July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

The Handyman

MSU builds a greener campus we can learn from

MSU’s green building focus hasn’t trickled down to residential home building

You hear a lot about green building these days, but like most things in the area of energy conservation, it takes time for such an initiative to become a common practice. However, that isn’t the case at Michigan State University, where they have been on the green energy-saving bandwagon for years.

“We use the least electricity per square foot of any Big Ten university,” said Lynda Boomer, an energy and environment design administrator with MSU’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities department.

Boomer said MSU recently joined the Better Buildings Challenge, a national program designed to reduce energy use by 20 percent by the year 2020. And when you look at all the green things happening on campus, it is easy to see why MSU has made such an energy conservation commitment.

For example, MSU has pledged that all new on-campus construction will be built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified levels, and it received its first LEED award for the construction of an addition to the Chemistry building, which included such energy saving features as recycled glass in the flooring, low-flow toilets and motion sensors for classroom lights.

Boomer said the goal for new construction is also to build more sustainable buildings, which includes adding better building insulation, installing roofs that will last for 50 years and designing advanced storm water management systems, to name a few.

On the energy-saving side, MSU has also used geothermal energy for heating and cooling in one of its buildings and has added automated shades to the addition in one of the large classroom buildings to block the suns rays in the summer while letting them in during the winter to take advantage of the solar heating potential.

In addition, the campus uses smart, real-time electrical meters on all major buildings to track energy consumption and relay that information to the campus through an energy dashboard on the Web.

Many of the same steps MSU has taken to reduce its energy use and carbon footprint would also be applicable to the residential home market. But consumer demand for this level of green building has not yet reached the new home building industry in Michigan.

“When you consider that most new home buyers spend an average of seven to eight years in their home before moving, it is hard for them to recoup the added cost for these green products,” said Michael Stoskopf, the executive director of the Home Builders Association of Southeastern Michigan, builders.org.

“Most new home buyers are more concerned about the color of carpet or the type of kitchen countertops they can have rather than the added energy savings options.”

Don Pratt, owner of Construction Education and Consulting Services of Michigan (ceandcs.com) and past chairman of the State of Michigan’s Construction Code Commission, said that while the 2012 construction code has greatly improved the energy-efficiency of new homes, many builders are reluctant to go beyond what is required.

“With the new code, we are on the verge of seeing greener homes, but builders want to be competitive,” Pratt said. “Building greener homes beyond the code would add costs for the consumer, so most home buyers wouldn’t buy that green home and instead would go to the builder who didn’t add these options and offered a similar home at a lower price.”

Stoskopf said that those added energy options would often have to come out-of-pocket for the consumer, another reason they aren’t in high demand.

Both Stoskopf and Pratt agree that home builders on the west side of Michigan promote the value of more energy-efficient additions, and as a result it has become a competitive advantage for the builders there to build greener homes. But in Southeast Michigan, builders are adopting to the required adherence to the state energy code and nothing more.

“We won’t see greener homes being built beyond code until the home buyer demands it, and right now that isn’t happening in Southeast Michigan,” Pratt concluded.

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