More and more, developers and boards are opting to “go green” when embarking on new construction projects or updating an existing property. Innovations and upgrades include solar roofs, energy efficient lighting and appliances that use fewer resources to deliver superior results and save money. With these inherent benefits, boards and managing agents are expressing interest in all things green, which is in line with Illinois’s celebrated reputation as a leader in sustainable residential design and development.
In January 2013, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that Illinois was ranked fourth in the nation in new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications.
“Illinois has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to USGBC’s vision of a sustainable-built environment within a generation,” Jason Hartke, USGBC vice president of advocacy and policy said. “I applaud the extraordinary leadership of those in Illinois—designers, architects, chapter advocates, public officials, everyday citizens—who are working to create the healthiest possible environment for people to work, live and play in.”
The annual study ranks states based on the amount of LEED-certified space per capita. With 140 million square feet of LEED-certified space, Illinois certified 1.94 square feet per resident—behind only the states of Virginia, Colorado and Massachusetts. Last year, Illinois certified 156 LEED projects including the Chicago Center for Green Technology and the KONE Centre in Moline, which is the first Illinois project to earn a platinum rating.
“We are so proud of our state’s achievements in green building,” states Katie Kaluzny, interim executive director, USGBC Illinois Chapter. “We look forward to continued partnerships with state and local leaders to advance sustainable building and communities across Illinois.”
This state-wide acknowledgment has bolstered those affecting change in the greater Chicago area. “Green amenities are happening more frequently. Options such as green roofs and rooftop decks that also may allow for resident community gardens are one example,” says Jason La Fleur, residential green building consultant for Eco Achievers and Illinois chapter chair of the Residential Green Building committee of the USGBC.
“Others new initiatives include having car-sharing services on site, which is a nice amenity for people that don’t need or want to own a car but still need to use one occasionally,” says LaFleur. “With these services they can rent a car hourly. For example there is an I-Go car station in an apartment complex in Oak Park that is near the Blue Line.”
Developers are also investing in the green movement. Examples of such buildings in Chicago include K2, a new luxury property located between the sought-after River North and West Loop neighborhoods. The low volatile organic compounds (VOC) finished building features, Energy Star rated stainless steel appliances are Energy Star rated, energy-efficient fixtures, a building-wide recycling program and GE charging stations for electric vehicles.
“Many people in the market understand what is at stake with regard to CO2 emissions and climate change,” says Nathan Kipnis, AIA, LEED BD+C and principal at Kipnis Architecture + Planning. The receipt of the 2011 Green Award from Chicago Magazinecontinues, “Green amenities doesn’t just reduce bills, it helps with the marketability of a building because people view these technologies as neat.”
The State of the Industry
While the ripples from the recent recession are still being realized in many industries, green building was a subset of the construction industry that sustained the least fallout. It is true from 208 to 2010 there was a grounding of related projects, but in the last few years a steady increase of job orders is being filled. For example, last year IBISWorld released “Sustainable Building Material Manufacturing in the US,” a report which projected an average sector growth of 7.3 percent per year over the next five years.
“The growth curve of green continues to be strong—it’s such a broad concept that permeates into all aspects of buildings and lifestyles that it’s hard to keep at bay,” says La Fleur. “Economies of scale help push costs down as more people purchase technologies such as LED bulbs and public awareness grows around everything from water conservation in light of last year’s record drought to buying local and organic foods.”
To La Fleur’s point, Precision Paragon, a commercial lighting manufacturer, also released a report last year finding that the energy-efficient lighting market experienced steady growth in 2012. It is predicted that LED-based illumination lighting will make up five percent of the indoor lighting market within the next three years. This growth is due, in part, to governmental regulations.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires a 25 percent increase in the energy efficiency of light bulbs, which places a strangle hold on those manufacturers that are unable to increase incandescent bulb efficiency by such a large percentage. As of January 2012, 100-watt incandescent light bulbs that fail to meet the new efficiency standard are prohibited. This January the law was modified to include 75-watt bulbs. Next January, 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent bulbs will also be subject to this law.
