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Three Building Competitions Working to Promote Energy Efficiency

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 23, 2015

Building challenges and competitions are a great way to promote and encourage the design of energy efficient buildings and improve the quality of the built environment. When financial incentives are in place to design the best buildings, teams are encouraged to innovate and expand upon existing design practices. Here are some of the building competitions being held this year around the United States.

1. Solar Decathlon

Sponsored by United States Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon challenges teams from 20 universities around the world to design and build energy efficient homes powered by solar. Teams are judged on a number of factors including architecture, market appeal, and efficiency. The competition occurs biennially in the United States and a complimentary competition known as Solar Decathlon Europe occurs on the off years across the pond. In 2014, PIMA was proud to sponsor the team representing Appalachian State University, the top American team in the Solar Decathlon Europe. The 2015 edition of the Solar Decathlon will take place October 8-18 in Irvine, California.

2. Battle of the Buildings

The Energy Star Battle of the Buildings is an annual competition that encourages managers of existing buildings to reduce energy and water usage over a one year period. Teams entering the challenge can win in one of three categories:

  • “Top Team. The team that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”
  • “Top Building. The building that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”
  • “Top Building by Category. The building in each category that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”

The top team for the 2014 competition came from The Town of Woodville Alabama which reduced energy use in their municipal buildings portfolio by 24.8%.


3. Architecture Zero Competition

Started in 2010, the Architecture at Zero competition is an annual design competition for net zero energy buildings in California. Sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the competition is open to students, architects, urban planners, and other design professionals interested in promoting net zero energy buildings. This year, entrants are contributing designs for family-style student residential units at the University of San Francisco.  Awards are given in several categories with a total of $25,000 in prize money available. 


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PIMA Celebrates Successful Mid-Year Meeting in the Big Easy

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, July 10, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Last month, PIMA members gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana for the Association’s 2015 Mid-Year Meeting sponsored by BASF. With record attendance of over 115 people, the meeting focused on the theme of “Resiliency and Innovation in the Built Environment.”

Members heard from a variety of speakers such as:

Rick Davenport, Director of Sustainable Construction, BASF: Rick spoke about the evolution of building science necessitated by advances and innovation in high performance building products. He also discussed his 51 years of industry experience and the work being done at the BASF Center for Building Excellence to improve the quality of the built environment.

Katie Weeks, LEED Green Associate, Director of Communications, Institute for Market Transformation: Katie discussed initiatives being undertaken at IMT such as the City Energy Project, which seeks to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in 10 major US cities by working closely with local governments to promote building energy codes. Katie discussed the importance of using building energy codes to reduce carbon emissions, and offered ways for PIMA members to become involved.

Fred Neal Jr., Senior Planner, Villavaso & Associates LLC: Fred provided a local perspective of the issues facing the city of New Orleans. Because of its location on the mouth of the Mississippi River, New Orleans creates special logistical challenges for local planners. Fred discussed the steps New Orleans has taken to improve its infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina and his vision for achieving a sustainable city through policies such as prudent building energy codes

Members also met in issue specific task groups to discuss important issues related to polyiso insulation.

PIMA’s Annual Meeting will be held November 3-5, 2015 in Washington, DC.

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US Energy Information Agency Analysis of “Clean Power Plan” Predicts Emissions to Decrease 35% by 2025

Posted By Alex Wellman, Monday, June 22, 2015

In August 2014, as part of the ongoing debate on the implementation of the EPA’s proposed “Clean Power Plan,” Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, requested that the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) conduct an analysis of the impacts of the proposed plan.  The EIA has completed the analysis and released it to the public last month.

The main goal of the EPA Clean Power Plan is to reduce emissions from existing power plants. In this regard, the analysis found emissions would decrease up to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, exceeding the stated CPP goal of a 30 percent reduction by 2030. 

One of the major concerns of the EPA clean power plan is rising energy costs, due to a shift from fossil fuel based generation to renewables.  This can be offset however through compliance pathways that rely on energy efficiency and improving building energy codes.  In fact, energy efficiency is considered one of the 4 main “building blocks” that states can use to comply with the rule.

According to the analysis issued by the EIA:

“Electricity expenditures also generally rise with Clean Power Plan implementation, but expenditure changes are smaller in percentage terms than price changes as the combination of energy-efficiency programs pursued for compliance purposes and higher electricity prices tends to reduce electricity consumption relative to baseline.

PIMA will continue to advocate for common sense policy that promotes the use of energy efficiency to save consumers money while also reducing carbon emissions. We are confident that as states look to comply with the rules under the EPA Clean Power Plan, they will see the importance of improving building energy codes and other policies that deal with energy efficiency.

