Blueprints for Green Building

By Hannah Wallace February 29, 2008

The commercial construction scene these days is awash in green as architects, builders and developers recalculate their projects’ environmental impact. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use in the United States and 68 percent of total electricity consumption. Green buildings can help reduce energy use, conserve natural resources and protect the comfort and health of the buildings’ occupants.

To encourage builders to practice green building methods, the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which rates buildings on principles such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor air quality. Often the buildings benefit from tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives through governments and utilities. It’s a win-win situation for the environment, the occupants and the owners, who reap long-term savings.

But what does green building really mean in practical terms? These four new local projects offer insight.

Nokomis Office Suites

A “light” approach to energy efficiency.

Architects: Jerry Sparkman and Todd Sweet of ToTems

The project: Medical offices and retail space. “It’s ‘practical’ green—we didn’t do everything under the sun, but applied the ideas that work for this building,” says Sparkman, including passive solar design—generous roof overhangs and window louvers for shade, high-performance coated window glass to reduce heat gain, and a light-colored roof to help keep the building cooler—an Energy Recovery Vent that cools and dehumidifies the air before it enters the HVAC system, and drought-tolerant native landscaping.

Light touch: By dividing the 20,000 square feet into two buildings, the architects created a shallower floor plan so light can enter from both sides. As much as 75 percent of the space is naturally lit, reducing the use of electricity.

The payoff: Sparkman believes a high-performance building attracts a tenant base that responds to energy-saving ideas. “Sometimes green building systems cost more in the beginning but they have a payoff over time in energy, water, and the cost of depleting resources,” he says. “In the long term the building will make less impact on the environment while it saves money in running the building.”

Home Front Homes

Environmentally friendly buildings from a kit.

Owners: Art and Peg Nadel

The concept: Modular homes constructed from recycled materials. Wall and ceiling panels not only have a high insulating value, they are hot glued together, making them airtight.

Made headlines for: Their prefabricated “Katrina cottage,” originally designed to replace FEMA trailers quickly and affordably after Hurricane Katrina. (How quickly? Try under a week.) Lab tests verify their structural integrity at 200 mph winds.

Stamp of approval: The LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and the Energy Star label from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Next up: Four 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot buildings for an office center in Osprey, and multifamily and single-family homes for Habitat for Humanity in Sarasota. The first home broke ground in January.

Wellness Community

A healthier new home for the nonmedical cancer support group.

Architect: Michael Carlson

The project: Two 5,000-square-foot buildings—one for administration, the other for public programs—connected via an arching “Bridge of Hope” roof, to be built in Lakewood Ranch.

What’s green: Recycled content in carpeting, toilet partitions and composite wood products, and no caulking, adhesives or other materials containing unhealthy volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Photo sensors will automatically dim or increase auxiliary electric lights. “It blends day lighting with highly efficient fluorescent lighting so a desk always has the right amount to work comfortably,” explains Carlson.

Healthy outdoor spaces: Outdoor healing gardens will be created with Florida-friendly, drought-tolerant plants. Any irrigation needed will use reclaimed water.

The payoff: Carlson says the complex is expected to save 35 percent off energy bills with its high-efficiency air conditioning system, and will reduce water consumption through low-flow fixtures and faucets, waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets.

And then: The Wellness Community plans to apply for LEED certification and hopes to apply green principles to its other locales. The Sarasota plans can serve as a model although green building requires adaptation to its climate, says Carlson. “You can’t take this design and set it anywhere because it’s so in tune with the climate in Sarasota. That won’t work in Minnesota but many of the concepts, to work with heating instead of cooling, for example, can stay the same.”

University Town Center

New Urbanism brings it all together.

Developer: Benderson Development

The principle: Because they combine the convenience of living and working in the same area, today’s New Urbanist developments provide environmental benefits, says Mark Chait, leasing director.

The scope: Well over 1 million square feet of retail space, plus office space, three hotels and up to 1,750 townhomes, apartments and condominiums being planned as a pedestrian-friendly, multi-use area in order to drastically reduce the number of trips people living there make in order to work, shop, dine or enjoy recreational activities. The first phase is now under construction.

The payoff: Because people living there will tend to remain in the area and make fewer trips by car, University Town Center is expected to have a capture rate in the 40 percent range—one of the highest in Manatee and Sarasota counties. To put that in perspective, normal subdivisions have a capture rate of 5 percent.

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