What Do You Do With Your "Greenie"? Tips for a Green Building

What Do You Do With Your "Greenie"?

 Most of your buildings have a shareholder—or maybe two or three—who fit into a particular mold: you know, longer hair, Birkenstocks, vintage  Woodstock t-shirts; or maybe yours has the $5,000 suit, $1,000 shoes, and  starched attitude. They may look different, but both have the same agenda: “Green our building!”  

 These eco-conscious folks come in shades from helpful to militant, yet they all  want to know how you are going to reduce your building’s carbon footprint. What’s more, they seem to have time on their hands to attend meetings and write  thoughtful emails to other people in the building. In some incarnations, they  want to do expensive pet projects like ground source heat pumps, solar panels,  green roofs and windmills. Others want to go basic: organize recycling, green the cleaning practices, and  train the maintenance staff.  

 Q. What to do with these diverse, well-meaning folks? Experience says to put them to work. As the managing agent and board have  enough on their respective plates, give them a set of tasks and put them in  charge of the green building committee you're going to form (if you haven't  already). Here is a list of questions and tasks that can satisfy your  building's gung-ho greenies, i.e., environmental activists, and save both money  and resources in the process:  

 Q. What's our energy usage? Recent New York City legislation requires buildings over 50,000 square feet to  quantify their heating fuel, electric, and water bills annually, total them,  and “benchmark” the building’s energy and water usage. Later, buildings of this size will also need to have  energy audits and retrocommissioning studies performed (we’ll discuss this in a future article). The benchmarking tool is free from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), and you can file yours a year ahead of time,  while finding out how well (or poorly) your building is doing compared to  others. Organizing all of these records, with help from the management company  (much of your usage is available online from the utilities or a local water  company) is a great organizational tool that your greenie can utilize for the  board, it prepares you for the upcoming “benchmarking” regulations, and keeps your green shareholder busy yet involved in a very  useful process.  

 Q. What's our usage per gross square-foot?Research on hundreds of buildings in New York City says the “average” building here uses about 1.1 therms of gas per gross square foot, .9 gallons of  #2 oil, .8 gallons of #4 oil, or .7 gallons of #6 oil (the different fuels have  different amounts of heat in them, so the average usage for each type of fuel  is slightly different). That’s the average, or a grade of “C;” most buildings want to do better than that. The average building also uses about 2 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in  its common areas per gross building square-foot, and spends about 58¢ per gross square-foot on water. Talking to your oil company, utilities, and  management company to get this information together will take a fair amount of  time, but it will be a useful tool for the board to make better fuel purchasing  choices going forward.  

 Q. What’s the next step? Once you’ve identified your biggest utility expense per square foot, consider an approach  to reduce that fuel first. GreenHomeNYC is a community-oriented, volunteer-run  organization, whose mission is to facilitate the adoption of sustainable  building methods and materials by owners of small residential and commercial  buildings in New York City. GreenHomeNYC has been organizing a program for the  last few years that helps co-op and condo boards walk through this maze,  quantifying their usage to demonstrate how well or how poorly their building is  doing. The program, called House Calls, is a free service offered to individual  buildings that have their greening progress well-organized, or as a seminar for  a group of buildings that are trying to start the process. In both cases, GreenHomeNYC staff will teach you how to get your usage  organized, get your building “benchmarked” and then explore your options. Find out more at GreenHomeNYC’s website:  

 Q. Do we really need a windmill? The fact is, most buildings don’t need a lot of the more extravagant green “bling” that many salespeople talk about, because most buildings are fairly inefficient  and can benefit far more from some basic nuts-and-bolts repairs. If you walk around your building and see lots of open windows because people are  overheated, you don’t need a green roof—you need your timing system properly calibrated and the heating reduced. It is  very useful for a building's green committee to survey other shareholders to  discuss energy efficiency, comfort, and other related issues. This can be done with small meetings, survey cards, or e-mails. This sort of  outreach between the shareholders and board, facilitated by your green  subcommittee chairperson, can identify building issues that affect energy use  and potential solutions, while thoughtfully engaging other shareholders.  

 Q. How much will all of this cost? This number is honestly all over the map. Some buildings need to simply tune up  or upgrade their systems to run more efficiently; that’s a relatively cheap retrofit. A building that has 60-year-old boilers and a leaky roof has another series of  changes that are going to be expensive, yet may not have a great return on  investment because most of the work is considered more of a capital  improvement. On average, investing $3,000-$5,000 per apartment can cut overall usage of  energy and water by 20 percent. If your building is currently an energy-suck, that could mean a three-year  return on investment; if you’re a more efficient building, it takes longer to reach that level of savings.  

 Q. Are there other benefits to greening? You bet. For example, greening your cleaning processes can typically save 25  percent or better on the cost of materials alone. Using safer chemicals in your  building reduces occupant complaints and staff sick days. Or imagine how many  sanitation tickets you’ll save when your recycling and trash are better separated and brought out to  the curb more efficiently. All of these are part of greening your building, and  the more involved your shareholders become in the process, the more they will  see the rewards.  

 Q. More and more of our residents are interested in going greener—what should we do? Encourage them! Get an energy audit or retrocommissioning project started; show  your building's utility savings to the other shareholders; keep the talk going.  Dick Koral of the Apartment House Institute, and founder of the Superintendents  Technical Association as well as one of the forefathers of this movement in the  city, has been saying for years that “just talking energy efficiency saves 10 percent.” Start exploring these questions in your building, and you and your community's  greenies will find he’s right.   

 F.L. Andrew Padian is a board member of GreenHomeNYC and vice president for  Energy Initiatives of The Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), a  not-for-profit affordable housing lender throughout NY, NJ, and CT.

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