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Building Strategy

Tackling sustainable condo projects requires homework

So the Board has decided to approve a major renovation of the club/ activity building and has asked you to head up the project utilizing sustainable building products wherever you can.  So what does that mean?  ‘Sustainable’ is a commonly used ‘Green’ word rarely used correctly and often misunderstood.

The concept of a sustainable building strategy covers not just the building materials but also the construction process and the future operation of the facility.  The benefits to be considered include:

  • Energy conservation
  • Improved indoor air quality and occupant health
  • Reduction in maintenance or replacement costs over the facility life
  • Resource efficiency including recyclability

With regard to energy efficiency, a good place to start is the US Department of Energy. Their Buildings Energy Data Book gives the following breakout of building energy expenditure. Not surprisingly, “heating accounts for the biggest chunk of a typical utility bill.”

  • Appliances and lighting 34%
  • Space heating 34%
  • Water heating 13%
  • Electric air conditioning 11%

For these reasons you would be wise to select ENERGY STAR©-labeled appliances, heating and HVAC units; programmable thermostats; efficient tankless hot water heaters; and LED lighting lamps and fixtures with programmable controls or passive/active occupancy sensors to replace your old incandescent or fluorescent fixtures.

Many products available advertise as being “green” but are held to no standard definition of what that means. ENERGY STAR© is a government-rated program that sets an efficiency standard for computer products, major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and more and identifies those meeting certain criteria as having superior energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, “Last year alone, Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR©, saved enough energy to power 10 million homes and avoid greenhouse gas emissions from 12 million cars – all while saving $6 billion.”

Maine is willing to give residents a hand in going ‘Green.’ Programs such as “EfficiencyMAINE” provide cash incentives in the form of rebates for purchasing items that aim to decrease energy consumption such as occupancy sensors and energy efficient lighting and HVAC equipment, to name a few.  As an example, a typical condominium would fall under the ‘Commercial Heat Pump Program’ providing a cash incentive of $500 for the first mini-split heat pump unit installed and $250 for each additional unit installed.  Mini-splits are ductless units used for both heating and cooling.  Kitchen natural gas appliance incentives are also available.

The many options for floor covering present a variety of ‘Green’ decision challenges.  Some types of floor coverings may have high recyclable benefits but give off volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)  being off-gassed from carpeting or other type of flooring as reported in recent articles about imported products.  Some flooring products such as bamboo is often given high marks for being a fast growing sustainable grass flooring material but consideration should be given to the carbon footprint of the diesel fuel needed to transport it half way around the world.  Perhaps sourcing certified sustainable hardwood or reclaimed wood flooring from a local Maine mill would be a better choice.

If you do chose to go with carpeting, sustainable products often feature vegetable-dyed wool or are manufactured using recycled rubber or plastics.  These can be paired with recycled cotton, low-VOC padding with water-based adhesives.  Also growing in popularity is cork flooring whose material is harvested in Mediterranean forests that renew themselves every three years.  Going ‘Green’ has never been easier but it will take some homework. 


Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers

Published in Condo Media, June, 2016

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