When new rules and regulations come into play, boards rightly have concerns as to best practices. Kipnis, who has worked with many condominiums boards, says dealing with larger scale buildings can be harder to manage. “It’s tougher with boards because they have a wide range of questions and there are many decision makers,” he says. “So, it’s a little trickier than dealing with a residential home.”
Cracking the Solar Ceiling
The recent popularity of the green movement has deep roots. For example, in late June 1980, the Carter administration installed 32 solar panels on the White House to heat the building’s water. While the program was scoffed at by many (and ultimately abandoned), President Jimmy Carter was seemingly ahead of his time. “In the year 2000, this solar water heater behind me will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy,” Carter said of the initiative. “A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken—or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”
Times have changed, but cutting costs and saving money is a perpetual concern. In order to get the best information and pricing, industry professionals encourage both boards and residents to seek out opportunities at the local and state level. “This is still a political hot potato, but there are government plans such as federal tax credits and state rebates in place and utility-based programs to help people with green initiatives,” says Kipnis. “Boards should first looked at improving shared systems and smaller projects like installing energy efficient windows because these steps can save a lot with a little investment.”
Best Green Practices
For many professionals in the green industry, there are few, if any, downsides to going green. However, the popularity of the industry has resulted in the flooding of the market with products, some of which claim to be “green” when they are not.
“As with any new technology or idea, green or not, there are successes and failures in a products evolution. It’s important that every consumer demands not only a green product, but one that performs well,” says Bryan Glosik, Green Tech project manager for WRD Environmental and the Chicago Center for Green Technology. “Do your research on new products, and don’t be afraid to shop around for competitive prices on the same product. Also, look for the simple things. It’s easy to get caught up in the flashy and trendy green gadget products. Always remember, not buying something in the first place will often be the greenest decision you’ll make.”
Education informs the decision making process, but the environmental movement has been generalized to a degree that for many boards and residents, “going green” means different things. In some cases, it’s vegetable gardens and neighbor-run veggie co-ops, green roofs that double as common areas, which are also considered “doable” or easy to implement. However, this approach does require resources, maintenance and the ability to take a collective or cooperative long view.
“As a green building consultant, I help multifamily buildings leverage financing programs available that actually helps them switch to LEDs in a way that the monthly cost to pay for the bulbs is lower than the money saved on electricity costs,” says La Fleur. “So this green improvement is a cash flow positive investment from the first month. Other improvements such as sealing up air leaks that account for 40 percent of our energy loss in a typical building is relatively low cost and can see a payback in less than one year.”
Aside from LED lighting, popular green amenities for condominiums are geothermal, solar and wind power as well as higher efficiency heating and cooling equipment. Other options include green roofs, better insulation, thermo blinds, tankless water heaters, recycled flooring, low E double pane windows, low VOC paint, permeable pavers to reduce storm water runoff and native landscaping rain gardens.
“When it comes to green initiatives and condominiums, there are no rules of thumb,” says Kipnis. “Boards have to look at the costs, the payback and the ancillary benefits such as how the building will be perceived. But, the difference with many condominiums is that residents/owners have a shorter time horizon so they might not be as vested in longer term green investments.”
As is the case with all new initiatives, attractive incentives help to seal the deal for developers and boards alike. To this end, many states have energy efficient programs that help to open the door to “green” practice adoption. In Illinois, for example, boards are encouraged to engage the U.S. Green Building Council or Energy Impact Illinois, an alliance to help Illinois multi-family building owners lower energy costs.
“It helps to look at contractors and green building professionals that are experienced with demonstrating both environmental and economic benefits,” says La Fleur. “Professional credentials /certificates are something to look for too, such as a LEED credential.”
While incentives are sometimes the tipping point for boards looking to make upgrades, long term savings aren’t always an easy sell. “Although many green measures make good economic sense in the long term, some are cost-neutral up front such as repainting with low-VOC paints whereas others have a high first cost such as installing renewable energy systems,” says La Fleur. “It makes sense for a board to make a strategic plan for implementation that balances sustainability goals with economic feasibility, allowing them to prioritize green improvements. Additionally, there is a lot of innovation happening but it is important to be wary of technology or manufacturers that may not have a track record.”
W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.