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Good for the Environment, Good for Your Body

March 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lindsey Kirleis and Valerie Miller, The Dobbins Group

The indoor environment quality section of LEED contains some provisions that offer just as many perks for the end user as they do sustainability for the environment. Whether you are a building manager trying to retain tenants or an office manager trying to retain employees, things like air quality, thermal comfort, daylighting and optimal views may seem more luxury than green. But in fact they are both, with the benefit to your budget not only in energy savings, but in reduced turnover costs.
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Sustainable Initiatives Defy Economic Trend

March 4, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

As the economy continues to struggle—with the real estate industry taking the brunt of the fallout—there has been much speculation about what impact the credit crisis will have on the sustainable building movement. Index Publishing’s 2009 Building Green Chicago Conference on April 7th will take a detailed look at both public and private efforts to retrofit the built inventory for sustainability.
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High Ideals: Green Aesthetics for Your Roof

March 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

There are currently three major impediments to the growth of green building in the American residential market: cash, conservatism and cosmetics. Even with government subsidization, the extra upfront cost associated with the installation of most green products will only ease with time, as higher production lowers costs. And the conservatism of both consumers and construction professionals reluctant to install unproven or unfamiliar technology has stymied adoption of sustainable principles. This, too, time will erode.
While we wait for those barriers to crumble, manufacturers can work on the third major impediment: the sheer ugliness of some green products. Many consumers have been won over by the green cause, but are still reluctant to install products that they feel blemish their property.
The most prominent battlefield in the struggle between staid and sustainable is the humble, single-residency roof. Not only are they the front line in seasonal temperature loss, roofs are the most conspicuous portion of any home. Some are the proud badge of their treehugging homeowner while others are meant to blend into the neighborhood as much as possible. Manufacturers are already addressing both philosophies.
For those cautiously accepting the green building movement, the best roof option is one that looks like their neighbor’s. In the U.S., this means asphalt shingles, ubiquitous due to their relatively low cost and ease of maintenance. But asphalt shingles are petroleum-based, outgas VOCs, have poor insulation and last a paltry 20 years on average. Slate roofs, by comparison, are much more expensive but can last hundreds of years with proper maintenance, if not indefinitely.
The middle ground may be composite roof tiles. The good ones are indistinguishable from slate at half the cost. While they can’t claim to last centuries, some composites, like Michigan’s Inspire Roofings have a 50 year warranty. Inspire compresses natural stone and resin to form tiles resembling slate, while other companies, such as Minneapolis-based Trimline, use recycled materials in their molds.
Modern solar panels have been around for decades. While their energy efficiency is still rather modest, even the oldest ones earn back their investment within a few years. So why hasn’t every homeowner with the capital installed a few on his or her house? Part of the reason may be that most homeowners don’t want their house to appear as if it is under attack by giant, metallic butterflies. But solar panels are no longer the winged monstrosities of the ’60’s and ’70’s. Over the decades they’ve achieved smaller and smaller profiles and with some technologies, they are now virtually invisible.
California-based SunPower Corporation manufactures a “SunTile” that, from a distance, is indistinguishable from the traditional tar and asphalt roof shingle. This system can be mixed in with asphalt shingles or across the entire roof. But until demand increases production, SunPower only offers the tiles for use on planned developments of more than 25 homes.
The PAC Solar Series by Peterson Aluminum of Elk Grove Village offers standing seam roofs embedded with solar-collecting film. The lightweight solar laminate is fused to standard aluminum panels in the factory, alleviating the need for mechanical fasteners that may compromise the roof’s integrity. The laminate expands and contracts with the roof due to heat change and promises competitive efficiencies. But the best part is that the roof is virtually indistinguishable from any other standing seam installation.
Capping off the sustainable roofing spectrum is the highly visible vegetative roof. These roofs mitigate the urban heat island effect, retain stormwater runoff and improve insulation. They are currently rare in residential applications, but even those commercial and institutional installations suffer from the unsightly design of many modular systems.
Most vegetative roofs are comprised of plastic trays filled with a growing medium, seeded, and installed like tile on the roof. The growing medium typically comes to the top of the tray and the plants are at best young sprouts. After the installation of these roofs, the initial result is a checkerboard of dirt, spotted with green. LiveRoof LLC offers a “prevegetated” system that leaves an attractive, lush green roof upon install.
Two aspects give the LiveRoof system an aesthetic edge. Firstly, the growing medium, a mostly inorganic mesh that resists compression, is built up higher than the trays through the use of plastic soil elevators which are removed upon installation. The soil in each tray serves as ballast to its neighbors, creating a seamless bed that completely hides the recycled plastic trays. Secondly, LiveRoof grows the plants to full maturity, ensuring that the customer has a lush roof not several weeks or even months later, but immediately.
The U.S. lags behind Europe in adoption of green building practices, and getting those practices to take further root will require even more time. But perhaps with a focus on aesthetics, we can trim the time scale down from the glacial to merely the epic.

