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September 29, 2011

Sixth Place Apartments are first in energy efficiency

  • The project was part of a demonstration ordinance allowing modifications to county codes to promote low-impact and sustainable development.


    Occupied in July, Sixth Place Apartments is the latest phase of the King County Housing Authority Hope VI redevelopment of Greenbridge in White Center. These 24 new homes had an aggressive program for reduction of energy use, and have met the 2030 Challenge, which sets interim goals on a path to carbon neutrality by 2030.

    The development benefitted from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act “stimulus” funding, and used an innovative permitting approach to expedite the project review process.

    Starting with master planning in 2003, Greenbridge sought to push the boundaries of typical practice. The development is part of a demonstration ordinance allowing modifications to King County codes and regulations to promote low-impact and sustainable development.

    King County Department of Development and Environmental Services approved many changes to codes and regulations using the demonstration program to make it easier to achieve low-impact and sustainable development strategies. One of the most important strategies used on this latest phase was the concurrent review of lot creation (platting), infrastructure permits and building permits.

    Photo courtesy William Wright Photography [enlarge]
    Sloping roofs are an ideal location for solar panels on the Sixth Place Apartments.

    What could take years to complete in the typical sequential order of permit review was fast-tracked to approximately four months — saving both time and money.

    The streamlined permit process helped qualify this project for stimulus funds, which were reserved for “shovel ready” projects. Only through the expedited permit process could the stimulus funding deadlines be met. This success story put hundreds of people back to work and provided homes for 24 families within 18 months of the grant award date.

    At Sixth Place, KCHA sought to push the boundaries of typical residential development with an interwoven set of sustainability strategies to reduce energy consumption. These elements were funded in part by federal energy efficiency tax credits.

    For residents with limited incomes, these utility savings will have a direct effect upon their quality of life:

    Sixth Place team
    KPFF Consulting Engineers
    Bannon Engineering
    Michael Nouwens Structural Consultants
    Nakano Associates

    • The first strategy was to create a high-performance building envelope to reduce energy use and utility expenses associated with heating. Wall insulation increased to R-25 from R-21 by using blown-in high-density insulation instead of typical fiberglass batts. Attic insulation thickness increased to R-49 from typical R-38. High-performing insulated windows meet aggressive 0.30 U values.

    • The second strategy was to reduce electrical loads and install features to keep the tenants comfortable. Light tubes bring daylight into interior bathrooms and laundry rooms, so tenants need not turn on lights in these rooms during the day. These buildings are not air conditioned, so ceiling fans were installed in units with high ceilings to provide relief on hot days. Solar-powered attic fans keep building roofs cooler in summer by reducing heat build-up at the top floors.

    • The final strategy was to implement technological solutions to benefit Greenbridge as a whole. Each of these new buildings was constructed with solar panels on their south-facing roofs. At 52.2 kilowatts, this system was the largest residential solar panel installation in the state at the time of installation, and one of the largest in the nation. These solar panels provide electricity to common areas within Sixth Place and provide surplus energy (net metering) to offset operating expenses throughout Greenbridge.

    • In addition to energy savings, low-flow showers, toilets and lavatories will reduce water consumption and the associated utility bills. Combined with efficient drip irrigation and native drought tolerant plantings, water use will be minimized for tenants and building management.

    These energy-efficiency upgrades allowed the project to meet the goals of the 2030 Challenge: a 60 percent energy-use reduction when compared to the regional average home. The layering of programs required by funding sources included Built Green Communities, Built Green Multi-Family, Seattle City Light’s Built Smart, and the state Department of Commerce’s Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard.

    Although these programs increased energy-efficiency targets, the owner pushed the project to the level of 2030 compliance.

    As long-term property holders, nonprofit entities like KCHA can provide energy-efficiency measures which may not pencil out with developers looking for an immediate return on investment. Not only can nonprofits and governmental agencies invest in these strategies with long-term paybacks, but these entities often have broader missions to allow for lessons learned to be shared amongst their peers and counterparts.

    Investing in leading-edge strategies will shorten the learning curve for those following these leaders and make energy-efficiency more accessible to all.

    Jon Hall’s desire is to improve communities by creating affordable and environmentally sustainable urban housing. Hall is GGLO’s Quality Management Lead, heads its Affordable Housing Team and is a member of its Sustainable Design Group. He is a certified Sustainable Building Advisor and LEED Accredited Professional in BD+C and Homes.

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