Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Introduction to Carbon Footprinting: Part 1

I learned a new term recently:  Vaporware. 
Vaporware is a product that has been announced, but does not actually exist yet.  What I like about vaporware is that it inspired me to think of yet another possible class to teach in the School of Comparitive Irrelevance (e.g. Urban Planning for the Roma, and Grammar of Solecisms, or my personal submission: Nerfherding for Agoraphobes).  

So, I wondered about a class called Carbon Footprinting of Vaporware.  The question is-- can something that does not exist have a carbon footprint? 

The question, at this point, is an academic one, since most of what we're concerned about in the carbon footprinting world is big heavy manufactured, transported, and/or processed stuff that we consume or exploit. 

Given that oh-so-pithy introduction, this blog posting actually goes out to Carbon Footprints and its sprawling uncle, Life Cycle Assessment.  These are ginormous topics that will be the equivalent of Accounting for Environmentalists in a future environmental catastrophe constrained planet.  In the near future, we may just have a carbon-dioxide limit, but we'll see how that goes soon enough. 

By the way, I've just Googled "Coping with Copenhagen" and we're up to 592,000 non-unique hits! 

Introduction--written by Chris Stiedemann (former uber-intern)
    A glimpse of energy statistics reveals that US buildings' utility consumption represent upwards of 50% of CO2 emissions each year. Not included in this statistic, however, are construction-related emissions. A recent EPA report reveals that work done on construction sites releases another 6% of US annual emissions; include material supply and that percentage increases even more. Cement and lumber production alone account for another 10% of US annual emissions. 
While these numbers encompass all sorts of projects from highways to highrises, you can begin to understand that the environmental impact of any new building extends well beyond the bottom line of the utility bill.  1  2    
What is a "Carbon Footprint"?
What We Need is the Imperialization of Metrics  
Some who happen to read this far, and who happened to be well versed in carbon accounting really need not read any further.  The intended audience is someone who doesn't get to interact much with carbon footprinting or have any kind of academic background in it.  
Carbon Footprint is short for "the equivalent global radiative forcing from atmospheric emission of carbon dioxide." 
I'm going to take a pedagogically risky choice here, and start with an example from the real world literature, thereby bypassing some of the usual introductory contexts.  The first thing I want you to take away from this, for your literacy, is that carbon dioxide is not the same as carbon.  Why that's important is that sometimes you'll see something confusing like this:
"Chexxon Oil emitted 2 million tons of carbon last year in the form of methane"  
Frick.  This is rather unfortunately ambiguous.
--Did they mean 2 Megatons of carbon as weighed in the molecule of methane (CH4), or did they mean a global warming potential (GWP) of CO2 as measured in the carbon in the CO2, or did they mean the equivalent GWP in CO2?  The differences can be profound--
2 megatonnes (metric) of carbon as weighed by the carbon content of methane would be:  2 [MTonnes C] x 16/12 [mass of CH4/mass of C] x 23 [GWP equivalency to CO2]= 61 Megatonnes of equivalent CO2.  Admittedly, I've never seen this interpretation, but it is technically possible.
2 megatonnes of Carbon as weighed by the carbon content in CO2:
2 [MTonnes C] x 44/12 [mass of CO2/mass of C] = 7.3 Megatonnes of CO2  
2 Megatonnes of CO2= 2 Megatonnes of CO2 equivalent
--And by tons-- did they mean "short tons" (2000 lbs), "long tons" (2240 lbs), "metric tons" (1000 kg), or "ton longweight" (2400 lbs)?
So, let this be my entreaty to y'all (or a call for protocol) to avoid these kinds of vaguenesses common in popular literature on climate change.  
Be clear that you're talking about equivalent CO2 emissions.
And be clear about the metric (imperial or otherwise).

That's it for now--
Next up-- Global Warming Potential 

1 Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Key Industrial Sectors in the United States. May 2008. US EPA. (pages 21,33, 45)

2 Fergus Garber Group

3 Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Key Industrial Sectors in the United States. May 2008. US EPA. (pages 21,33, 45)

4 Fergus Garber Group

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'll play the devil, you can be the light

Hi all,
Per our recent coffee/lunch and learn with new super-friend Dustin from LAViD Design, I wish to pontificate on lighting.
One realm of the professional building industry that seems ripe for improvement in the green building industry is lighting.  This is a subject on which most of us have both professional and personal opinions, verging on profound spiritual attachment.  Thus I will try to shed (contronym?) light onto your numinous lumininousness (you know I've been setting that up for a couple of sentences now ;)
  Meanwhile, I have some voluminous ruminations to proffer in your directions-- why? cud I love chew!  (<--OMG-- that is so bad I have to leave it in here).

Which leads me to Non-sequitur #1:  Have you ever noticed that when Astro-the-Dog in the Jetsons says "rubric," he's actually saying "Blue Brick."  You know that dog sure knows his schist.  So it's not just a fluke that he died of schist-osomiasis.

Vaguely syllogism-like-dialectic to summarize the point of this email.
1.  Energy consumption in lighting in the residential sector is growing rapidly, and will become increasingly problematic as a result.  (something like 50% of building electricity consumption in the summertime is spent on air-conditioning needed to dump all the heat coming from lighting to the outside.)
2.  This trend comes, paradoxically in spite of an increasing array of much more energy efficient lighting technology choices in the marketplace which have virtually identical visual performance with substantially greater efficiencies.
3.  (my hypothetical-- unproven)  The fundamentals of lighting design and performance are not intuitive to most building occupants such that poor and/or ineffective technologies and designs are often repeated.

