Energy Star buildings list

EPA honors highly efficient building designs

Efforts to save energy by designing more efficient buildings continue to gain steam.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized about 100 commercial building design projects estimated to be nearly 40 percent more energy efficient than typical buildings. The agency made the announcement at the American Institute of Architects National Convention in Washington, D.C. The projects were submitted by 43 architecture firms and achieved Designed to Earn the Energy Star certification.

Projects that receive Designed to Earn the Energy Star certification are In total, the projects recognized at the convention are estimated to prevent nearly 175,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and save more than $23 million in annual energy costs across 10 million square feet of commercial space.

"These new building design projects are helping to save energy and money from the ground up for American families and businesses," says Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a statement. She says they range from skyscrapers to rural elementary schools.

Commercial and residential buildings consume about 40 percent of all energy in the United States and about 70 percent of all electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And electricity consumption in the commercial building sector is expected to increase another 50 percent by 2025.

In total, the projects recognized at the convention are estimated to prevent nearly 175,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and save more than $23 million in annual energy costs across 10 million square feet of commercial space.

The EPA says that by 2035, 75 percent of all buildings will be new or renovated and that architecture firms are "uniquely positioned to design energy efficient buildings and reduce carbon emissions."

Here are several highlighted projects:

High Performance Computing Research Center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. Architect is Gensler. Comments: "This project design provides power to the computers while using as little energy as possible. During winter, the air conditioning system can be switched off and giant louvers, or movable slates, can be opened to let in cold outside air."

Kroger Store in Dallas, Texas. Architect is Robertson Loia Roof. Comments: "This design incorporates energy efficient features such as cooler/freezer refrigerant heat replacement systems and roof planters for heat island effect reduction and shading. White high solar reflective roof material is also in the project plan to minimize sunlight absorption."

Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo. Architect is RB+B Architects. Comments: "The sustainable design of Red Hawk Elementary School creates a vibrant place for kids to learn with a central space connected to all parts of the school which allows for interactions amongst students and teachers. Sustainable features include proper orientation of classrooms to maximize daylight, displacement ventilation coupled with ground source heat pumps as well as radiant floor heating, low flow fixtures, and highly insulated building envelope."

Trend to slash high-rise electric bills sweeps industry

King Kong immortalized the Empire State Building -- more than once.

And while its status as the biggest and tallest has been eclipsed a number of times since Pres. Herbert Hoover turned on the lights May 1, 1931, the iconic skyscraper continues to lead the nation. However, now it's gaining fame as perhaps the best known energy efficient high-rise.

Others have followed, drawn by the prospect of saving money in a turbulent economy through relatively simple and cost-effective upgrades that can pay off in a matter of years. The U.S. Green Building Council says green commercial building retrofits actually exceeded new construction some months in 2011.

"Deep energy savings (30 percent to 40 percent) can be mined from existing buildings," says a July 2011 study by Vancouver, Wash.-based New Buildings Institute.

Energy Star fast tracks

A barometer of the trend has been the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of cities with the most buildings qualifying for Energy Star status. Energy Star certified buildings use an average of 35 percent less energy and are responsible for 35 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than typical buildings. Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, while commercial buildings make up half that.

Sitting atop the list for 2011 and the fourth year in a row is Los Angeles. It's followed by Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco. New York is No. 6. The rankings are less interesting than the number of additional buildings making it on the list each year.

For instance, LA shows 659 buildings qualifying, a whopping 152 percent increase from 2008, the first year the list appeared. Yet, New York, which didn't even make the top 10 on that inaugural list, increased its Energy Star rated buildings by about 226 percent with 261 buildings in 2011.

The EPA estimates the nearly 16,500 Energy Star certified buildings across the country save about $2.3 billion in energy costs.

"More and more organizations are discovering the value of Energy Star as they work to cut costs and reduce their energy use," says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement.

Empire leading by example

Back in 2008, the owners of the 102-story Empire State Building decided to add $13 million to a planned $93 million capital budget for remodeling. The move included 6,514 new super-efficient R7 windows, a rebuilt high-performing chiller, building automation and controls to maximize efficiencies, tenant energy management programs and other measures to be implemented.

Consulting, design and construction involved some heavy hitters, including Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls Inc., Jones Lang LaSalle, NYSERDA and the Rocky Mountain Institute. The project is expected to save 38 percent of the building's energy and $4.4 million annually, according to building officials.

Owners of the building say they did it for three reasons: to prove the economic viability of whole-building energy efficiency retrofits, to create a model for the industry and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"My wife and I have a very deep commitment to sustainability. It’s our belief that sustainable practices in everything are critical to our future," Tony Malkin, who owns the Empire State Building, tells Molly Miller of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Top 10 green buildings

Blogger Prakash T compiled a list of what he considers the top 10 green skyscrapers in the world. They range from the angular Hearst Tower in New York and the Swiss cheese inspired COR Tower in Miami to Fusionopolis in Singapore, which boasts its own ecosystem, and the strangest looking shopping mall ever, the Vulcano Buono in Italy.

Of the COR Tower, which he lists No. 1, he says: "The green features that make it one of the world’s greatest eco-towers are the wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, recycled glass tile flooring, solar hot water generation, bamboo lined hallways, and energy star appliances."

The Urban Cactus in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which comes in at No. 2 on Prakash T's list, looks like a stack of irregular levels, each boasting a garden terrace.

Cost competitive

The difference between green renovation and standard upgrade is a matter of cost. But the differential isn't as big as it would appear. Prakash says it can be just 5 percent more. USGBC's LEED program, which certifies levels of efficiency in buildings, requires upgrades that can tack 7 percent to 10 percent more onto the cost, depending on the level. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

In the United States, buildings account for about 36 percent of total energy use and 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent of raw materials use, 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually) and 12 percent of potable water consumption.

There is a benefit to all this activity. In a story by Cam Burns of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Chris Allen, sales and production manager at Glenwood-based Climate Control Co., a heating, ventilation and air conditioning services company, says the energy efficiency thing works for him. "If we hadn't gotten into energy efficiency, I don't know that we'd be 34 employees at this point,” he says. “It's been kind of a savior for us. Now it is everywhere.”

Blogger John Brian Shannon sums up the situation faced by many of us: "Our choices are laid out before us just like at the shoe store -- all we have to do is choose!"