DJC Green Building Blog

Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

Posted on November 16, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I've been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that "preservation" equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County's Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, "Stewardship of the Built Environment." He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the "three E's"): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as "balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment."

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, "the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism." He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a "sunk cost" and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it's because of our societal preference for the glitter of "new" vs. the practicality of "existing," which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed "the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today." And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young's figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl -- even if it's "green")!

Young's talk introduced some great food for thought, but I'm so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, "Putting it All Together," he provides a list of "challenges" for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to "decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies." Lots to work on.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Seattle’s Office of Sustainability loses Amanda Eichel to New York City and hires Joshua Curtis formerly of Great City

Posted on August 27, 2010

There are a couple newsworthy items related to the city's Office of Sustainability and Environment. First, it is losing Amanda Eichel, senior climate protection advisor, to the New York City office of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Second, it recently hired Joshua Curtis, formerly executive director of urban advocacy group Great City. Great City was founded by Mayor Mike McGinn, previous to his political role. Curtis' title is community power works non-residential grant manager. He was brought on to manage a portion of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, funded by the federal stimulus. The role is funded by the grant.

Jill Simmons, acting director of the OSE, said she is reassessing the role Eichel played. Someone else will likely be hired to fill her post.

It's interesting that Eichel is leaving to work with Bloomberg's office, which seems to be snatching up

Eichel heads to New York City
talented Pacific Northwest players. Bloomberg also recently hired David Bragdon, former president of Portland's Metro Council, as head of environmental policy. There's an article here about what the switch-up means for New York.

It's also interesting that OSE is hiring in today's tumultuous market when so many other city employees risk losing their jobs. In the Department of Planning and Development for example, the city is planning to lay off up to 40 employees in October. The city has had multiple rounds of layoffs since the start of the recession.

Simmons said OSE considered people from other departments for Curtis' post but he was the best fit. She said the office recently brought someone into the department who otherwise would have been laid off. There is no word yet whether the office will face any layoffs in the coming year as the city's budget has not been released.

McGinn founded Great City but resigned his post to run for mayor. In May of 2009, Curtis succeeded McGinn. At the end of June, Great City went all-volunteer and Brice Maryman seems to have taken over general duties. Curtis was hired by OSE at the beginning of August.

Simmons wanted to make it clear that the city didn't hire Curtis because of his past involvement with McGinn's project. In an e-mail, she said Curtis was unequivocally not hired because of his connection to Great City, and the mayor:

"OSE conducted a competitive hiring process in June and July to fill the EECBG Grant Program's Nonresidential Sector Manager position. We received nearly 30 applications, and interviewed a number of strong candidates. Joshua was the best of these; he is exceptionally well-qualified to ensure the city successfully implements the ambitious grant program. OSE lost one great talent with Amanda’s departure, but thankfully gained another with Joshua’s hire."

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Seattle hiring manager for energy work – apply quick!

Posted on June 24, 2010

The city of Seattle's Office of Sustainability & Environment is hiring a sector manager for its retrofit ramp-up non-residential program. But hurry! The closing date to apply for this job is June 25- tomorrow.

Seattle received money through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, as part of the federal stimulus. This position will manage retrofit delivery for the non-residential sectors of the grant, in partnership with the grant team, staff from other city departments and the project steering committee. The person chosen will also be responsible for developing a sustainability plan to ensure the programs created through the grant continue after the three-year grant period.

The job is funded for three years. The salary will be between $32 and $48 per hour. Applications are due to Jeanie Boawn, executive assistant in the Office of Sustainability and Environment by 4 p.m. tomorrow. Her email is jeanie.boawn@seattle.gov.

Here's the full job description. Good luck!

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Electricians: the next hot profession

Posted on February 10, 2010

Are electricians the next hot profession?

Houston Neal just published an interesting post on the topic at The Software Advice Construction Blog.

Electricians
Neal says "electrical contractors" will transition to "energy contractors" to support the green construction market, and that the profession will grow tremendously.  Neal cites a study by the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo. that says renewable energy jobs for electricians will grow about 900 percent by 2030, just in Colorado.

Neal calls this "a coming renaissance in electrical contracting." However to really benefit, he says electricians need to focus on changing now by gaining the right skills, promoting green credentials, and updating their bidding process to win green electrical jobs.

