March 14, 2011 | last updated June 1, 2012 9:50 am
FOCUS ON GREEN ENERGY

Architect spent lifetime writing the book on green building

PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
Connecticut author and architect Ross Spiegel of Flechter-Thompson in Shelton is an expert on designing sustainable buildings. He's one of the early pioneers of the concept and was on the board of directors of the U.S. Green Building Council when the LEED rating system was first proposed. His books on the topic have to change as quickly as the industry does.

Ross Spiegel wrote the book on environmentally friendly construction.

It's in its third edition.

In 1994, this Connecticut author and architect began researching information for a handbook on a little known topic — green building. Today, 17 year later, the concept is so popular and evolving so quickly that Spiegel and his co-author already are thinking about their next edition before the current one even hits the shelves.

"The products that are available have expanded exponentially," said Spiegel, green team leader for building designer Fletcher-Thompson Inc. in Shelton.

Spiegel, a graduate of the City College of New York School of Architecture, took his first full-time designing job at a company in Fort Lauderdale in 1975. Over the next two decades, he saw how the population boom in Southeast Florida was impacting the natural environment: shortages of drinking water; the using up a raw materials; the loss of available property.

So Spiegel began looking at sustainable construction — designing building with energy saving features; better and more efficient use of water; recycling everything possible.

"That was more difficult back in those days because there weren't people that were doing it," Spiegel said.

In the 1990s, he began lecturing about sustainable construction. Eventually, publisher John Wiley and Sons Inc. asked Spiegel to write a handbook for people who wanted to design green buildings.

By 1996, Green Building Materials: A Guide to Product Selection and Specification, written by Spiegel and co-author Dru Meadows, was in its first edition

Before the book came out, sustainable construction was thought of as putting a solar panel on top of a roof, Spiegel said. But then the industry became enlightened about concepts of aggressive recycling, energy efficient features and renewable power.

After the first edition, Spiegel and Meadows waited a long four years before making updates. The industry wasn't moving in that direction yet, but by the time the second edition came out in 2006, green building was riding a new wave of popularity.

"The industry was changing so rapidly, the second edition was becoming obsolete almost immediately," Spiegel said.

A lot had happened in those 10 years between editions. The most significant development was the U.S. Green Building Council launching its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED ranking system for new buildings, ushering in a new era where owners could show off the green features of their buildings. Spiegel sat on the U.S. Green Building Council's board of directors while LEED was developed and was the liaison to Construction Specification Institute, where he served as president.

As the popularity of LEED grew, the industry began adapting to the concept of sustainable construction. U.S. Green Building Council boasted 200 member companies before the LEED program; more than 16,000 since.

"Projects of all different sizes and types are going for the certification," said Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council. "The technology is more widely available than it ever was."

In the third edition, Spiegel — who moved to Connecticut in 2001 — began exploring this new rating system and ways for builders to meet the national and international green building standards, addressing topics such as volatile organic compounds, recycling and product labeling.

The third edition came out in November and was a giant leap forward from the second edition, Spiegel said.

But the industry already is moving quickly.

Issues such as risk management for green building materials, legal concerns over the green rating system and changes in those rating systems are emerging.

As more and more green building go up, Spiegel said two main questions are being asked: How much more did it cost to make them green, and will the buildings actually save the energy and water that they promised to save?

The U.S. Green Building Council will ask for more documentation in order for building to get and retain LEED certifications. The Federal Trade Commission already has new requirements about the green labeling on products.

The new goal is for zero-net energy buildings that produce enough power on their own that they don't take any electricity off the grid.

This will all go in the fourth edition, Spiegel said.

Spiegel and Meadows want to wait two years before starting the next edition, but the groundwork already is there. They expect the industry will change even more drastically as a greater number of builders and owners seek sustainability in their completed projects.

Spiegel estimates half of all worldwide construction is adhering to sustainable practices, but he anticipates a giant leap in the coming years.

"I hope that everything I have done with writing the book three times and all my speaking has inspired people to really seek out and do these things," Spiegel said. "A greener future is in your hands."

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