The entire report from the Energy Information Administration titled “Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan” can be found here.




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Passive House Design Takes Off for Multi Family Housing

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Passive house design is a growing trend in the building design world that seeks to achieve high levels of energy efficiency through design choices such as super insulation, solar exposure planning, and natural ventilation. The first passive house concept was developed at the University of Lund in Sweden in 1988. Now, there are estimated 40,000 – 50,000 passive homes around the world, with the first one being built in the United States in 2003.

Although the return on investment for a passive home has been well documented, the increased costs associated with their design and construction has raised the barriers to entry. This means that most passive house buildings have mainly been single family homes built in affluent areas.

The tide is changing however as several multifamily passive house buildings have been built or are in the planning stages around the United States. One example of this is the soon to be completed Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons project in Washington, D.C. When finished, the multi unit passive house design building will provide homes for 36 low and moderate income families, including 12 families who were previously in the D.C. homeless shelter system. Because utility costs can be some of the largest expenses faced by a family, passive house design allows people to better budget their money for other things such as education, food, and family enrichment. The project, sponsored in part by PIMA and its members companies, is the first of its kind in Washington, D.C. and was recently awarded the First Annual Maryland Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Real Estate Awards by the University of Maryland’s Colvin Real Estate Institute.

A similar project recently completed in Philadelphia, the Belfield Avenue Townhomes, is another example of passive house design being incorporated into a multi family, low and moderate income housing complex. According to an article published by Dwell, “like most Passive Houses, Belfield Avenue incorporates supercharged wall insulation (in this case, nearly eight inches of densely packed cellulose and Polyiso, a type of rigid foam board), triple-pane windows, and an energy-recovery ventilator, which draws fresh air into the house while expelling kitchen and bathroom exhaust.”

According to the U.S. based Passive House Institute, of the 121 passive homes in the United States that they have certified, 100 are private, single family residences. It’s encouraging to see this innovative design technique being used more and more in multifamily construction, especially in projects aimed at low income residents. When people can save money on energy costs, they have more to spend on other things that can greatly improve the quality of their lives. PIMA is proud to be a part of projects like the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons building in Washington, D.C. and will continue to support research for further applications of passive house and net zero energy design. 

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Carbon Taxes: A Viable Alternative to the Emissions Caps?

Posted By Alex Wellman, Monday, April 27, 2015

According to a recent poll conducted by Stanford University, 78% of Americans believe that the federal government should regulate green house gas emissions. While the majority can agree that limiting and regulating these emissions is good thing, the policy prescriptions are often more controversial.

The current strategy by the EPA and other federal agencies involves simply capping the amount of green house gas emissions. This is evident by the so called Clean Power Plan which would set designated carbon emission reduction targets on power plants in the states. The idea here is that states would have some flexibility in designing plans to meet these goals through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates.  This plan has some positive benefits such as allowing states to design plans that fit their needs, and not rigidly managing them based on a one size fits all regulatory regime. 

 While capping carbon emissions is the obvious plan of action when looking to reduce green house gas emissions, there can be some unintended consequences. For example, states that are heavily reliant on carbon based electricity generation due to the presence of abundant natural carbon resources may be unfairly punished under this plan. Also, states which have already taken steps to reduce carbon emissions may need to implement more drastic and anti-competitive policy choices to meet the cap.

As an alternative to the simple capping of carbon emissions, carbon taxes have emerged as a potential solution. A carbon tax in its most basic form would tax producers of carbon emissions using a calculated price per pound of CO2.

Carbon taxes have a number of advantages over emissions caps. When carbon has a price, companies will be incentivized to lower their emission rates through innovation. For example, if wasn’t feasible to convert a manufacturing facility over to renewable energy in the past, the price signal may now allow for that under the carbon tax regime. 

Another benefit over a simple cap would be the revenue raised from the tax. Most carbon tax plans are designed to be revenue neutral, with all revenues raised by the tax used to offset other taxes such as the corporate income tax. Using income from a carbon tax to lower the corporate income tax also has a practical political benefit, and can be something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can appreciate.

Despite these positive qualities, carbon taxes are not without their flaws. As the price of carbon cannot be calculated using the free market, it is hard to get it right. Jurisdictions that have already implemented a carbon tax have found that often times the price they set is either too high or too low, and doesn’t provide the intended effects. Also, once a tax is in place, it is virtually impossible for one Congress to tie the hands of the next in regards to how the revenues are allocated, thus negating the revenue neutrality of the tax.

