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Retrofitting to Green

Green. Ironically, the color of cash, and at the same time the symbol of the environmentally friendly, eco-conscious, and energy-saving green movement that is making inroads not only in new construction but in existing buildings as well.

 

The intertwining of cash and eco-consciousness could prove to be the impetus that your board needs to begin to explore the world of green. Seven areas of greening are covered in this special section, most including products and techniques that are easy to implement. In doing so, your building may save on its operating expenses and certainly will better the indoor and outdoor environment of your residents.

 

Trying to find a coherent plan that a co-op or condo could follow to greenify, we turned to the “Existing Buildings Rating System,” an industry-recognized, voluntary standard promulgated by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that defines high-performance green buildings. Recognizing that, in New York City, 94 percent of the buildings predate 1980, the New York City chapter of the USGBC is currently preparing a packet of information for co-ops and condos that outlines actions and funding resources for green steps. To receive this packet, send your e-mail address to: GreeningResidentialNYC@gmail.com.

 

Taking steps to green your building is an exciting adventure that uses cutting-edge technology, products, and ingenuity. We invite you to come along with us.

 

 

 

BREATHE EASIER

 

INDOOR ENVIRONMENT

 

You should color yourself partially green. Because, whether you know it or not, your building and all the apartments in it are already being powered by some form of green energy. New York State’s “Green Power” program involves electricity that has been generated from such renewable, environmentally responsible fuels as wind, biomass, landfill gas, and hydropower. About twenty percent of the electricity flowing through the grid in New York comes from green power, and the state is committed to generating another five percent from renewable resources by 2012.

 

But many co-ops and condos are leaping further into the green world by buying power that comes from new green sources. Four energy supply companies (ESCOs) are currently selling green power to New York customers. While rising energy costs are adding to budget burdens, buying green won’t necessarily save you money. Currently, such power costs a bit more. However, because the delivery portion of buying through an ESCO is exempt from sales tax, it is likely that most, if not all, the additional green expense will be eliminated by the tax savings.

And there’s an added, practical benefit that speaks to the larger issue of, quite literally, saving the planet: using such power adds to the greening and cooling of our environment, and is one of the few real steps your building can take in the fight against global warming.

 

So, what is the lay of the green land? In New York State, you can buy green power, which means that you are paying for electricity from a renewable source to be fed into the grid in place of an equivalent amount of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. Or you can buy “green tags,” which are sold in the energy trading market and basically exchange green megawatt-hours anywhere in the country for “un-green” megawatts. There is an elaborate accounting system that keeps track of the exchange.

 

To begin your building’s green journey, you first have to decide to purchase your electricity from an ESCO. You can log onto www.poweryourway.com for a list of ESCOs selling green power in the Con Edison area, and download the Green Power PDF document for their contact information. If you don’t want to switch to an ESCO, check out Sterling Planet (www.sterlingplanet.com) to purchase green tags. To learn more about wind energy, review the web site of NewWind Energy, a wind company owned by Community Energy (www.newwindenergy.com). Community Energy is one company with which all the ESCOs do business.

 

At least one cooperative (food, not housing) has decided to leap into this brave new world. Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn took the idea of going 100 percent green to a member vote. Its annual electricity consumption was about 960,000 kWh at a cost of about $130,000. The suggestion was that the co-op should offset its consumption of fossil fuel electricity by buying exactly the same amount of kWh in the form of green tags representing wind power generation. The cost of this additional purchase, at $1.7 per kWh, would be over $15,000 annually.

 

There was an overwhelming vote in favor. A five-year contract was signed with Community Energy, the Pennsylvania-based wind power company. If the co-op uses less electricity in a year, Community Energy will refund the difference. This was a key part of the transaction. Community Energy can only sell the co-op tags representing the sale of wind power to the grid as a direct replacement for the kilowatt-hours of fossil fuel energy consumed by the cooperative. If the residents use more than estimated, then the co-op will try to amend the contract to buy the extra green power.

 

“We are paying a wind power company to send energy into the grid on our behalf, so we’re causing less fossil fuel energy to be produced,” says Joe Holtz, general manager of the 13,000-member co-op. The food store is cutting down on the emission of carbon dioxide by some 900,000 pounds, the equivalent of taking some 60 cars off the road each year or planting close to 60,000 trees. “We could have bought just 10 percent. But we said, no, we wanted to go to 100 percent. Because we’re interested in having as much positive environmental impact as possible.”

 

—Carol J. Ott & Renee Serlin

 

 

 

TURN IT ON

 

 

ELECTRIC POWER

Greening your environment is not just about using green products or power – it’s also about safeguarding the environment in which you live. It’s easy to forget that the environment that may have the most immediate impact on us is the one where most of us spend the greater part of our day – our homes. How green are the air and the environs of your public spaces – and, for that matter, of your apartments?

 

As we regularly turn to specialists in plumbing, heating, electrical work, waterproofing, and façade repair, there is now a growing body of companies specializing in providing the help needed to deal with indoor environmental issues. These firms offer thorough inspections so that boards can make informed decisions about how to prevent hazards.

 

“Otherwise responsible boards often have a general attitude of burying their heads in the sand and hoping things will go away,” observes Peter Ellams, vice president of the Lawrence Environmental Group, a company that offers inspections and testing. “When it comes to dealing with environmental issues, they’re just not going away. The laws are getting stricter.”

Ellams’s group is providing an interesting new approach to help boards face the realities of finding green patches among the hazards. His staff meets with boards and presents them with a program called “Healthy Home.” A menu of environmental services is discussed in detail – these include testing for mold, lead-based paint, asbestos, indoor air quality, and water quality – and boards can pick and choose the options that best suit their building.

For example, a contract just concluded with a 50-unit Park Avenue co-op provides for a one-time building-wide lead and asbestos check, and a twice-yearly search for mold. The service comes with a planned protocol for the residents to follow if any problem occurs. At the same time, shareholders are being given the option of signing up for individual lead-based paint investigations in their apartments at a considerably discounted price. The whole package will cost the co-op $2,500. An individual lead-paint check would normally cost between $300 and $400, depending on the size of an apartment. The discounted charge will be $150 per apartment.

The decision to ask for an individual test is usually children-driven. Otherwise, residents are often concerned about the disruption of the inspection and the huge costs of dealing with any problems that are uncovered. But with modern technology, testing is usually non-invasive. Results are immediate and the advice, if lead is discovered, is often not what is expected.

On a typical job, Ellams’s team brings in an XRF “gun,” a device about the size of a cordless dryer. Aimed at the suspect area, it gives an immediate readout of the presence of lead even through numerous layers of non-lead-based paint. But in most cases, no immediate action will be needed. As long as the paint is contained, it’s not a risk. However, if the lead is found on a so-called “friction surface” – where the paint could be rubbed off and create lead dust in the room – then remedial action is advised. (Old wood windows often fall into this category; Ellams says that it’s usually cheaper to replace the old jams and sills rather than attempt to strip the paint away under strict lead-paint abatement conditions.)

One frequent area of neglect is the failure to undertake a lead-based paint investigation as a preliminary to major renovation or painting projects. It is almost never included as part of the plans and a brand-new renovation could be severely undermined by a liberal sprinkling throughout the apartment of fine lead-containing dust.

Asbestos issues are another area where boards would rather see no evil and speak no evil. It’s been a major issue in real estate for the last 25 years but Ellams confirms: “I still see it being ignored.” He has walked through the basement areas of many buildings where residents have storage bins and seen clear evidence that pipes have asbestos insulation around them. Again, it doesn’t invariably mandate a huge asbestos clean-up effort to tear out every last shred of the material. “As long as it’s contained” is a mantra that applies equally to asbestos as to lead. Ellams will often recommend the addition of a kind of plaster cast around the asbestos insulation to prevent the release of dangerous microscopic asbestos fibers into the air.

For a mold inspection, the focus will be on checking for water incursion to indicate where mold might have found a niche for itself. For areas that are difficult to visually inspect, an infrared camera may be used. A damp area has a different temperature from a dry one so it shows up as a different color. The camera, “almost paints a picture for you of where the water is.” In many buildings, it may be used to inspect roofs or “wet” columns. These are the pipe chases for risers. “They’re not supposed to be wet, but that’s what we call them.”

According to Paul Ruoso, general manager of AMG Environmental, another inspection firm, mold is everywhere, but it only becomes a problem when it starts growing in abundance in an indoor environment. Follow the moisture trail and you’ll be on the right track.

With any of these services, what you’re really buying is not just the testing, but also the expertise for developing an organization and management plan that mitigates building liability and provides a protocol for dealing with any problems that are revealed. Going green could be the difference between knowing you have a healthy environment and suspecting that it may be a hazard to your health.

—Renee Serlin

 

COLOR IT

 

 

PAINT

Paint. From your basement to your rooftop, in your hallways and on your doors and walls, it’s everywhere. No wonder the Environmental Protection Agency reports that it is one of the leading contributors to indoor air pollution.

That fresh new paint smell? Toxic, says Miroslav Salon, head of maintenance at The Solaire, located in Battery Park City and touted as the nation’s first green residential high-rise building. The toxins in paint that give it that “fumey” smell are VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which, until recently, were essential for the performance and color of paint. VOCs, such as benzene, ethylene glycol, and mercury, become a breathable gas at room temperature. Exposure to these gases can lead to headaches, asthma, allergies, and other health problems like pre-senile dementia (Danish Painter’s Syndrome). Even after that unpleasant, lingering paint smell has disappeared, VOCs are continuously released into the air for years after application in what is known as off-gassing. These all contribute to affecting your health long after the paint on your walls has dried. In such areas as your hallways and basements, where there is usually poor ventilation, this can be a major concern.

Thanks to new environmental regulations and consumer demand, low-VOC and zero-VOC paints are now available by many major paint manufacturers. Many of these paints are water-based and contain no solvents and low to zero amounts of VOCs, leaving them virtually odorless (and, for the consumer, headache-less).

Miroslav Salon at the The Solaire notices the difference. “I used to work in the construction business and used a lot of paints. I used to get dizzy and sick from painting a room. It doesn’t happen here at all. We can paint an apartment, have a new tenant the next day, and they’d never know we had just painted it.”

Other than the lack of odor, there seems to be no discernable difference in paint quality and performance. Millie Lukacevic of Caran Properties, former manager of 1400 Fifth Avenue, a green condominium in Harlem, maintains that the Green Seal paints they were required to use to be certified as a green building “looked and performed the same.”

Cost-wise, environmentally friendly paint is comparable to regular paints. Low-VOC paints run from $19 to $26 a gallon at Home Depot compared to regular paints that run from $16 to $26. However, zero-VOC paints are a little more costly, running up to $30 a gallon. While green paints may not be offered at the lowest cost, savings and significant benefits can be seen over time. Because green paints can be applied during regular hours with little or no safety risk, overtime costs and occupant disturbance are minimized.

There are lots of choices out there. Benjamin Moore offers Ecospec, Sherwin Williams’s low-VOC line is called Harmony, and Rust-Oleum makes Epoxyshield, an industrial line for basement floors and metal. VOC levels can be determined from the label. For indoor latex paints, it’s best to make sure the paint contains no more than 250 grams of VOCs per liter, according to environmental standards.

One thing to know: it’s impossible to get dark colors, such as dark red or black with true low-VOC levels for indoor paints. “It’s a very small downside,” says Michael Gubbins, resident manager at The Solaire, which is managed by Rose Associates. “But we rarely use dark paints except for maybe metals or in the boiler room, and there we can use industrial paint, for which there are low-VOC level paints available.”

—Jennifer Wu

 

SCRUB IT

 

 

CLEANING SUPPLIES

Just a couple of years ago, says Michael Gubbins, if you were to go to a cleaning supply company in the city and ask for green cleaning products or “green” paint, they wouldn’t be able to tell you much of anything at all. But now, the times they are a changin’. And Gubbins would know. As resident manager at the country’s first green residential high-rise building, The Solaire, in Battery Park City, Gubbins has to make sure the building conforms to a strict standard of “green guidelines” set down by the Battery Park City Authority, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.

Although using green cleaning products may just be one of the many ticks on a long checklist of requirements The Solaire has to meet, it by no means detracts from its significance. With legislation about to take effect in September mandating New York State schools use environmentally preferable cleaning products, which builds upon an earlier executive order requiring all state agencies and facilities to do the same, it’s no wonder that residential buildings around the city are getting into the swing of green cleaning.

Exposure to the chemicals in traditional cleaning products can affect occupants in the form of dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. Allergies, asthma, and rashes commonly plague maintenance staffers who routinely use traditional cleaners. Other symptoms can range from headaches and rashes to burns, respiratory ailments, permanent eye damage, cancer, and major organ damage. Notes Hector Norat, resident manager of 1400 Fifth Avenue, a 129-unit green condominium in Harlem: “In other buildings I’ve worked in, workers have gotten rashes on their hands, arms, and legs from the chemicals in cleaners. We don’t have this problem at 1400 Fifth.”

What makes green cleaning products “green”? Basically, household cleaners must be environmentally friendly, i.e., they should not harm you or the environment. Guidelines, as set forth by Green Seal, whose internationally recognized environmental standards have been adopted by manufacturers, purchasers, and governments around the globe, maintain that green cleaners:

• Must not contain carcinogens, ozone-depleting compounds, dyes, fragrances, petroleum distillates

• Must contain low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds)

• Must not be corrosive to the eyes or skin

• Must be biodegradable and bio-based

 

Almost everyone new to the idea of green cleaners has the same misgivings. The most common myths:

Myth No. 1: Green cleaners are not as effective. “Strength-wise, our staff has noticed no difference from other cleaners,” says Armando Hernandez, super at 160 Columbia Heights, a co-op in Brooklyn that has been using green cleaning supplies for three years. “What we did notice a big difference in, though, [is] there’s a nicer smell and the products are much less harsh and irritating on your hands.” Norat of 1400 Fifth Avenue claims he’s never had any complaints from his staff: “They work just the same as other cleaners. I tested them myself and they are just as effective.”

There is sometimes resistance to change, notes Dino Leva, owner of Every Supply Company who currently sells to The Solaire and four other residential buildings applying for LEED certification status in Manhattan. “Every once in a while, someone will say that Fantastic or Tilex works faster. [Green] products are just as effective but sometimes they just need a little more elbow grease,” he admits. “I say to them, spray the Tilex in a closed environment and see what happens. There’s a huge difference there.”

Myth No. 2: Green cleaners are more costly. Thanks to increased demand and dispenser kits, which allow buildings to buy cleaners in bulk and in concentrate, costs are comparable and sometimes even cheaper. “We’re actually saving money,” says Gubbins. “Six years ago, we weren’t. The products were more expensive and harder to get, but now they’re becoming more available. Dilution systems cut down the costs. From one product, we can make four different ones with our own water. Our staff mixes it themselves.”

“Going green is not expensive if you implement things in a certain fashion,” adds Leva. “The cornerstone of our project is the dispenser unit. You’re not buying ready-to-use items where you throw out bottles after each use. You’re no longer paying for water and you’re not throwing anything away.” However, without the dispenser unit, costs of individual ready-to-use green cleaners can cost you a little more.

Myth No. 3: There’s no smell, which means they aren’t working. Compared to traditional cleaners, their green counterparts usually have either no smell or a light citrus smell from natural ingredients. “[Having] no smell is healthier now,” says Leva. “Perfumes [and] fragrances are obscuring [the actual smell of the non-green cleaners] – and these additives can lead to health issues.” Even better, he adds, the green cleaners are deodorizing.

The choices out there are growing: Core has Hydroxi Pro (a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner), there’s Butcher’s G-Force line, and Envirox makes popular H2Orange2, to name a few. Every Supply Company works closely with its customers to outfit them with the right products. Leva explains: “We visit and examine the building and provide an e-mail or print survey of all the items the building is currently using and a list of comparable green products they can use instead. We then set up a second appointment to sit down with the maintenance staff of the building to train and educate them on the use of the new products.” In addition, the company offers a buy-back program for existing customers who had previously purchased non-green cleaning supplies from them.”

Right now, fully green buildings like The Solaire make up a very tiny fraction of Manhattan’s residential building population. The trend is catching on, though. “We had a [non-green] building that just recently was reviewing their boiler plant and during conversations, the green building benefits and the environment came up,” says Maxwell-Kates Assistant Vice President David Degidio, who oversees 1400 Fifth Avenue. “Boards are becoming more conscious of the environment, leaning towards burning clean fuels, and possibly going further in changing their operations.”

“Green cleaners are something we are moving towards and are trying to phase in because we’ve found the monetary value is so similar. I think today it’s about being conscious. It’s about thinking and moving towards the future.”

—Jennifer Wu

 

 

DRY-CLEAN IT

 

 

STAFF UNIFORMS

That chemical smell you catch a whiff of when you unwrap your clothing from the plastic after getting it back from the cleaners? It’s no perk, but it is probably “perc,” short for perchloroethylene, the overwhelming choice of solvent by the dry cleaning industry. Known for its ozone-depleting abilities and significant health risks, perc has been found to cause adverse health effects on the nervous system, including dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sweating, bad coordination, and unconsciousness. And that’s just from short-term. Long-term exposure can cause liver and kidney damage, reports The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Expectant mothers are warned to avoid dry cleaning because of the harmful chemicals involved.

“We’re required to do air quality testing at regular intervals at The Solaire, and we can actually tell when a tenant has come home with regular dry cleaning during the course of the day because there’s a spike in [the measurement of] VOCs,” says Michael Gubbins, resident manager at The Solaire, the nation’s first green residential high-rise building, located in Battery Park City.

Luckily, for the environmental and health-conscious, there are healthier and greener alternatives. These include: wet cleaning, silicon, liquid CO2, and alternative petroleum solvents (such as hydrocarbon). Of these, a Consumer Reports test (www.cosumerreports.org) found that the carbon dioxide method gave the best results, even better than traditional dry cleaning. Both CO2 and silicon did as well or outperformed the perc cleaning, at about the same cost.

At The Solaire, the maintenance staff, doormen, and concierge all receive the benefit of hydrocarbon cleaning for their uniforms, offered by New Jersey-based, environmentally friendly Gracie Cleaners, which serves buildings throughout Manhattan. Tenants at The Solaire are also encouraged to take advantage of Gracie’s free pick-up and delivery system for their personal clothing items. Gubbins notes: “Gracie charges a little more but mostly due to their packaging and high-end service, not because of the green cleaning. But I think the clothing lasts a little longer since [it is] not cleaned under harsh chemicals.”

“CO2 cleaning doesn’t put any wear on clothes, and in fact extends the life of the clothing 20 to 40 percent,” asserts Stavros Michailidis of Green Apple Cleaners, a Manhattan dry cleaning service that uses the CO2method. “There may not be immediate cost savings, but there are long-term savings.” At Green Apple, soon to merge with Gracie Cleaners, shirts begin at $2.25 and suits at $12.50 each, comparable to traditional dry cleaners in Manhattan.

Maintenance head Miroslav Salon at the The Solaire notes no real difference between having his uniforms dry-cleaned “green” or chemically. “No one on the staff is getting sick or rashes. The uniforms feel good.” And, he adds: “No difference is a good difference.”

—Jennifer Wu

 

STOP IT

 

 

AIR BARRIERS

What would you do if someone offered you the chance to waterproof your building and, at the same time, make it airtight, thus saving you untold costs in energy bills?

That’s what happened at Marina Bay condominiums in Boston. Completed in 1985, the nine-story complex sits on Boston Harbor and was facing serious problems. The property’s air quality was poor, its energy bills high, and its façade crumbling – all because of air leaks and the salty, humid area.

The condo board looked at scientific data, reviewed Massachusetts’s energy building codes, and asked for professional recommendations. The solution was to “re-skin” the building, i.e., remove and then replace the entire façade with new bricks. In the process, something unusual – at least for the United States – would be added: an air barrier. For those who are doing a complete façade replacement and are interested in a prime issue when greening the environment – saving energy – take note. A new product has arrived in America that can not only prevent water leaks but save you energy as well.

During a re-skin – a radical move, to be sure – owners have a perfect opportunity to retrofit their building with an air barrier. Traditionally, what has passed for such a system in the U.S. is a weatherization barrier, which is designed primarily to deal with water – not air – leaks. The difference between the two products, explains engineer Marc Tropper, manager of marketing and technical services at Bakor, part of the Henry Company, which manufactures air barriers, is that “air barrier membranes are fully bonded to the substrate, whereas the other products are just mechanically fastened and stapled into place.”

Such fastenings mean weatherization barriers can be less reliable; the stapling creates a hole in the barrier and if water finds that hole, it can enter and then run behind the membrane. With an air barrier, Tropper explains, you’re entirely wrapping the building from foundation to rooftop. “You are continuous everywhere; you have no seams.”

At Marina Bay in Boston, to re-skin meant removing the 300,000 square feet of exterior façade and replacing it with new brick. In order to prevent leaks and fight energy loss, the board chose to install the Henry Air-Bloc 31 air barrier system. The job included covering the frame of the building with a protective sheathing, enclosing that with a continuous liquid-emulsion air and vapor barrier system; installing a built-up polystyrene insulation layer; and attaching an exterior aluminum panel cladding system. The project, which began in 2004, took more than two years to complete.

What worked in Boston can also work in New York, where there are “hundreds” of white-brick buildings built in the 1960s that will probably need re-skinning in the next decade, notes Eugene Ferrara, the president of JMA, an engineering and consulting firm. Ferrara has worked on a number of re-skins and recently completed one at 2 East 65th Street, an 82-unit co-op built in 1963. Like many U.S. engineers, however, he is not overly familiar with air barriers like the Henry product, but instead uses weatherization systems.

One reason is that, in New York, re-skins are generally done not to green a building by saving energy, but to protect it from the elements. Indeed, at 2 East 65th Street, the board was primarily concerned with weatherization. “We had a façade that was failing and had several violations that were issued to the building by the New York City Department of Buildings that essentially required us to re-skin the building,” says Peter Volendes, president of the co-op. “We engaged a number of engineers to look at it, and they all agreed that the most proper thing to do would be to re-skin.”

“The ongoing maintenance of the existing system is so onerous that you can make a case that biting the bullet and putting in these new weatherization systems will improve the quality of life in the building because there’s less maintenance that will be required,” observes Ferrara. “Over the long haul, it may actually be less expensive than continuing to maintain what they have.” The project, which took two years, was finished in October 2005.

Re-skinnings, Ferrara notes, generally cost from $50 to $70 a square foot, and should probably include replacement of roofs and terraces because “they’re all tied into one. Those roofs or terraces may be one of the reasons why the re-skin is necessary.” The weatherization barrier is extra, though Ferrara would not quote a price.

Tropper estimates that the installed cost difference between the two systems is about $1 to $1.50 per square foot more for the air barrier. He notes that the “payback period is difficult to measure,” since it depends on a number of variables, but that, in the long run, such a system improves the health (if not the wealth) of the building and its residents.

Although not widely utilized in New York City – a new building on West 25th Street is employing an air barrier system but there are no current re-skins employing it – properties looking at a re-skinning may want to consider these systems. Doubters need only look north. Since 1986, Canada’s building code has mandated that all new construction contain air – not weatherization – barriers.

—Tom Soter

 

 

GREENIFY

 

 

RETROFIT

From the outside, the 29-story Vanguard Chelsea at 77 West 24th Street looks like a lot of new construction in New York City. The gleaming pink-stone high-rise boasts sweeping views of Manhattan’s West Side, a minimalist décor inside, and concierges dressed in discreet tones of brown. But it’s what isn’t immediately obvious to the eye that makes The Vanguard different.

From the lighting in the hallways and the exhaust fans in the basement to a planned irrigation system on the roof, the building is undergoing an environmentally friendly retrofit to make it more cost-effective – and healthier for the residents overall. Call it “going green,” the metamorphosis is the brainchild of the Albanese Development Corporation, which opened the first “green” building in Manhattan in Battery Park City in 2000 – The Solarium – and which has plans to open its second all-green building, The Vandesian, in Battery Park City this year.

The goal of the green retrofit of The Vanguard Chelsea, a residential apartment building owned by Albanese and managed by Rose Associates, is “to create a healthier way of living,” explains Michael Tierney, the resident manager. “Anyone can do what we’re doing. It’s not rocket science.”

Along with Luis Contreras, an engineer with WM Group, Tierney has been taking tours of this rental building, pinpointing areas where Rose can save money in management, while creating a healthier environment for the residents. Starting with the hallways, the lighting system has been switched from incandescent to fluorescent lights, which dim on a timer during the early morning hours (from midnight to 6), when there is less traffic in the hallway. While the dimming is almost unnoticeable, it will end up saving thousands of dollars in electricity bills for the building, says Tierney. In the stairwells, motion sensors have been installed on the light fixtures, turning them on only when someone is walking there. It cost $13,200 to install the equipment – with an offset of $2,800 received from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) – and Tierney predicts that the building will make up the rest of the cost in savings over the next three years.

 

On a recent tour of the building, Tierney took a visitor to the third-floor patio, where chaise lounges and tables are bordered by flowerbeds rimming the patio. Right now, the patio is irrigated by a sprinkler system using New York City water. The long-term goal, says Tierney, is to install a 5,000-gallon water tank to capture rainwater, and use that to irrigate the patio and the roof. Again, that will save thousands of dollars annually.

Tierney says that he was first captivated by the idea of doing a green retrofit of The Vanguard after a visit from NYSERDA officials in January – at which they pointed out ways to save money and make the building run more cost efficiently. Since then, Tierney and Contreras have been searching for similar cost-savings techniques.

The building has also installed front-loading washing machines, which use less detergent and less water and are more environmentally friendly. Contreras says the next step is to put in a new air filter which will capture escaping exhaust air and funnel it back into the property to help heat it, thus offsetting the use of oil in the wintertime. Down in the garage, says Contreras, the building can save money by installing a carbon monoxide detector that will turn on the exhaust fan in the garage when carbon monoxide is detected, rather than running the exhaust fan constantly.

While Albanese Development received tax credits from New York State to create the green Solaire and Vendesian, there are no tax credits to be received for retrofitting. Why do it then? Because it makes economic and environmental sense, says Chris Albanese, a principal in Albanese Development. “We always seek out to build first-class buildings, and our green buildings are more efficient and provide a healthier environment for the residents.” By saving money, and improving the quality of life in their buildings, residents are happier, maintains Albanese.

Tierney thinks so too. A lot of renters are more interested in their ecological environment, he says. “People are becoming more aware of it,” and interested to know what they can do to live a greener lifestyle. To that end, each new renter receives a care package from the building full of environmentally safe cleaning products (see www.greenresidentialcleaning.com) that the building staff itself uses to keep the building clean.

“Saving money through energy efficiency is healthier for the staff and healthier for the residents,” Tierney explains. “It makes it a better environment for everyone to live and work in.”

-Ruth Ford

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