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Greening Our Communities

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., LEED AP, CRITERIUM ENGINEERS


Everyone these days seem to be talking about going “green”, whatever that means.  To some it may mean recycling, to others it could mean switching to non-petroleum based fuels, renewable/sustainable materials, improved air quality, energy efficiency, natural products, smaller carbon footprints, green building certification, and the list goes on.

Lately, condominium boards have been asking me what efforts their community could take to reduce their complex’s carbon footprint.  Sometimes the question is driven by simply wanting to be more environmentally friendly but often the driving issue is reducing energy costs due to the rising cost of fuel.

Most of the literature and building industry programs are focused on new construction.  But what about existing buildings?  After all, there are a lot more existing condominiums  than those in planning or under construction.  So I would like to explore issues facing associations that are considering upgrading their heating and cooling systems, lighting fixtures, or building envelope insulation.  Let us consider on how to get technical advice and financing for “green” ideas.

First of all, there is a lot of uncertainty about getting “green” certification for a building or complex.  In the residential or condominiums world,” green” certification usually means a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Energy Star, or NAHB (National Association of Home Builders)   certification.

To determine which of these programs might be applicable to your condominium the question of whether your complex is a residential or business entity must be answered.  This might sound like a simple question but it is not.  Complexes of single-family homes, duplexes, or less than 3-story townhouses often fall within the parameters of the residential building codes such as IRC 2006 but in reality most contractors will build and remodel condominiums under the commercial building codes (i.e. IBC 2006) to satisfy the local code enforcement officer or fire prevention official in town.

If this is the case for your condominium, then an NAHB certification would not be possible as this organization primarily focuses on single-family homes and their builders.  Energy Star also focuses mostly on residential.  It is well known for grading energy efficient appliances and home system products, weather sealing programs, and providing energy audit services.  There are Maine developers who have built their reputation on building Energy Star Qualified Homes for their condominium projects, but this is for new construction, not the existing buildings we are focused on here.  This being said, the Energy Star program may be able to provide low cost energy audits for the complex’s common areas and the unit owners can be encouraged to take advantage of the information the program provides by checking out including their on-line Energy Advisor  and Home Energy Yardstick tools.

This leaves LEED certification.  The LEED organization has a specific certification for major renovations to existing buildings.  To obtain a LEED certification it is probably wise to obtain the services of a qualified design consultant.  That consultant will have the designation “LEED-AP” after the designer’s name.  The LEED certification will require the renovations to meet established guidelines based on improvements in areas such site sustainability, water and energy efficiency, materials and resources, indoor air quality, and even innovation.  Details of these items can be found on the U.S. Green Building Council web site at

But perhaps all of this is too formal.  Perhaps a certification is not what your condominium wants but rather a plan to go “green” over time.  A good time to start is when you next talk to your reserve fund analysis professional.  These “green” issues can be worked into your next reserve fund plan to implement as capital improvement changes are warranted.  Here again it would be a good idea to have a LEED certified reserve fund specialist to solve two problems at once.

To help in financing this “green” plan check out Efficient Maine’s website at  This program has loans and technical assistance for your common areas upgrades including energy audits.

Another idea is to establish a “green” group which could be a component of the grounds or maintenance committee.  This group could gather “green” ideas from both the year-round residents and the returning snowbirds whose southern condominium associations have already taken “green” steps.   An informative plan could be implemented and disseminated throughout the organization.

Some ideas to consider include:  (1) Replace as many existing bulbs as possible with compact fluorescent light bulbs (annual savings of replacing one 100 watt bulb is $30); (2) Select Energy Star appliances; (3) Turn down thermostats and get a programmable one; (4)  Turn down water heater’s temperature to 120 degrees F; (5) Install a ceiling fan; (6) During the holidays use LED lights (they last 100,000 hours and use 99% less energy); and (7)  Conserve water.

So when do you start on your plan?  At $115/barrel for oil and $4.00/gal at the pump the answer is now!  Let’s start turning those black carbon footprints to “green”.