From Adelphi to Southampton and everywhere in between, visionary builders, architects and engineers, along with their clients, are making the move to sustainable design. Some of them are taking the extra steps to guarantee their buildings are truly green by aiming for LEED certification.
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED—which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design– awards buildings points in six major environmental categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental, and Quality and Innovation and Design. Both commercial and residential buildings are eligible for one of four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum, the highest achievement.
With the sustainable building movement on the rise, why aren’t more builders designing for LEED certification? Cost considerations are probably the main impediment, but according to Rudy Holesek, vice chairman of the USGBC’s Long Island chapter and president of Apollo HVAC Corp., “The notion that building LEED is too expensive is simply not true.” According the USGBC, an average upfront investment of 2% in green building design means lifecycle savings of 20% of the total construction costs. That’s more than 10 times the initial investment.
Rebates and incentives for green building have never been better, adds Holesek: “LIPA and National Grid have many rebate and incentive programs; coupled with federal and state tax incentives, those make this a perfect time to consider improvements to existing buildings, along with new construction, that will result in LEED certification.”
Babylon has been on the forefront of the movement, and many other L.I. towns are following suit. “We adopted codes in Babylon requiring LEED not only because it would mean sustainable buildings, but because LEED represents sustainability for our communities and Long Island as a region,” says Steve Bellone, Town of Babylon Supervisor. “Long Island’s future health and economic prosperity will be directly impacted by our ability to best use the resources we have available, and LEED epitomizes that way of thinking.”
Anthony Garrett, the architect on the Space Self Storage facility, one of our LEED profiles, is convinced that green building is an inevitability: “My belief is that within 15 to 20 years, we won’t be having a conversation about why people should do green building; it will be a requirement.”
Though Long Island is behind the curve when compared with many comparable areas in the country, many of the people interviewed for this article are optimistic about our future. Architect Thomas Stack, who worked on the Leviton project, put it this way: “People are starting to get the point. It’s exciting, a very positive development. I’m very happy to see more and more clients ask about it.”
When it was time for Leviton Manufacturing, a provider of commercial data networking and lighting energy management systems, to move from Little Neck to a new headquarters, the company saw a perfect opportunity.
“We wanted to walk the talk by going as green as possible, which is what we encourage other businesses to do by using our products,” says Donald Hendler, Leviton’s President and CEO. “Given our business, going for LEED certification was a natural; how would it look if we didn’t do it?”
In 2008, Leviton hired architectural firm TPG Architecture to design the interior of its new 140,000-square-foot headquarters, an existing five-story building in Melville. “The renovation of a building [rather than new construction] can be challenging when it comes to LEED certification,” says Tom Stack, Design Director at TPG. “The project dealt with existing conditions and building systems, such as HVAC, which are old and inefficient. You need a team approach: owner, architect, engineer, contractor and, in this case, landlord as well. All need to be on the same page when it comes to sustainability.”
Leviton leveraged its own product line, installing lighting energy management, daylight harvesting and other systems that significantly cut energy usage—one of the largest factors in LEED buildings. An automatic window shade control system, controlled by two solar trackers on the building’s roof, measures sunlight levels and raises or lowers shades accordingly, cutting down on both A/C and heating needs. And 90% of the facility’s office equipment, appliances and fixtures are Energy-Star rated, another LEED plus.
Energy efficiency isn’t the only criteria. LEED points are also earned based on factors such as ease of commute and walkability, making the Leviton building’s location near public transportation a winner. Leviton promotes green transportation by rewarding hybrid drivers with reserved parking spots; a company-sponsored van pool and bike rack are also great incentives.
The facility also earned points by replacing traditional carpeting, paint, furniture and other materials that can emit dangerous fumes with eco-friendly varieties. A quarter of the materials used in the project are made from recycled content and sources, and 50% of the waste form the project was diverted from landfills.
Water conservation is another LEED criteria, so Leviton installed low-flow fixtures on sinks and toilets, reducing water consumption by about a third. The cafeteria uses rewashable dishware and utensils, and recycling bins encourage employees to responsibly dispose of any cans, plastic or other materials—all LEED categories.
All of these measures added up to a significant achievement: Leviton is the first interior workplace on Long Island to receive a LEED Certification for Commercial Interior at the Certified Level. The facility complies with all six LEED Certification categories, including materials and resources; indoor environmental quality; site sustainability; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; and innovation in design.
