A Green Guide for Your Building Community

A Green Guide for Your Building Community

  • Posted: Oct 08, 2015
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The sudden emergence of Kermit the Frog as a box office draw is not an accident—it seems that everywhere, everybody is ‘going green.’ The term is shorthand for a movement of environmental awareness, and it involves everything from the way architects design new construction to the way HOAs recycle their waste.   The movement began as an arguably quixotic attempt by activists to arrest global warming and help preserve the environment. But it’s now driven by a different kind of green—money. Going green doesn’t just appease the environmentally conscious; it impacts an HOA’s bottom line. Solar panels drastically reduce the cost of electricity. Better windows further reduce the amount of electricity needed. And then there’s the real estate values. “There are all kinds of studies that show that, if you’re trying to sell the units, that they will sell quicker and for a higher market value when you can market it as a green, efficient building,” says Suzanne Cook, executive director of the Florida Green Building Coalition. “If you’re trying to rent the units, you will get higher leasing payments and higher occupancy.” Let’s take a look at how South Florida residential buildings are going green.   Going Green… Rare is the new residential building development that does not factor environmental concerns into its design. This includes everything from building materials and solar power to the direction the front door faces. The primary piece that has changed is that there’s a greater awareness of how we design the orientation of the building: where sun and shadow is, and where we can use mechanisms that are not necessarily green products, but green design techniques such as solar shades, where we extend the concrete slab out.” At first blush, this may sound arbitrary, or else influenced a bit too heavily by feng shui. But there are very practical reasons for making the right choices with building orientation. “For example, on south-facing windows, in morning and afternoon sun, when the sun is low and perpendicular to the glass, that’s going to be a higher heat gain,”  So you want to manage where you have that type of exposure. Architect’s agree, “Anything that shades the window will help, like roof overhangs or canopies, so that the sun’s not shining directly in. Even shading the wall in general,” he says. “If you can keep the sun off the wall or the exterior enclosure, that will help the insulation not have to work as hard.” These considerations are particularly important in the Sunshine State, where A/C, rather than heat, is the primary energy expenditure. “In Florida, the challenge is that we’re highly dependent on air conditioning, which uses a lot of energy.”  So how do we solve the energy production issue? Do we begin to use fuel cells, or alternate methods like solar power that will help mitigate the consumption of power from our local utility? Questions of this sort keep an architect busy these days.   …and Everything Old is New While Florida has always been, and remains, an epicenter of new construction, the lion’s share of residential buildings were built before the recent surge in green construction. This means that if an HOA wants to go green, it will have to retrofit a building rather than build one from scratch. This speaks to the core of the green movement. “By the nature of adaptive reuse, or using an existing building, you not only have to look at how much energy is consumed during its operation, but also the energy that’s consumed by construction. So by starting with an existing building, you’re already at your first steps of doing something that’s environmentally friendly, because you’re reusing, instead of taking down and reconstructing.   How Does an Existing Building Go Green? “When you’re trying to retrofit a residential property, the three primary focuses are to tighten the building envelope and make sure you don’t have leaks, to enhance the insulation, and to make sure the windows are energy efficient,” says Cook. “Those are the big ticket items. But those three things impact the systems of the building, so when you make it tighter and you enhance the efficiency of the insulation and the windows, you impact the size of the air conditioner [required to cool the property]. You actually need less tonnage.” The bigger-is-better mentality is a trap that many HOAs fall into. We assume that a bigger HVAC unit is more powerful and perhaps more efficient, but that is not necessarily the case. “People tend to do all these retrofit things but they often don’t test their HVAC to see whether it’s the size they actually need,” says Cook. “When you have an oversized air-conditioner, you get all kinds of problems. The air exchanger won’t stay on long enough to get the moisture out of the home, so it feels clammy to the occupant. And while it doesn’t create mold, it gives mold a friendly atmosphere. So realizing that all of the systems with a structure affect each other, you have to really make sure that you understand that building science.” Understanding that science can lead to big savings. “I recommend higher efficiency in the air conditioning systems, so you can get a higher SEER rating,” says Barry. “The semi-conditioned attic is a big point, because that brings the air conditioning ducts into a semi-conditioned space as opposed to a hot attic. This makes your air conditioning system not have to work as hard, so it’s more efficient that way. The ducts are not bleeding conditioned air into the exterior and sucking in hot humid air and putting it inside.” New technologies are being placed in existing condo communities on a regular basis in order to cut energy use and reduce their carbon footprint. According to experts, advances are being made in mechanical, electrical and plumbing technologies that affect the types of heating and air conditioning systems that are being used on a daily basis. Boiler controls, cogeneration, solar, low flow fixtures and Energy Star…

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