Retrofitting for a Green Future

Gerding Edlen renovated and retrofitted the Portland Armory for mixed use.

Gerding Edlen renovated and retrofitted the Portland Armory for mixed use.

It is clear that in order to reduce our energy consumption in existing buildings, we need to retrofit these structures.  Dennis Wilde, a principal at Gerding Edlen Development (GE) addressed this issue during the 2009 Greenbuild Convention and Expo in Phoenix, Arizona.  According to their corporate philosophy, Gerding Edlen exists to do one simple thing: to create vibrant, sustainable and inspiring places where people can work, learn and live. Creating places that offer fresh air, foster creativity and incorporate art and culture help us achieve this goal. Their Principles of Place document expands on this philosophy.

GE was responsible for the first new construction LEED Gold condominium in the US, the first LEED Gold condominium in California, the first LEED Platinum condominium in the US, and the first building on the Nat’l Historic Register to become LEED Platinum. Because LEED Platinum has become easier to achieve, GE is focused on the Living Building Challenge which is the next benchmark for the green/sustainable movement. A growing part of GE’s development and design work is in retrofitting existing structures for energy efficiency under the name Sustainable Solutions.

When evaluating an existing building, GE focuses on energy, waste and human comfort as well as optimizing the operations and maintenance of the building.  The challenge they face  is that few owners/operators put a sufficient amount of resources into training the people who need to maintain the buildings.   The day-to-day maintenance staffs are not trained in how to properly maintain a green building, and maintenance is critical in order to keep these buildings operating at peak performance. You can’t just create a green building and walk away; you have to hold people’s feet to the fire regarding the operation of the building. These are part of the green jobs of the future.

The absence of financing is another challenge to retrofit projects. Traditional financing requires either a high percentage rate or a quicker return on investment. The current financing system isn’t really suitable for the green/sustainable movement because the return on investment takes longer, with a long-range benefit in energy consumption, waste and use of resources. The financing system needs to be reworked to better understand the benefits of green/sustainable building.

Dennis offered some examples of successful GE projects:

  •  The Portland Community College in Oregon was a retrofit project on systems, assemblies and usage and included interior and exterior changes.  It is the first net-zero community college. The project cost to redo the campus of 122 acres with more than three-quarters of a million square feet of space was $15.4 million, but they are saving $1.1 million in energy costs per year. This project will pay for itself in 15 years. They are saving almost $71, 000 in water costs alone.
  •  The Portland, Oregon public school system installed photovoltaic roofing on nine schools with over 500,000 square feet of roof and they are saving $58,000 per year in energy costs. They will recoup the costs of this project in 34 years.

We need to retrofit existing buildings if we are going to lower our energy consumption. The goal of net-zero energy is achievable and the rewards are too great to ignore. To learn more about net-zero building, check out the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Program.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

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