Hendler estimates the additional costs for the project at 2-3%, but he expects energy savings will make the payback time only about two years. And, as Stack says regarding the use of less toxic paints and other materials, “You can’t put a tangible number on the payback that come from having employees who are healthier and more enthusiastic about their workplace, but those are real benefits.”
Hendler sums it up: “This was a real opportunity to showcase some of our own products in our facility. But it was much more than that. It was our feeling of corporate social responsibility. Reducing our carbon footprint is just the right thing to do.”
Space Self Storage
No town is happy to have an old, industrial building blighting the landscape. But that was the perfect site for constructing the eco-minded site of Space Self Storage’s Deer Park location. The center, built and owned by construction management/general contracting firm the Marcus Organization, is the first storage facility in the country to have been awarded LEED Silver certification, according to Jonathan Marcus, a partner in the firm.
“Working closely with the Town of Babylon, we envisioned as a company that striving to earn LEED certification would be the best way to set an example of good development practices,” says Marcus. “It would be beneficial to the surrounding community and for the customers that we serve.”
The location of the Deer Park site was instrumental in earning LEED points, according to Marcus. Developing an existing site helps you preserve the environment and open space; also, the 60,000-square-foot facility is near medium-density housing and several local businesses, so residents can possibly walk to run errands, or reduce their number of car miles and cut their carbon emissions.
Energy savings were especially crucial to earning LEED status for this site, because several other possible LEED criteria—such as utilizing regional building materials—weren’t possible on this pre-existing structure. “It was a challenge, because a building of this type didn’t afford us multiple strategies to obtain the necessary credits,” says Anthony Garrett AIA, LEED AP at the Bilow Garrett Group, part of the green team for the project.
To tackle energy use, the team installed a building management system that analyzes and controls lighting, heat, air conditioning and other energy consumers. “The building’s ‘brain’ always knows if someone is inside, so it eliminates unnecessary lighting,” says Garrett. State-of-the-art temperature and humidity controls, along with energy-efficient lighting and the use of natural daylight, were also big energy savers.
Since commercial and office buildings are almost always in cooling mode, with air conditioning turned on even during the winter, the team installed a system that opens up dampers to let cool air in, rather than running a compressor and burning electricity. Garrett estimates that all of these measures cut energy use from 30% to– 40% when compared with a conventionally built facility.
Garrett estimates a payback time of about five to six years, adding that rebates and incentives from LIPA and NYSERDA took a large dent out of the overall cost.
To keep costs down, it’s important to commit early to sustainable design, advises Garrett. “I’ve had people come to me when construction documents are already done, and then they decide to build green. They then have to pay us to re-engineer it.”
Marcus is proud that his company took the extra steps required to earn LEED status, but the most important aspect isn’t about awards. “I believe that it’s a good practice to set an example by trying to achieve the most environmentally conscious project, whether it becomes LEED certified or not,” he says. “As we move forward, there are only so many natural resources, so everything we do should be aimed at achieving our goal of having the least impact on the overall environment.”
Southampton Private Residence of the Dubin family (also known as the HGA House).
When a devastating fire destroyed the home of David and Saundra Dubin in December 2008, family friend Richard Stott had a vision of what could arise from the ashes.
Stott responded to a newly formed, local organization called The Hamptons Green Alliance (HGA), which was actively seeking a place to build a net-zero energy, carbon-neutral LEED Platinum home. The HGA had sent a letter to all members of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects asking if anyone had a project that would be suitable for adaptation to a sustainable build. “They offered to take on the project at cost,” says Stott, AIA, LEED AP (Accredited Professional) and the owner of Steelbone Design Company and Flynn + Stott Architects. “Oddly, even during the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression, there were no takers.”
On the way home from the first meeting with the Dubins and another friend, Architect Craig Lee, AIA, Stott made the call to Frank Dalene, President & CEO of Telemark Inc., a builder and one of the founding members of the HGA. A week later, the owners, architects and the entire HGA organization met for a kickoff meeting that would resurrect the burned-out house to a modern LEED Platinum home.
The HGA house is a model of efficiency, with solar PV, solar thermal and geothermal systems that provide most of the home’s energy needs (Dalene says the exact figure won’t be clear until July). A backup electric system connected to the grid takes over when it’s very cloudy outside for a lengthy period.
