What Makes a Building Green? You Sure Can't Tell From Its Energy Star Rating

Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Big buildings use a lot of energy. In New York City, they wanted to know exactly how much, and so, since 2010, buildings have been required by law to provide this information. Now they have put it all into a big spreadsheet and some of the numbers are really surprising. For example, a LEED gold certified building like 7 World Trade Center gets an Energy Star rating of 74, which is below the minimum of 75 that the EPA sets for a building to be called high-efficiency.

Architect and author Witold Rybcznski discussed this issue on his blog in provocatively titled post called LEED Lies. He writes, "I always suspected that this was more about announcing 'I am a green building' than about actually conserving energy." Rybcznski also wonders about all that glass:

Why are so many LEED-certified buildings all-glass? It seemed to defy logic. After all, no matter how much you can reduce artificial lighting by using daylight, the insulation value of glass is negligible compared to solid insulated walls, and anyway there are many overcast days and dark winter afternoons.

While I agree with Witold about the glass,and have said so before, I take issue with the LEED-bashing. I am not a LEED fanboy, but I do like the fact that it measures more than just energy use. I don't think Witold would be happy designing and writing in a building with no windows and minimal fresh air, but I bet the space could get a terrific Energy Star rating.

It is great to see that restored older buildings like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building prove to be so energy efficient -- at 80 and 84 points, respectively -- and shocking to see that the Seagram building does so badly at just 3. The New York Times notes:

The biggest drain could be the International-style landmark’s most lauded features. The Seagram’s single-pane glass curtain walls, far less efficient than treated or double-pane windows, and its luminous fluorescent ceilings work against energy conservation.

Looks like they still have some work to do.

Tags: Green Building | New York City

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