It's a pretty extensive and interesting post. But it makes me wonder, what other professions this applies to? If there is a coming renaissance for electricians, what other trades or jobs could see huge growth or significant change? What do you think?

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Seattle’s Office of Sustainability will be making a new hire soon

Posted on September 28, 2009

Today, I was listening to the Seattle City Council pass legislation that accepts over $6 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy for a multitude of energy upgrades. Among the many things it funds is a new position in Seattle's Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It will be a "strategic advisor I" post and the person will be hired to handle reporting and requirements of the stimulus grant. The position is funded for two years. The job will likely be posted on the city's job page here. Other than that, I don't know any more about the position.

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Zero waste: betraying our mission?

Posted on August 14, 2009

This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting.

I recently was asked to speak at the California Resource Recovery Association Conference in Palm Springs.  I know, Palm Springs, it sounds like a vacation, but the high for each day was 112 degrees.  Anyway, this year's theme was 'zero-waste'.  The CRRA had asked me to discuss building deconstruction in the context of it helping to achieve zero waste goals in many California cities.  It caused me to pause and think about what zero waste means and how to achieve it.  I came up with a couple of interesting points.

Betraying the mission:

Some of the projects that I have been involved with or have read about that have strived for zero-waste or very high diversion rates may have succeeded in doing so, but at what cost?  It may have taken weeks to accomplish and cost much more than demolition.  Therefore, even though the project stands as an example of what is possible, the general public may see this as confirming their belief that building deconstruction (and perhaps other green building methods) cost too much and take too long

Looking at this another way, we see that the single project may divert 70 tons from the landfill during

Is this going to a site or from one?
its 3.6 week schedule.  A less agressive approach that we frequently follow would divert 60 tons in 1.2 weeks or 180 tons during the same 3.6 week schedule.  So, in the end, who is closer to zero-waste? 

There are different ways to achieve zero-waste, by achieving zero-waste on one project and building off of that and using it as a bar that others can reach, or to achieve high-diversion on 10 projects at a cost-competitive price and time-sensitive schedule.  In the end, we really do need the zero-waste projects to push us forward, we just need them to admit that we still have a ways to go before achieving zero-waste on a regular basis. 

Designing for disassembly:

When planning our presentation, we reviewed past projects that we had completed and sent the materials in three directions: reuse, recycling and disposal.  Our focus was on how we could have eliminated the disposal category on projects performed in the 'real world'.  Our conclusion was that if we design waste into a structure, it is not surprising that we get waste out of projects. 

Designing for disassembly is a movement in architecture to admit that their structures will likely not live out their entire lifespan and that when the building is removed someday in the future, the materials that make up that structure will be worth harvesting and that the design should favor this disassembly.  The more fasteners, ADHESIVES, and other waste producing or labor consuming building systems that are battled when the building is taken apart, the more unlikely that deconstruction will be a viable choice for building removal. 

Having deconstructed 500 structures in the last 16 years, RE-USE Consulting has gained a unique perspective on this problem and is moving ahead with its own solutions to be applied to today's buildings.  We hope that tomorrow's buildings will be made of reusable panels that can be reused and are perhaps constructed on multiples of 16" or 24", floating floor panels, paneling set in channels with fewer fasteners, and well thought out use of adhesives.  

I have seen what zero waste looks like.  It is an amazing thing.  Imagine a job site where the building was removed and the stacks of materials sitting on the ground confuse the passer-by.  Is a building about to be built, or did it just come down? 

Should we focus first on zero-waste, or should we focus on increasing the percentage of materials that are diverted for reuse?  In the end, the reuse of materials can be many times better than simply recycling them due to the preservation of energy, job creation associated with it, and from resource conservation.

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AIA Seattle seeks writers on “design for healthy living”

Posted on August 6, 2009

The AIA Seattle's Forum magazine is seeking submission proposals for an upcoming issue on design for healthy living. Proposals for features run up to 2,500 words and columns run between 600 and 700 words. Proposals must address some aspect of design for healthy living in the Seattle metro area, Puget Sound or Washington state.

For more info on Forum or the submission process, visit http://www.aiaseattle.org/forum . Proposals are due by August 21.

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Cascadia searching for new COO

Posted on June 12, 2009

Want a job? How about becoming chief operating officer for the largest regional green building nonprofit? Well, then this is your lucky month because the Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is hiring.

Cascadia is waiting for you! (image courtesy of Cascadia).