While both of the plans have negative consequences , most people agree that something must be done to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. Under either of these plans, improving the energy efficiency of commercial buildings will be an integral part of the solution. Commercial buildings are responsible for roughly 45% of green house gas emissions in the nation. Making choices such as including polyisocyanurate foam insulation in the design of a building is an excellent way to improve the energy efficiency of your building and reduce harmful green house gas emissions.  The road to reducing emissions will not be easy, but is something that can be accomplished through innovative public policy decisions and education.

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Nation’s Capital Tops Energy Star Building List

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, April 10, 2015

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its annual list of the top 25 cities with the most Energy Star certified buildings.  This year, Washington, D.C. has topped the list with 480 certified buildings. Washington, DC is no stranger to the list, and has come in second place for the last 5 years behind Los Angeles.

Rank     Metro Area                  2014 Building Count

1          Washington, DC             480
2          Los Angeles                   475
3          Atlanta                            328
4          New York                        299
5          San Francisco                292
6          Chicago                          251
7          Dallas-Fort Worth           248
8          Houston                          235
9          Denver                            195
10        Boston                            176

Home to a diverse building portfolio, Washington, D.C. is quickly becoming a leader in the world of energy efficient and green building. It was the first jurisdiction in the country to require large private buildings to measure their energy and water usage, and to require that data to be publicly available for benchmarking purposes using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool. As a result of this law, Washington, D.C. has seen a large uptick in the number of Energy Star certified buildings.

Commercial buildings are responsible for around 17 percent of green house gas emissions in the nation. Energy Star buildings perform 75 percent better than similar buildings, and are responsible for 35 percent fewer emissions. Increasing the number of Energy Star buildings will inevitably improve the quality of the built environment and reduce the amount of climate change causing carbon emissions. According to the EPA, “more than 25,000 buildings across America have earned EPA’s Energy Star certification since 1999. The buildings have saved nearly $3.4 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly 2.4 million homes.”

Many commercial buildings rely on the high R-value of polyisocyanurate foam insulation to achieve the energy efficiency necessary to be certified as an Energy Star building. PIMA and its member manufacturers are proud to work with the EPA and the Energy Star program to help achieve the goals of improving the quality of our built environment and reducing carbon emissions.   For a complete list of the top 25 Energy Star cities, please visit the EPA website here.

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Dr. Jim Hoff to Lead Comprehensive Commercial Roofing Online Education Course

Posted By Alex Wellman, Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This fall, building industry professionals from across the country have the opportunity to participate in a comprehensive commercial roofing course lead by PIMA Technical Director and TEGNOS Research, President Dr. Jim Hoff. Dr. Hoff holds undergraduate degrees in psychology and architectural design as well as a Masters and Doctorate in management, and has published numerous articles on building system performance, quality management, and life cycle analysis.  

According to the course website, if you participate in the “Commercial Roofing Boot Camp, you will learn the key principles of modern roofing as well as the best tools to put these principles into action. In addition, you will practice applying these key principles and tools to every major type of roofing material available today – including the latest in membranes, insulations, and accessories.” The course is broken down into weekly topics including energy savings, moisture management, life cycle analysis, and advances in modern low slope roofing materials.

The online course will run from September 28, 2015 – December 4, 2015, and will use the text book (not included) Manual of Low-Slope Roofing Systems (Fourth Edition) by C. W. Griffin & Richard Fricklas. Enrollment will be capped at 50 to ensure Dr. Hoff has the ability to answer all questions and work with students directly. The course is self paced, and students can expect to dedicate a minimum of 5 hours a week on the materials.  Students will finish with a capstone project allowing them to demonstrate the mastery of commercial roofing design. The course has been approved by RCI for 20 RCI CEHs + 20 AIA Learning Units. The course fee is $1,595 with an early bird discount of $1,195 available through June 30.

For more information and to register for the course, please visit:


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Tiny Houses Booming

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, March 13, 2015

While the economy has started to recover from the great recession, many people are still feeling the lingering effects.  There is a cautious optimism amongst homebuyers and lenders alike to ensure a crisis of this nature never happens again.  This idea is even more apparent among millennials, who grew up and graduated college during the downturn and are now seeking to avoid making the same mistakes as their parents. The combination of these issues has led to a boom in the popularity of so called “tiny houses,” as people from every generation look to downsize and simplify their lives.

Tiny houses can often fit a variety of descriptions; including converted school buses, floating tiny house boats, or tiny log cabins perched on four wheels. While simplifying life is often given as a reason why someone would embrace the tiny house lifestyle, for many people economics is the motivating factor.

Tiny homes also cater to the growing trend of mobile workers who do not need to be in an office everyday and can work anywhere with a reliable internet connection. This mobile lifestyle is attractive to members of every generation, including millennials just starting out and retirees who may be still doing some consulting on the side.

Besides the lower initial costs to build a tiny home, the maintenance and energy costs are considerably lower. While this would seem obvious due to their smaller size, it’s also due to the typical building practices used to build tiny homes. Many tiny homes are built using cutting edge energy efficient building technologies including polyisocyanurate foam insulation. In fact, polyiso seems to a top insulation choice amongst builders of tiny homes as demonstrated by the following projects:


“Mentoring Girls in Construction” Program builds Tiny House Using Polyiso


Colorado Couple Converts School Bus to Tiny Home and Chooses to Insulate with Polyiso


Shipping Container Tiny Home Uses Polyiso


While the tiny home lifestyle is not for everyone, it’s something to consider for those who wish to have a mobile lifestyle and are budget and environmentally conscious. As more and more people seek to simplify their lives and are no longer tied to a desk in a traditional office, it is inevitable that the tiny house trend will continue to grow. 

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PIMA Proud to Sponsor Sustainable Energy in America Factbook

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, February 27, 2015

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance have once again teamed up to publish the 2015 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The Factbook serves as an objective, scientific document containing valuable information for policy makers, journalists, and industry leaders.  

One focus of this year’s Factbook is the evolution of energy productivity in the United States. Historically, an expanding economy required an equal expansion of energy production to meet demand. This is changing however with advances and innovations in energy generation productivity and efficiency technologies.  According to the Factbook, “By one measure—U.S. GDP per unit of energy consumed—productivity has increased by 54% since 1990. Between 2007 and 2014, total energy use fell 2.4%, while GDP grew 8%.”

Increasing productivity is not the only positive change to the U.S. energy economy however. Contributions to the energy grid from renewable sources rose by an estimated 12.9% in 2014, with wind and solar tripling in capacity since 2008. This brings the total U.S. investment in clean energy in 2014 to $51.8 billion, the second highest in the world.

Energy efficiency has also seen tremendous gains. While advances in smart meters and energy efficient appliances often dominate the headlines, the Factbook found that “commercial buildings have showed the greatest progress on energy efficiency over the last several years.” It is evident that this progress is in direct correlation with the increased use of high performance building practices and materials such as polyisocyanurate foam insulation.

In the world of energy policy, information can be the most important asset to making smart decisions regarding the future of our energy economy and built environment. PIMA is happy to sponsor the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook and recognize it as an invaluable tool to policy makers around the country. The Factbook can be read in its entirety by visiting the Business Council for Sustainable Energy website.


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Energy Audits Go Full Scale

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, January 30, 2015

Energy audits are not a new concept, but the technology used for them is rapidly changing. Traditionally, the audit of your home or office would be conducted with tools such as a hand-held held thermal imaging camera, which is often a labor intensive and expensive process.  Now there is a new technology developed by Boston based company Essess.

Similar to the technology employed by Google to produce its “Streetview” maps, Essess has developed a car topped system that can thermally scan thousands of homes a night. This is accomplished by using relatively low resolution thermal imaging cameras combined with proprietary software that stitches the images together to produce usable, high quality thermal images of buildings. Instead of requiring thermal imaging cameras that cost upwards of $40,000, Essess can achieve the same high quality results with $1,000 cameras. This scalability is what separates the technology developed by Essess from traditional one-on-one energy audits.

Essess does more than provide raw thermal image data however. They have developed algorithms that that allow energy utilities and other organizations to identify which customers would be more likely to take steps to mitigate heat leak issues. This is accomplished by using software they call Thermal Analytics which uses data such as mortgage payment rates, average of tenants, and utility costs in these calculations. Similar software could potentially be used by manufacturers of insulation to identify customers who would benefit from an insulation retrofit.

Drive by technology is not the only place innovation is happening in the world of energy audits. In 2011, the UK city of Coventry hired planes equipped with thermal imaging cameras to fly over the city and record which residents were having problems with heat loss through their roofs. This allowed the city to identify vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, and enroll them in programs aimed at helping to lower their energy costs and improve their homes.  In the end, Coventry was able to assist more than 600 residents. 

When more people are armed with the knowledge gained from an energy audit, they can begin to make smart decisions about how to improve the quality and comfort of their buildings – both commercial and home. While simple steps such as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED’s or purchasing new appliances can be the most apparent, major benefits can be earned from taking a look at the building envelope and ensuring that your home or business is adequately insulated. 

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