Ready, Set, Conserve

March 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Iain M. Bradbury

The Chicago Department of Environment, in collaboration with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, has launched the Chicago Green Office Challenge to help contribute towards the ambitious goals of the Chicago Climate Action Plan.
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Secondhand Homes

March 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By: Matt Baker

In 2006 alone, demolition permits were issued for 4,500 single-family homes and duplexes in Chicago. If deconstructed instead, most of these materials could be reused and diverted from the landfill.
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Green Overhead: Sustainable Roofing in Chicago

April 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bill McHugh
Executive Director, Chicagoland Roofing Council

Whether it’s a new project or a retrofit, sustainability often starts at the top. Nowhere are a building’s extremes more evident than the roof: this is where heat is lost in the winter and where it infiltrates in the summer; where wind and precipitation meet the building head on, challenging it structurally while also offering unique opportunities.

Those opportunities cover a wide spectrum, and it’s important to consult a professional before installing any type of environmentally conscious roof, not only to ensure that it is expertly installed, but also so that you pick the right type for your structure. Insulation can provide excellent payback, garden roofs keep excess water out of the treatment system, while photovoltaics generate electricity and reflective roofs provide lower rooftop temperatures in the summer.

For the fourth year in a row, Chicago leads the nation in square footage of installed garden roofs, with 500,000 ft2 built in the past year, according to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. While aesthetically pleasing to the community, garden roofs also provide excellent benefits to the building owner. Since the roof system is buried under dirt, it is shielded from the damaging rays of the sun, extending the life of the roof. However, the system needs to be installed right the first time, as unburying the roof can be costly to find and fix a leak. Also, the reflectivity of the garden roof is the same as the earth—about as environmental as it can get. Most importantly, garden roofs can slow the drainage of water, relieving our sanitary and storm runoff systems. By retaining rainwater, we can keep Lake Michigan cleaner.

Another option is a reflective roof, which can tame the soaring rooftop temperatures Chicago sees in the summer. Reflective coatings, including white, grey and even gravel and ballast, have been shown to provide reflective benefits after aging, according to studies by the US Department of Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Chicago has many reflective roofs installed throughout the area, many by Chicagoland Roofing Council (CRC) contractors using workers trained at the world’s leading roofing industry location, the Chicagoland Roofers Joint Apprenticeship Training Center. Conversely, there are reasons to have a less reflective roof; Chicago’s climate in the fall, winter and spring means a darker color may help reduce heating loads.

New technologies exist to provide energy producing devices that are either part of the roofing membrane, or separate devices used to generate electricity while absorbing the sun’s rays. Photovoltaics are the most efficient commercially available solar panel technology on the market—so efficient that on many sunny days, a building owner may be able to sell excess power back to the grid.

One of the best paybacks for a building owner is adding insulation to the roof assembly. CRC Contractors and Local 11 Roofers are uniquely qualified to provide and install roofing systems with excellent insulation values to reduce heating and cooling bills.

Be sure to have a roofing professional check building code requirements for wind and fire resistance for all these types of roof systems. As with any major purchase like roofing, ask how long the system has been in service so you are assured longevity in a large capital asset, your roof.

Whether it’s the reflective roofs at Midway Airport, the gardens atop the Chicago Cultural Center and City Hall or the many photovoltaics on projects throughout the metropolitan area, few are as experienced with installing these systems than CRC companies. For over 100 years, this union coalition has been topping buildings in Chicago and the suburbs, and they’ve led the way locally with sustainable roofing.

Collaborative Achievement: The New AIA Chicago Office

March 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Bordenaro
Assoc. AIA

AIA Chicago celebrated its successful move to new offices in the historic Jeweler’s Building with a ribbon-cutting breakfast ceremony on April 10, 2007. Read More…

A Changing Financial Climate

March 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ken Lewis
Chairman and CEO, Bank of America

The world’s largest banks have been joining the movement to address climate change with great enthusiasm in recent years. But one thing we’re learning is that keeping pace with the demands of the green economy will take more than just big piles of money doled out in traditional ways. Read More…

Legal Considerations For Green Retrofits

March 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Philip M.J. Edison

The concept of building green has entered the mainstream. More and more green projects are undertaken, and more and more people involved in construction projects are asking “what can we do to make this project green?” After the architect, often the first person to hear this question is the attorney. Green building adds an additional layer of detail to every project, and many construction practices that have been used for years are not designed to address the unique requirements of sustainability. If you intend to have your green project certified by an organization such as the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), even more issues arise.

Legal issues crop up at the earliest stage of a project, including understanding the availability and requirements for government incentives and understanding the application of government mandates. Many levels of government have been passing both green incentives and green requirements at a rapid pace over the last few years. It is important to keep up with new ordinances and to determine the requirements of each. Frequently, the attorney is in the best position to offer up-to-date advice.

An issue that is frequently overlooked is the zoning code. For example, most would agree that generating electricity on-site through renewable sources such as wind power is a worthy goal, but until recently in Chicago, residential district wind turbines were effectively shut out by height limits. The zoning code has now been revised to specifically allow such turbines to be roof-mounted. Without reviewing the zoning code in advance, there is the possibility of spending architectural fees for a design that is not buildable or having to go through the lengthy and costly process of requesting zoning relief.

Many building contracts allow for the substitution of materials of a “like kind.” Unfortunately, standard contracting agreements are usually broad enough to allow builders to substitute a traditional product in place of the specified green product. For example, wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council may have the same appearance and performance characteristics as traditional lumber. In such cases, unless the contract prohibited it, there is very little to stop the builder from performing substitutions. When specifiying green materials, it is also a good idea to require that the desired green products are available and will be delivered to the job site on time. These requirements are especially important if you intend to have the project LEED-certified and the use of specific materials is necessary to reach an expected certification level.

LEED certification is another area where many existing contracts do not accurately contemplate risks and responsibilities. Contracts produced by the American Institute of Architects now address certification issues, but many contracts in use today do not. Although an owner, or a professional hired by the owner for the purpose, is the best person to oversee the certification process, each contractor needs to understand the scope of the work to be performed from a LEED perspective, as well as the performance characteristics of the work and the certification responsibilities of the contractor. These issues need to be agreed upon in advance, at the time the contract is drafted. There is no one party who will warrant that a certain LEED certification level will be achieved, but each party on a project should warrant the work that they are to complete, as set forth in the respective contract. The combination of these warrants can help to ensure that the owner receives the expected LEED certification.

Although there are many other legal issues that arise in any green retrofit project, the point of this article is to get people thinking about legal issues from the very beginning of each project and to look for issues at every stage of the process. By identifying and addressing issues early in the process, building owners can achieve their green expectations more quickly for less money.

Retrofitting for Sustainability

March 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karl Heitman, AIA, LEED-AP

In the effort to reduce negative impacts that buildings have on the environment, we cannot overlook the massive environmental challenge that the majority of our existing buildings present. A limited view of sustainability, relating only to new construction, would overlook the primary sources of ineffecient energy use and harmful emissions that are attributable to existing buildings. Read More…