ERGO:  We as building and design professionals should figure out how to prevent lighting performance and energy consumption from being a problem, in whatever context. 

One anecdote to illustrate lighting as a "problem":
I went out to perform an energy audit on a house a couple of months ago because the house was consistently too hot.  I went and inspected the windows (fine), the air conditioner (fine, doing its job), the pipe insulation, the wall insulation (definitely above code) and several other things.
The reason for their discomfort and high air conditioning loads in both summer and winter (!) was due to their lighting system.  It was not an abnormal one in the kinds of houses we work on-- very energy efficient envelope with a very inefficient lighting system.
In this particular case, I told the homeowner how the lighting and thermal comfort of her house were interacting and some of the ways it could be resolved, both in efficient and inefficient ways.  In the end, she chose the most inefficient way to deal with the problem (leaving the lights on and cranking the AC when things get too hot), but it was at least a more informed decision.

With that anecdote I also intend to imply that the clients may indeed insist on an inefficient design, but one that they are most comfortable with.  So be it.  We can at least provide them good alternatives.

Rhetorical Question
I've seen plenty of really elegant and beautiful designs  (our primary concern).  I've never seen an energy efficient one.  I have also never seen a design that explicitly looks at the quantitative performance of space and task lighting.  Why is what is standard in the commercial industry (quantitative lighting effectiveness analysis, and need based application)?

Don't worry, I think I know the answer, and it's none of your, or my faults.  I'm just asking it on behalf of us all.

 I generally distrust the latest meme of mythbusting since it's generally used in a simplistically rhetorical way and not to promote deeper understanding.  Thus I connote, and will aim for the latter.

1.  Halogens are not significantly more efficient than incandescents.  Maybe a little, just because they can operate at higher temperatures.  If incandescents use 100 units of energy, halogens would use about 75-80, but fluorescents would use 10-15.  If light bulbs were cars, switching from incandescents would be like switching from a Hum-Vee to a Cadillac Escalade.  Fluorescents would be a Ford Expedition with the mileage of a plug-in Hybrid.

2.  Dimming is not a meaningful energy savings measure.  Dimming incandescents by 20% might save you 15%, but those energy savings are not linear.  Dimming 40% might save you 25%.  If you just installed a fluorescent (or an expensive LED) then you've already saved 85% out the gate.  And you can dim a fluorescent down with more quasi-linear luminous efficacy (lumens per watt).

3.  Lumens are not nearly as important as evenness in distribution.  The human eye can effectively see from 0.1 lumens per square foot to 10,000 lumens per square foot.  That's 6 orders of magnitude (How's THAT for robust!).  In almost every problematic lighting design I've seen in the past 8 years, the problem has been uneven distribution, and not amount. Of course, the usual answer was more lumens and more waste.

To wit: Puns relating to the spectroscopic.
--When the man with X-Ray vision lost it, he had Ex-X-ray Vision.  When he got it back again, it came with an unhealthy prurience, and now he has XXX-ray visions.  
--Lighting design, like high-energy particle physics, is not for lightweights.  That's because light has no mass, and therefore no weight, unless you believe in the particle side of wave-particle duality, in which case you weigh a photon, which is strangely homophonic with "faux"-ton.  And we all know that all our foes are fakes, (and not real, therefore nonexistent) .   If you are light then you are in fact pure energy, and according to general relativity, time is relatively non-existent for you, so again, you have no wait. 
Even being a lightweight in the quantum boxing world can by itself be a frighteningly existential experience-- especially if you're a cat.

Beginning a list of green-competent lighting designers:  I am Pro-Professional!  (warning-- link has some expletives)

Lighting is a very personal and sensitive part of the home environment.  Many of our clients pay particular attention to lighting quality and design.  They also learn from and trust our lighting consultants.  I have been looking for some lighting designers that I can trust provide by default a functional, practical, and quantitatively modeled design that meets the needs of our clients and is energy efficient.  Here are three that I've found.

The one person on this list that I've met.  He gives lots of classes in lighting, and even some for AIA credit (I remembered Erica!).

Loisos+Ubbelohde in Alameda

Integrated Design Associates in San Jose

Okay, That's quite enough for now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Inaugural Post-- VOC's

VOC's: Volatile Organic Compounds

What are they?
Volatile Organic Compounds turn out to be a very broad array of chemicals, most of which have little to no researched health impacts. There are a few that do, however, and those are the ones we're worried about in the least. The others we're avoiding based on the precautionary approach-- that is, we're not sure that there will be harm from something/some process, but if we avoid that thing/process altogether, then we know there won't be harm (problem solved!).

Ok, so again, what are we talking about here:
The one we hear most about is formaldehyde-- the stuff in which they used to embalm the Egyptian mummies (and still used as a preservative today), and the same stuff which aspartame sweetener turns into in our stomachs (10% turns to formaldehyde). Those in the industry sometimes call it HCHO, after its chemical formula, but I prefer its anagram, “COHH”, since it’s a bit more onomatopoetic, as you will soon see.

Health impacts of COHH:
Formaldehyde is a nasty little bugger for human health. Exposure to it in significant concentrations generally produces irritation of the eyes and throat, coughing, difficulty breathing, etc. To sensitive populations, lower concentrations are known to incite asthma episodes, allergic reactions, rashes, and fatigue. Lastly, it has been shown to be a carcinogen in proxy humans, i.e. mice.

Other nasties:
There are myriad other indoor air pollutants that have documented health impacts (and by myriad, I mean more like 90).
These are documented here: