2010 Building Green Chicago Conference & Expo

For the fourth straight year, Index Publishing hosted the Building Green Chicago Conference and Expo at the Chicago Marriott Downtown on April 7. The educational component was broken into four sections covering the urban landscape, water management, local energy efficiency success stories and an overview of the new LEED for Neighborhood Development.

The seminar kicked off with Michael Berkshire of the Chicago Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning. Berkshire discussed how his particular division of the Zoning Department, sustainable development, is focusing on several areas, from the current, core sustainable building design to site design in both private and the public development projects. Other areas of focus are locally-grown food and open space development. The last area of focus for the his division and the department is a fairly new endeavor: developing a sustainable industrial strategy for the city. The important point here is that an industrial strategy should improve the environmental performance—as well as the social aspect of—the local industry.

Berkshire briefly discussed the Chicago Climate Action Plan. One thing he touched on that may have gone unnoticed in the past is the plan’s attempt to help the region cope with future environmental changes. “Something that’s unique about Chicago’s plan is that we’re not just talking about reducing emissions,” Berkshire said, “were talking about adapting to changes that are already going to occur.”

Finally, Berkshire walked through a newer initiative, the Green Urban Design plan (GUD). The goal of GUD is to address how the city can better design rooftops, landscaping, streets, sidewalks and parkways to improve the quality and quantity of vegetated surfaces in the city. “We want to capture, clean and use as much rainfall as we can and we want to look at strategies for improving air quality in the city,” said Berkshire. “We feel that all of these strategies will improve the quality of life in the city of Chicago.”

One strategy the city is adopting is to look for more performance-based options in terms of regulations and initiatives. The stormwater ordinance requires building owners to keep a half inch of rain on site. The ordinance doesn’t mandate any one particular strategy for achieving this. An owner could install a green roof, use permeable pavement, create bioswales or even store it in cisterns or underground. “That’s the direction we want to go, we want to set a level of performance and provide a level of flexibility in meeting those regulations.”

Bob Fahlstrom of the Chicago Department of Buildings started the discussion on water management with a rundown of regional efforts to legislate rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse. Currently the Illinois State Plumbing Code does not recognize rainwater harvesting as an allowable plumbing system and requires that all fixtures use a potable water source.

Fahlstrom spoke at length about the Illinois Plumbing Code because even though Chicago enjoys home rule authority and writes its own municipal codes, the chapters on plumbing are an exception; the Chicago Plumbing Code is in fact superceded by the Illinois State Plumbing Code. Therefore, any effort to legislate more liberal uses of water in Chicago must be made at the state level. “As we were trying to press forward with introducing these technologies in the city of Chicago and champion them, we’ve had to have a dialogue with the state over the last couple years,” said Fahlstrom. “There was some resistance on their part, some of it founded on well-conceived technical issues about the idea of rainwater systems, water conservation technology and rainwater harvesting systems.”

Currently, these systems can only be installed in the City of Chicago through a two tiered appeals process involving permission from both the Chicago Committee on Standards and Tests and the Illinois Department of Public Health. This cumbersome process may disappear, however, with the introduction of a new State Senate Bill. Sponsored by Senators Susan Garret and Jaqueline Collins, SB2549 would amend the Illinois State Plumbing Code to allow the use of rainwater harvesting systems. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting hearings in the House.

The Chicagoland Roofing Council’s Executive Director, Bill McHugh, continued the panel discussion by describing efforts on top of buildings to slow the amount of water that goes into the drainage system.

The Chicago region is unique in dealing with this problem for several reasons. We live in an area where the land is flat and our rivers aren’t sloped. Our clay underbase leads to poor drainage. Human alterations such as lakeshore development, filling in ponds, raising the city, reversing the river’s flow and suburban sprawl all lead to less drainage and frequent flooding.

Of the moisture that soils absorb, 15-20% is retained for a two to three month period. Garden roofs are an excellent way to slow the transmission of rainwater into the sewage system because the soil medium and drainage boards keep water on the roof longer.

But of course, a vegetated roof needs to be properly installed, with proper membranes, sealants and other considerations. “When choosing a garden roof, we have to remember one thing. If the construction team is trying to provide a whole system, it has to be about the roof first. If the roof leaks onto the executive’s desk, … then we have a problem.”

Gary Rabine, CEO of Rabine Paving America, talked about the tactics a building owner can employ in the non-developed portion of a property—be that landscaping, driveways, parking lots, sidewalks or alleys—to combat the problems associated with impervious land.

Permeable concrete, for example, reduces or eliminates stormwater detention. Entire parking lots paved in this manner can actually be used to store stormwater and maintain preconstruction recharge areas. Permeable concrete is also ideal for alleys which are often designed without drainage in mind. If grading drains water to one location on site, pervious concrete at that location can drain water below the site effectively.

Pervious concrete is 100% recyclable, can achieve LEED and can reduce lighting needs due to reflectivity, which lowers the urban heat island effect. While traditional asphalt can reach 120-130 degrees on 90 degree day, pervious concrete remains the same as the ambient temperature

The third panel discussion of the day focused on local renovations and new construction projects that used sustainable methods, and how virtually any project could benefit from doing the same. Lloyd Davidson of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. talked about the many upgrades the Merchandise Mart has seen over the years.

Exit light were changed out for more efficient ones at a cost of $23,223, representing a return on investment (ROI) of 2 ½ years. Lights were replaced in the common areas as well, at a cost $80,261 and a one year ROI.

Restroom occupancy sensors cost $15,427 with an ROI of only six months. “One way to get the finance guys off your back is to prove that you have a return on investment in six months,” said Davidson. After low-cost, short-term ROIs have proven the idea of making sustainable changes for cost effectiveness, it’s easier to justify the more expensive projects. The Mart’s mechanical systems, for example, were upgraded with variable frequency drives at a cost of $207,896 and an ROI of just less than four years.