That's right. They're looking for a new COO as current COO Brandon Smith is moving to the position of vice president of business development.

The new COO will be based in either Portland or Seattle and will be in the post by August 1st. The deadline to apply for the job is June 30.

Cascadia is also searching for a new administrative assistant. This is a part time position of 20 hours per week. It will remain open until filled with a tentative start date of July 20.

For more information or to apply, visit Cascadia here.

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Are you a low impact development professional? The UW wants you!

Posted on April 16, 2009

The University of Washington has developed a new certification centered on low impact

Do you know what this is? Ever worked one? Maybe you should become a teacher!
development. There's only one problem: it doesn't have teachers yet.

The program, which will begin this fall, will consist of three 30-hour courses. Students will take 'Foundations of Low Impact Development' in the fall, 'Practical Applications of LID,' in the winter of 2010 and 'Implementing LID projects,' in the spring.

The UW is seeking applications from professionals in the LID field to teach these courses. It wants instructors who have been working in the field for over five years. Is this you? Apply to mamrhein@extn.washington.edu by April 24. If you're looking for more information, click here.

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Out of work? The building deconstruction industry is hiring!

Posted on February 3, 2009

This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting. 

This last week has been full of bad news relating to major corporations cutting jobs.  These job cuts are nothing compared to the amount of jobs that have been shipped overseas in the past decades.  Did you know that the City of Buffalo used to have

Image courtesy Dave Bennink
600,000 people in it and now it only has about 290,000?  First the jobs left and then the people followed.  This has left Buffalo wondering what to do with tens of thousands of abandoned homes. 

So where are we heading?  Jobs disappearing, economic slowdowns and global warming are just the start of our problems.  Fortunately, there is some good news to share:  The building deconstruction industry is creating thousands of green collar jobs, and these jobs cannot be shipped overseas! 

For years, building deconstruction has been much slower and more expensive than demolition.  Building deconstruction is the systematic disassembly of a structure to maximize reuse and recycling.  In recent years, hybrid deconstruction has allowed deconstruction and adaptive reuse companies to take down buildings faster and cheaper, completing 2,000-square-foot homes in 3 to 4 days as one example.  Even with these improvements, building deconstruction still creates 10 to 20 times more jobs than demolition while hoping to achieve an on-site landfill diversion rate of 70 percent or more (before comingled recycling options). 

These are all local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas and we are working to make them living wage jobs requiring different levels of experience and potentially launching workers into other related careers.

One thing that is clear to me is that building owners don't want their structures demolished, they just want them removed.  Almost everyone I have talked to would rather see the their building moved intact, deconstructed, or at least salvaged or even preserved in place through adaptive reuse as long as it doesn't take much more time and it doesn't cost more money.  That helps the building deconstruction contractors by basing their efforts on a solid foundation. 

People realize that deconstruction creates more jobs, helps the environment, preserves local architectural elements, and assists lower-income home owners to maintain their homes.  It is also a sustainable effort, unlike some green solutions that just slow down the problems.  Deconstruction is not just saving energy and resources compared to producing all of those materials new again, but reversing problems like global warming and natural resource depletion. 

In Buffalo, we have begun to think of the streets full of abandoned homes as an asset to the community instead of a liability.  If it is decided that they must be taken down, then by deconstructing them, some of the value they hold is returned to the community, and I can tell you after 16 years in this field, it's a great feeling knowing that you are making a difference. 

I am excited about efforts by the city of Seattle and King County, among others, to promote building deconstruction. 

The Building Materials Reuse Association is leading the way, holding a conference on the subject in Chicago in April 2009 (www.bmra.org).  Cities and groups across the Country are starting job training programs by forming deconstruction crews.  Demolition contractors are converting to deconstruction companies by performing deconstruction when their clients ask for it or it makes economic sense.  General contractors hoping to keep their crews from quiting in slow times, are beginning to offer deconstruction to their clients, knowing that they may be able to provide work to their laid-off crews.  Some schools are considering classes on deconstruction and some businesses are forming around the sales of the salvaged materials or the manufacturing of products (like tables, chairs, etc.) made from reclaimed materials. 

So if you are tired of this economic slow down and want to make a difference, join us by considering building deconstruction and considering buying reclaimed materials.  It's  'buying local' and 'employing local' all at the same time while heading toward our goal of zero waste.

- Dave Bennink, RE-USE Consulting

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