Green Buildings: Group Confirms Our Critique While Attacking It
Last week I discussed my new book "Eco-Fads" on KUOW's Weekday program and one of the topics we addressed was the failure of green building standards like LEED and the state's "High Performance" school building standards. As we've noted in the past, green schools are frequently less energy efficient than non-green schools in their same districts.
This brought a strong response from the "Brute Force Collaborative" (I'm not making that up). On their blog Brute Force noted that they tried to call in to the radio program and challenge one of my claims about "green" buildings. They wrote:
Today, I did something I never thought I’d do – I called into a radio station. We live by a few credos here at Brute Force – one goes, “Never argue with an idiot, for he will lower you to his level and beat you with experience.”
They didn't get put on the air (which I had no control over). I wish they had.
What are they so upset about? In the interview, I noted that one of the problems with "green" building standards is that they increase the amount of windows in an effort to save on lighting costs. The counterproductive result is that it becomes more difficult to control the temperature of the building because windows are poor insulators.
The folks at Brute Force didn't like this argument and claim that triple-pane windows don't have these problems. They believe the "Passivehaus" approach, which uses triple-pane windows does save energy and costs.
I haven't spent much time examining Passivehaus, so I spoke with an architect who knows the system. He explained that even triple-pane windows are not as energy efficient as walls, and he highlighted the high cost of the windows. Whether they pay for themselves depends on many factors.
My critique in my book and on KUOW, however, isn't about Passivehaus. My critique focuses on LEED and Washington's "green" schools law. So what does Brute Force have to say about those approaches? I'll let them speak for themselves.
The WPC’s biggest issue seems to stem from the fact that ‘green standards’ like LEED increase cost (generally 1-3% of construction costs for public buildings in the state of Washington) – but don’t necessarily increase efficiency. ... we’ve been saying this for years. LEED has historically taken a weak approach to operational energy reduction.
So, they actually agree with me on LEED. How about the state's "green" schools legislation? They write:
[T]he actual legislation Myers referenced, ESB 5509, doesn’t mandate any energy reductions.
OK. So they are saying I'm right there as well.
The only complaint Brute Force really has is that I didn't weigh in on their preferred approach.
I will say this about Passivehaus advocates: if they can encourage folks to spend their own money on this type of building, then more power to them. They admit, however, that their goal is to mandate their approach in law. If their system is so obviously beneficial, one would think they wouldn't need to mandate anything. The fact that they are turning to brute force (i.e. the force of law) rather than persuasion, indicates their claims may not hold up.
Architects and engineers are bright and know how to make energy-efficient buildings. New approaches will emerge, technology will change and they will adapt. Just as they always have, they'll adapt even without new government regulation.
When politicians try to mandate the eco-flavor of the month, whether it is "high performance," LEED or Passivehaus, it has proven to be more costly than expected. These systems yield fewer environmental benefits than promised. I would encourage Brute Force to prove themselves in the market before they try to impose themselves on everyone.
Still, I am happy to see they agree with several of my points.