Friday, April 4, 2008

Can Existing Brown Buildings Turn Green?

A new study by Bethesda, Md.-based CoStar Group, which analyzed more than 1,300 LEED and Energy Star buildings representing roughly 351 million sq. ft. in the company's commercial property database, shows that not only are rents and occupancy rates higher in green buildings but sales prices are substantially higher.

LEED buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - a building rating system administered by the US Green Building Council) are achieving rent premiums of $11.33 per sq. ft. over traditional peers and enjoy 4.1% higher occupancy rates. Energy Star buildings are commanding rent premiums of $2.40 per sq. ft. with occupancy rates of 3.6% over peers, according to the CoStar study.

One of the most persistent misconceptions about green buildings is the notion that these strategies only work for new buildings. Another is that historic buildings can't be green buildings because the effort to modernize their systems would destroy their historic value.
In reality, retrofitting existing buildings for higher performance is not only one of the most sustainable strategies, but often the most cost effective choice and certainly the fastest path to obtain the "Green to Gold" benefits of a LEED certified building.

An existing building has infrastructure in place and is more likely to be located in an established neighborhood and relate to that neighborhood's history and culture. It has an established meaning, identity, presence, sense of place and people can locate it by its name. An existing building may be old enough that it was designed in an era before air-conditioning and electric lighting, which probably means all the spaces within it have access to natural daylight and ventilation. An existing building is composed of thousands of tons of materials that have already been mined, harvested, smelted, rolled, stamped, forged, woven, baked, painted and transported to the site, then erected over many months. In other words, an existing building is a stockpile of embodied energy. A new building requires the process to start over from scratch. Existing buildings, especially historic ones, tend to be built with a level of craft and detailing in high-quality materials which is difficult to afford in a new building project budget. Their context and memory is often priceless.

For historic buildings, the greatest threat is the bulldozer driven by perceived irrelevance. Those bulldozers will be out in force as energy prices rise and older buildings that aren't upgraded and are viewed as energy hogs. Many historic buildings bit the dust for this reason during the last energy crisis. The energy crisis of the seventies was nothing compared to the one we will face in the next few decades (starting now due to declining supply, growing demand, rising population, climate change, inflation due to devalued dollar, pollution, regulation . . . but check back in a week for that post). We will all soon wax nostalgic about the current cost of fuel and electricity. We need not be nostalgic about our old buildings. We can take them with us into the carbon-constrained future and they will serve us well.

It was my good fortune to work on the Greening of the White House in 1993, which encompassed not only the White House, but the adjoining Old Executive Office Building, which is the largest solid granite building in the world (which was festooned with several hundred window air conditioners at the time). This comprehensive effort brought together six federal agencies and 100 volunteer experts to look at eight areas of potential improvement ranging from building envelope to building systems to indoor air quality to irrigation and pesticides. The resulting improvements have saved taxpayers about $380,000 per year in energy savings alone and it would a challenge any of the millions of annual visitors to point out the differences (except that the window air conditioners are gone). The OEOB was originally designed to cool itself using its own honeycombed granite mass, which took advantage of natural daylight and natural stack-effect ventilation. This design serves it well today.

The Greening of the White House led to the Greening of the Pentagon and eventually led to 12 federal agencies adopting green building standards for all of their major facilities projects, including hundreds of existing building renovations, many on the National Register of Historic Places. Two federal building renovation projects here in Indianapolis, for example, are pointing toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification. It is the fiscally-responsible thing to do, it improves our energy security, reduces pollution, increases building valuation, improves employee health and productivity, etc,. But what about other, less famous old buildings?

When considering a green upgrade to an existing building, there are at least two options to look at to achieve a green building certification. I will briefly describe three case studies here and point you to their more in-depth case studies and other related resources.

Adobe Headquarters

Can you turn relatively new office towers, built in 1998 and 2003, green and still save money? Beginning in 2001, Adobe began to green their headquarters and they eventually certified at the highest Platinum level of LEED for Existing Buildings.

Was that a good investment for them in their relatively new building or was it all hype? Consider the numbers: $1.4 million invested in 64 projects; $384,000 in utility rebates; and here's the cool part - $1.2 million in annual operating cost savings! If you subtract the rebates, that's less than a one-year payback and a 148% return on investment. See anything wrong with that as an Adobe stockholder? If you were an Adobe employee, you would certainly notice the difference in terms of better indoor air quality, greater comfort and probably a little bump in your paycheck, or perhaps a few more employees hired because of the extra cash. Chances are they can compete for the best employees because of their state-of-the-art Platinum facility and their existing employees are more likely to show up for work, less like to use the health insurance and more likely to stick around. Workers in certified green buildings are as much as 15% more productive than workers in brown buildings. How much more do green buildings cost? Wrong question! How much more is your brown building costing you?

Gerding Theater at the Armory, Portland, Oregon - 1891 building listed on the National Register.

Photo credit: Brian Libby

This 1891 55,000-square-foot Romanesque Revival Gerding Theater Building was originally constructed to house the Oregon National Guard. A major renovation project completed in 2006, which achieved the highest LEED for New Construction rating of Platinum (53 points out of a possible 69). Among the unique features of this building is its 100' by 200' clear space spanned by Douglas fir arched trusses.
Photo credit: Brian Libby

Even an 1871 City Hall Annex in Cambridge, Massachusetts was able to go for LEED Gold. This was a special accomplishment in light of the fact that the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission have their public meetings here. Obviously, it had to meet historic standards as well as LEED criteria.

In fact, this project won the coveted Massachusetts Historical Commission Award in 2006, the same year it won the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council's First Place Exemplary Sustainable Building Award. As a major renovation, they pursued LEED for New Construction rather than LEED for Existing Buildings.

This is one of the most energy efficient buildings in the city, due to its solar photovoltaic panels on the roof, eight geothermal heat pumps, heat recovery ventilation, low-e glazing and intelligent lighting controls. Like many 19th century buildings, this one had a head start on daylighting and natural ventilation.

So, what are you waiting for? Every business day, $464 million worth of building projects register for LEED. Your old brown building is a potential green goldmine. Don't be the last one on the block to cash in.

1 comment:

Robert Jacko said...

Thank you for sharing the information.

The concept of converting the building into green building is helping a lot in building different types of houses and commercial buildings as well as it is also helping to check the sustainability of the building.

There are different types of firms who are providing the service of green building and leed consultancy and while surfing on internet, I came across a site named as The Spinnaker Group Inc who is providing the service of energy modeling in Florida.