WSJ Enterprises Blog

Putting reality in real estate and green building

Changing Green Building to Common Sense Building

USGBC 2008 Incentive Award winner for education was Ying Hua of Cornell University. My lecture to her class on “Understanding Green Building  Certifications” last week went very well and I was amazed at how bright her students were and how eager they are to learn. I was welcomed warmly and can’t wait to continue with the next lecture.

During our class discussion of the current state of green building and the influx of tax incentives, both for green education and buildings, it has become apparent that green building really should be called common sense building.  If the Cash for Clunkers program was such a success by giving away $4500 for you to spend $18,000 on a new car, imagine the success a program to give you a check for $1200 per year by spending $8000 on a new high-efficiency furnace would produce.  Throw out that old boiler and water heater both and replace them with a new boiler and hot water storage only tank and save $100.00 per month in lower heating costs. That’s $1200 per year for approximately the next 22 years. Add new windows, insulation, sealing gaps and cracks in foundations and the building envelope and we start talking big money. And since money talks it becomes common sense to do those things that will not only save you money, but allow you to be more sustainable at the same time.

The key phrase is;  You need to educate to create the incentive for green building! If people don’t understand it they aren’t going to do it. Too many people see green building as a premium, an extra, an added cost that won’t bring any payback, is too difficult, takes too much time and effort. The definition of intelligence is behavior modified by experience. We all need to experience the benefits before we will start to act more intelligently in our sustainable practices.

I welcome my recent LEED Green Associate course graduates to spread the word on green building benefits. The next semester class begins soon. 



November 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I need to disagree with the inflated savings on the new boiler system. Once again green build inflates it money savings and misinforms the general public.

    A 1960’s oil fueled boiler is 70-75% efficient, a top of the line 2010 oil fueled boiler is 90% efficient. So an average 2000 to 2500 square foot house uses 1000 gallons of oil per year at let say $3/gallon, act. closer to $2.50/gal.. Lets give green build the edge and say there is a 20% savings, that will be $600 a year in savings, a big difference than the $1,200. And yes this includes the hot water maker that works off of the boiler, which is an additional $2000 to the $8000 for the new boiler. All these numbers are actual real life numbers, not theoretical.

    And of course you can go with a gas system which is more efficient boiler system of about 94% but gas burns at a lower btu than oil and so you need more gas for the same amount of heat.

    You need to educate to create the incentive for green building!

    Comment by Tom Blankfayeir | March 4, 2010 | Reply

    • Whenever an argument is made for or against sustainable building you cannot ignore the value added proposition. To make a statement solely based on statistical average negates personal use rates, consumer education, specificity as to size and placement. This agrument can be compared to opponents to global warming who state that human endeavor does not contribute significantly to the global warming in total and warming would have happened by natural processes anyway. The statistical fact that our troposphere is the room in question makes the “facts”of global warming a current debate, but driving across the Throgs Neck Bridge one only needs look to the right to see the yellow pall over New York City to see how ridiculous it is to ignore the impact of human endeavor and the need to pay attention to the value added proposition.

      As for your analysis of numbers you have missed some “facts” in your calculations by assumption. First, my numbers are hard numbers based upon the actual replacement of a Weil-McClain boiler originally installed in 1958 and replaced in 2004, and at the time of replacement the old boiler was still working in the mid-80’s of efficiency. The replaced boiler was a Burnham KV85 oil burner @ 164,000 BTU’s and was directly connected to a Superstore SS60 hot water storage tank ( 242 gallons per hour @115 degrees). Including a 275 Gallon oil tank, new boiler trim for (3) zones, additional new zone to hot water tank, oil fill lines and vent and removal of existing boiler total cost of the job was $6,700.00. Your analysis did not mention any amount of money for electrical savings since the old electric water heater went away. Total savings since 2004 through 2009 by tracking costs have averaged over $100.00 per month including lower oil bills and electrical costs combined. When relating the costs in my blog I used the increased number of $8,000 for cost and only $100 for savings to be able to disavow any attacks on credibility or inflated savings. So, in this case I must again educate individuals to create the incentive for which they must understand not only the value added proposition of being green, but the savings which you admitted existed in your analysis of saving $600.00 a year. I would be more than happy to send you the statistcal data to prove exactly the facts I state in my commentary.

      Comment by wsjenterprises | March 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. Yes, I stand corrected. But in all actuality the majority of savings is in the electric hot water tank removal. I should have seen this but was really reading that the savings was in the boiler, my mistake. So the majority of the savings is actually in the removal of the electric hot water tank which is not surprising since those 90’s electric hot water tanks had basically no insulation value at all…remember those thermal blankets dad used to wrap around…ha ha ha . Of course now the newer models are more insulated an efficient, such as the GE GeoSpring Hybrid Hot water heater that can save you up to 60+%.

    So to clarify, your savings of $1200/yr is around 45% energy on the oil burner and the other 55% came from getting rid of that electric hot water tank.

    Stating the facts is essential, green build and the environment is probably the most important issue this generation will have to deal with!

    It was not my attempt to argue against proper use of this worlds resources, but for the average individual who lives paycheck by paycheck. In the future energy efficiency and conservation will benefit the avg. family the most …. not the well to do’s.

    For example we in our small way we contribute less than 33% of our house garbage to the landfills by recycling, never using store bags…we have canvas bags as we did growing up in the 70’s, and composting all of our organic waste i.e. coffee grinds, orange peels, etc…..image if every household in Ct. did that !

    Comment by Tom Blankfayeir | March 4, 2010 | Reply

    • Tom, I recently went to the International Builders Show and talked to a vendor who has a process for creating pressure treated lumber without using any chemicals. It is a process developed in Finland over 80 years ago. I asked him if this was part of the green building process in Finland.
      His response to me was, “What is green building, in Findland we just call it building.” That is exactly to your point that if we thought holistically about all of the things we could do, conserve water, insulate our homes, recycle waste and divert construction waste from landfills, build in a common sense manner to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling, and on and on we could make a difference not only in our personal lives but in the social arena at large. Imagine if gas cost 8.25/euro per liter like it does in France and Ireland. How fast would we see a change in people’s perspective to alternative energy? Information isn’t enough, if it was we would never see another person smoking. So results in dollars and cents will be the criteria that motivates the general public to become sustainable. I truly thank you for your comments and for speaking out on the subject of sustainability.

      Comment by wsjenterprises | March 5, 2010 | Reply

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