: "There's still a long way to go."

One technology cited by Malin are smart windows that automatically adjust to outside conditions. This week at Greenbuild, View Inc. is showcasing its new Dynamic Glass, which uses electrochromic technology to adjust the tint of the glass to reflect or absorb light.

The Milpitas, Calif-based company, formerly known as Soladigm, spent five years developing the technology that it says can reduce annual energy usage by 20%. Minnesota-based Sage also offers electronically tintable glass for windows, skylights and curtain walls.

Also this week, Osram Sylvania said it has brought to market the first LED (light emitting diode) replacement for the 100-watt incandescent, which federal law began phasing out this year. Its bulb, which retails for $49.98 at Lowes, uses only 20 watts but delivers the same amount of light and is expected to last 25 times longer than Thomas Edison's 100-watt version.

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