Indeed, a “green corridor” is already blossoming. From Battery Park to Albany, commercial developers are launching green development projects nearly every month. These efforts include using “greener” building materials and creating HVAC systems that are highly energy efficient. Meanwhile, there is at least one “ultra green” building in the state that is designed to run off the grid.
Regardless of the shade of green employed, these commercial projects offer valuable insights for those in the residential sector who are considering going green with their next remodeling project, addition, or new construction. For example, it’s helpful to be able to shoulder higher up-front costs while finding “green thinking” bankers and financial backers to help develop creative financing. And patience smooths the process, from design to construction. Observers say it is critical to be nimble through the design, financing, and construction phases, adapting and changing direction as needed. At times, market conditions and physical limitations create unavoidable obstacles. Still, dreaming big and developing innovative projects are worthwhile pursuits.
Take the 54-story Bank of America Tower, for example. Some would say setting a goal of creating the greenest building in the world was a pipe dream. But designers Cook + Fox Architects LLP and Gensler did just that.
With an estimated cost of $1 billion, the 2.2 million-square-foot building will feature a “gray water system” that will capture and reuse rainwater and wastewater, thereby saving over 10 million gallons of water annually. Low-flow and waterless fixtures are also being employed to reduce water use. The structure will also include an onsite co-generation plant. And, of course, the building materials are made from recyclable and renewable supplies.
Some of these innovations can be easily applied to residential developments. Waterless and composting toilets, for example, can be installed in your next remodeled bathroom or new construction. Of course, consumers can team up with a green developer and architect to create a comprehensive green design—basement to roof.
Looking for design inspirations? Some recently completed commercial projects that could inspire consumers to go green with their next project include the new headquarters for Orange County Choppers, a $13 million facility in Newburgh that leveraged an energy savings analysis by the state Energy Smart New Construction Program. Some of the headquarters’ features include daylight harvesting, a highly efficient HVAC system on the roof, and energy efficient lighting, among other innovations. The building’s design is aimed at consuming approximately half the energy that is required under current codes.
About 15 miles due west from Orange County Choppers is the Sam’s Point Conservation Center, which sits atop the Shawangunk Mountains at the Sam’s Point Preserve in Cragsmoor. The preserve is owned by the Open Space Institute and operated by the Nature Conservancy, which says the building is designed to be “an extension of the landscape.” Indeed, the building’s concrete floor, walls and timber frames transcend the interior and exterior thanks to award-winning designer Bialecki Architects of New York City and Gardiner. The design, site plan, building systems, and material were all done under LEED standards.
Further north in Stone Ridge, Dr. Kathleen Caproni, of New Paltz, has spent the past four years building a wellness center. Caproni’s lessons learned? “There were so many lessons, but the biggest is that you should be patient,” she says, adding that flexibility was also key.
Caproni says she wanted to use green materials and fixtures and install solar panels and geothermal pumps. “I wanted to make it all state of the art and as energy efficient as possible,” she explains. But nature posed a problem. “Well, the site is in Stone Ridge, after all. So there were stones. Big stones.”
As a result, Caproni said plans to drill deep for the geothermal pumps were dashed. Instead, her builders and developers, Floyd Kniffen and Richard Miller, both of New Paltz, created an efficient design which has solar panels, uses green building materials and fixtures, is highly insulated, and uses less toxic materials.
Caproni’s advice for anyone—residential or commercial—looking to go green with their next home or building? “Find the right lender,” she says, adding that she went to a local bank, Ulster Savings, while also securing underwriting from the Catskill Watershed Program. “Because of an appraisal process that does not recognize the value of green building, finding the right bank was a difficult challenge.”
Anthony Aebi, who is building a 25-house, zero-net energy development in New Paltz, echoes Caproni on the appraisal process. “It definitely needs to change to reflect the true value of these projects,” he says, adding that his houses are made of reinforced concrete that will last significantly longer than a “traditional sticks house.”
Similar to larger scale commercial projects, Aebi said residents should know green building means higher upfront costs. “But the long-term savings can be significant,” he says.
Just ask John Wright, vice president of Hudson Valley Clean Energy. The company’s headquarters in Rhinebeck has a $266 total annual energy bill, which is the charge for being connected to the grid.
Wright says the headquarters for the engineering design and installation company (of solar electric, hot water and geothermal systems) is the first “zero net energy, carbon-free commercial building in New York State.” HVCE accomplished this feat via “a combination of high-efficiency design, solar electric and hot water, and geothermal heating and air conditioning.”
This past October, the firm was recognized for its efforts with a visit from Deputy Secretary for Energy Paul DeCotis as well as Echo Cartwright, assistant secretary for renewable energy under Governor David Paterson.
HVCE founder and president Jeff Irish said in a statement at the time that many “buildings no longer need to have energy bills, or use oil or gas to heat with. We put in place a weekly energy generation and use tracking system. In our first year of operation we generated 16,614 kilowatt-hours of electricity and used 15,636. So we generated more energy than we used.”
Wright says “net metering has been critical in making zero net energy possible and financially viable. Our utility meter actually spins backward, selling electricity to the electric company, when more energy is being generated than the building itself is using. So, via the solar/geothermal package, combined with net metering and high energy performance building design, we not only generate our own energy on-site from the sun and earth, but we do it without any fossil fuels or carbon footprint.”
Installing just a solar PV system can save money in the long run, according to HCVE, which said a medium-sized system can offer an initial pretax return of 8 to 12 percent annually, which “compares favorably to money market accounts, CDs, stocks, and even long-term treasuries.” The investment would take about 10 years to pay for itself.
Wright says work on his own home offered some valuable lessons in the construction of the 4,100 square-foot headquarters. “One of the lessons was paying close attention to details,” he says, adding that he had to make sure the entire “energy envelope” of the building was sealed.
Jack Christmann, energy efficiency consultant at Energy Appreciators, agrees that residential projects often have lessons that larger projects can learn from. “Since residential [projects] are small, they can be incubators for bigger ideas—ones that can be applied and scaled to commercial developments,” he says.
Wright says whether a project is residential or commercial, the goal should be energy efficiency, leveraging green technologies. “Green materials in construction is important, but the focus should be on using renewable energy sources such as geothermal and solar,” he says.
Or wind. The just-opened Greenhouse at 150 Varick Street in Manhattan is looking for LEED certification—and would be the first nightclub to do so. The site features bamboo walls instead of wood, waterless restroom fixtures, and energy efficient lighting. The nightclub is also is buying wind power credits (a renewable energy source), which is available to consumers as well.
Of course the Greenhouse faced 40 percent more upfront costs in going green, which is about what consumers will likely pay for similar initiatives. Still, green building proponents say the long-term benefits greatly outweigh any short-term costs.