Insulation was a key factor in the home’s energy efficiency. Polyurethane spray foam–which has more than double the effectiveness of fiberglass– was used to create the tightest seal possible, while fresh air systems known as “energy recovery ventilators” were incorporated to make sure the home breathed sufficiently. “We achieved a HERS index of 25, unheard of in a home of its size,” says Dalene of the 4,600-square-foot residence. Other measures to achieve LEED included high-efficiency windows, LED lighting, and smart systems that can turn lights, heating and A/C on and off automatically. The homeowners can even use their phones to adjust settings from other locations, so the temperature and lighting are ready when they arrive home.
The home earned a LEED score of 104–an astonishing achievement, especially when you consider that a home of its size needed to earn 10 more points that a conventionally sized home to gain LEED Platinum. “We can build an extremely green home, and it doesn’t matter what size it is as long as we meet certain criteria,” says Dalene.
Financing on the project was a bit unusual; the project team was determined that the home would serve as a role model, and so several of the contractors and suppliers donated or reduce the cost of their materials and services substantially.
Nevertheless, Dalene says that the estimated seven- or eight-year payback period on the energy measures was calculated using the actual costs had the building been priced out in a standard fashion, with no discounts. Of course, state, federal and local utility rebates and incentives make a big difference in the bottom line.
The experience has confirmed Dalene’s commitment to sustainable design. “This has been a life-changing experience for us,” he says. “It has changed the way we approach building. Our first focus is on getting the building envelope as tight as possible by using spray foam insulation, which is something that we didn’t used to do. Our goal was carbon neutral, but we are carbon negative. The world is going in this direction, and if we don’t, we’re going to miss the boat.”
“The project has been successful on many levels,” adds Stott. “We attained LEED Platinum; we are among the first in the LEED for Homes program ever to document and attain carbon neutral; we are close to our Energy Net Zero Goal and continue to learn how to improve our systems; and we received five design awards in 2010, one from the New York Solar Industries, and two from the Long Island Chapter of the AIA, and two legislative resolutions from NY State Assembly and Senate. But the most important story is the one that puts a local family back in their home after a tragedy and gets them all involved and excited about the process and the outcome.”
Wild by Nature
Shoppers at Wild by Nature’s Oceanside location may not know it, but their store of choice isn’t just green—it’s also Gold, the first New York supermarket to earn that coveted LEED certification level.
“This is the first Wild by Nature location that we built from the ground up,” says Joseph Brown, Vice President Sales and Merchandising for King Kullen Grocery. “It was a perfect opportunity to support our overall business plan, which is supplying the freshest, most delicious, wholesome foods and high quality natural health-care products available in an environment that helps to protect the Earth’s natural resources.”
Working with LEED consultant Peter Caradonna of Peter Caradonna Architecture + Planning, the store garnered LEED points all six categories. For example, building the store on a former brownfield site (an old movie theater that required lead remediation) near public transportation earned credits into the “sustainable sites” category; the use of drought-tolerant plants and other water reduction measures earn credits in the “water efficiency” category; and the use of steel, concrete, block, carpet, tile and drywall that contained recycled content—some of which was manufactured regionally—count toward the “materials and resources” section.
Energy savings were tackled in a number of ways, including the installation of highly efficient heating and cooling systems, a central building management system, and skylights with sensors for daylight harvesting. In addition, a highly reflective, white “cool roof” reduces the so-called heat island effect.
A significant portion of the extra cost associated with the energy-saving initiatives were offset by rebates and incentives, including LIPA’s Commercial Construction Program, Whole Building Design, Energy Modeling, Building Commissioning and LEED Green Building Credit incentives. The site achieved an energy-efficiency goal of 24% improvement over the ASHRAE Standard (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers), which was required to qualify for LIPA’s LEED incentives.
Although exact payback time is unclear at this stage, Brown believes the investment in green building was well worth it. “While the construction costs were higher than traditional builds, we feel that it was what our shoppers wanted,” says Brown. “That alone strengthens the business case for the investment.” The wisdom of certain measures, such as the use of cost-effective lighting and refrigeration installations, are so clear that they are now being part of every construction project the company does.
The “intangibles”—such as providing clean air for your employees—aren’t just feel-good, socially responsible moves; they impact the bottom line, Brown says. “We anticipate that providing a healthier work environment–in part due to our green cleaning program that reduces the use of hazardous chemical contaminants–will produce greater productivity through reduction in illness and absences.”
Caradonna is enthusiastic about the company’s commitment to LEED. Wild by Nature, he says, “is a leading corporate entity in the Long Island community that has taken leadership to a new level by building the supermarket of the 21st century: acting locally and thinking globally.”