The lessons Davidson and his colleagues learned were the importance of metering and measurement, preventative maintenance which retains staff, investment in technology, getting vendors and tenants involved and staff education. “You can’t do it by yourself. Your staff from the top down has to buy it,” said Davidson. “It has to be a building effort.”

Jones Lang LaSalle has been involved with several projects locally that have made successful use of green changes, and Helee Hillman, a senior project manager with the firm, discussed two.

The McDonalds headquarters in Oak Brook earned LEED-EB Platinum thanks to some efficiency measures. The lower-cost strategies included changing temperature set points, automated building systems, lighting schedules and occupancy sensors connected to conference
room, restroom and storage room lighting.

Some measures had a higher initial cost, but with that came a higher potential for efficiency savings. These include building-wide LED lighting retrofits, new high performance chillers and motors, variable frequency drives and retro-commissioning. “If you talk to McDonalds, they will say it’s the best money they spent,” said Hillman, referring to the retro commissioning. “Yes it’s probably one of the more significant investments if you look at the overall budget, but its something they felt paid for itself.” The commissioning report recognized over eighty strategies for even more efficiency. “Eighty tangible action items that need to be fixed so that they can start recognizing savings.”

Another project was the LEED- EBOM Platinum office building at 550 West Washington. Measures taken there included tenant engagement, retro-commissioning, thermal scanning to locate weaknesses in the building envelope, lighting schedules and retrofits and more efficient HVAC equipment and practices. The building also received an Energy Star rating. According to Hillman, Energy Star buildings command a rent premium of $2.38 per SF on average and 3.6% higher occupancy.

Epstein representative John Patelski discussed several high-profile projects his firm has worked on. The McCormick Place West expansion, for example, which at 2.4 million SF is the largest new-construction building in the country to receive LEED certification.

One striking, if unseen, features of the building is a 3,500 foot long stormwater tunnel which diverts over sixty acres of runoff directly to Lake Michigan. The tunnel and 150,000 SF green roof are capable of keeping sixty million gallons of water out of the overburdened sewage system.

Increased insulation, low-e glass and efficient lighting all aid energy savings. The project also received special permission from the City of Chicago to implement demand control ventilation in the meeting rooms, utilizing carbon dioxide detection to indicate room population and set appropriate levels of ventilation.

The 10-floor, 220,000 SF Exelon corporate headquarters in Chase Tower include state-of-the-art, sustainable design features such as extremely efficient lighting with controllable task lighting for every employee. When materials were chosen, recycled content and local manufacture were taken into account. Plumbing fixtures significantly reduce water use and the utility company saved resources by reusing a significant amount of furniture from its old locations. Finishing materials were selected that were either low- or no-VOC.

Daylighting, occupancy sensors and low lighting density, which is less than 0.90 watts per square foot, also increase efficiency and lower energy costs. HVAC upgrades include increased temperature zones and Energy Star equipment while motion-controlled faucets and toilets and low flow, high pressure toilets decrease water usage.

The last project Patelski discussed was the O’Hare International Airport runway expansion, including some features that are surprisingly transferable to other projects. During excavation, 100% of all the concrete and asphalt waste was reused onsite, minimizing off-site hauling of excavated materials, while 50% of other construction and demolition debris was diverted from landfills. Where possible, existing navigational equipment and lighting were salvaged and reused.

More than half of the materials used for this project were acquired within 500 miles of Chicago. Landscaping of the runway expansion was one of the first uses of new low-maintenance, tall fescue seed mix. This mix eliminated the need to import 17,200 cubic yards of top soil.

The final discussion of the day was about the USGBC’s latest certification type, LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND). Doug Farr, the founding principal of Farr & Associates talked about the idea behind the new program and he highlighted several projects that took part in the pilot phase.

The LEED-ND pre-requisites include smart location, protection of imperiled species, wetland conservation, agricultural land conserva-tion, floodplain avoidance, walkable streets, certified green buildings and prevention of construction activity pollution. While any these can preclude certification if not achieved, Farr highlighted the pre-requisites that he feels are the most important to what LEED-ND is trying to accomplish: compact development, energy- and water-efficient buildings and connected, open communities— essentially, the prevention of gated communities.

There were a few projects in the region that participated in the LEED-ND pilot program. Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Whistler Crossing in Riverdale, a project in downstate Normal and Southworks in Chicago. According to Farr, the only portion of Prairie Crossing that could certify for LEED-ND is the so-called “Station Village” which is right next to the Metra station. At two acres per unit, the remainder of the development is so spread out that it fails the density prerequisites.

One pilot project in Victoria, British Columbia called Dockside Green, went above and beyond in its approach to creating a sustainable neighborhood. The twenty-six buildings in the project—all LEED Platinum—had and estimated energy savings of 45-55% as well as estimated potable water savings of 65%. More than a tenth of the residential units are affordable housing.

The formerly brownfield harbor area features a biomass cogeneration facility, bio-diesel facility, dedicated pedestrian and cyclist routes, district infrastructure and car sharing. The developers were able to reuse or recycle 90% of on-site waste. The pedestrian area features a creek that does more for the community than improve aesthetics.

“This water feature does double duty. It carries stormwater, and acts as the polishing phase of wastewater treatment,” said Farr. “What has this developer figured out how to do? Charge people a premium for facing the waste treatment plant. That is profit driven. It may be well-intentioned, it may be treehugging, but that is ruthlessly good business.”

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One Response to “2010 Building Green Chicago Conference & Expo”
  1. Peter says:

    Plumbers are important part for people’s life regarding their health as they always deal with clean drinking water, toilets and also central heating problems in their surroundings.

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