The Ryan Place home, once again built by Ferrier Custom Homes, was the last of the homes we toured. It was a modern style home and I will admit, I don’t care for the style. The only space inside the home that was really enjoyable was the rear of the main living space that encased by windows from floor to ceiling. It was almost like being outdoors. The main difference in this home from the Bailey Street home was the outside wall construction. The load bearing outside walls were a composite of oriented fiber board with a foam insulation sandwiched in between. These walls were manufactured in a factory and shipped to the construction site. They produce higher R values than conventional construction and are probably manufactured with greater efficiency and less waste than a conventional load bearing wall. One drawback or advantage (depending on your view point) of this is that no electrical wires or water pipes can be installed in these walls. This will help protect the building envelope from air and water intrusion, but requires extensive planning to locate the wires and pipes away from the outside walls. I was also interested in learning that the owner made a choice to use electricity to heat the home rather than natural gas. Don Ferrier, the builder, stated that an 18 SEER heat pump was at least as efficient as a natural gas heater. I did not investigate this but found it rather amazing if that is truly the case. The home has been occupied longer than the other two we visited, but no one seemed to know the annual utility consumption although the bills were estimated at $150 per month (including water and trash).
Our visit to the Trinity River Audubon Center was a real highlight. I have such a hard time imagining that people don’t go out in the woods and walk. I find it even harder to believe that this is in the City of Dallas and it is not full of people. This is a real urban treasure. The history of how this all came into being can be found at the website www.trinityriveraudubon.org. Located in the Great Trinity Forrest, this once was an illegal dump. To see it now, that is hard to imagine. The little slice of nature in this great urban setting provides visitors a respite from the daily grind. A walk down to the Trinity River on a sunny day is enough to recharge and energize folks to think long and hard about how they impact this great planet. The building designed by Antoine Predock in the shape of a bird in flight, is made with sustainable and recycled materials. The interactive demonstrations allow visitors to create their own river and see just how a 100 year flood would affect the City of Dallas. I was surprised that the methane from the dump is not used as an energy source for either heating the water or the building. Another concern was that even though the citizens in the Pleasant Grove area are admitted free, there did not seem to be any of them visiting the day we were there.
Jackson Murphy provided a tour and presentation at 1717 McKinney in Dallas. He reviewed the LEED score card for the building and another for the Huitt-Zollars build out of two of the floors. Although the building has been designated LEED Gold, I was shocked at the score card. No points were awarded for energy efficiency. This is almost inexcusable in our times. Once we reached the office area and were presented with the build out score card you could see that Huitt-Zollars had really put in some effort to enhance the natural light infiltration to the work space. The work space was open with low wall cubicles to enhance the outside lighting. Waterless urinals in the restrooms and low flow fixtures ensure low water usage. The energy score for these floors also increased because of controls installed by the tenant. It seems odd that the tenant could get more points for energy efficiency that the building itself. This site also has an adjoining building that serves as a residential high rise. The court yard separating the two buildings serves as a rooftop park for both buildings. The view from this court yard is spectacular as were the views from the Huitt-Zollars offices. It is a wonder anyone gets any work done for looking out the windows. Toward the end of the tour, Jackson made a presentation that describes his role in helping customers to justify the LEED program economically. The statistics presented were overwhelming in the life cycle cost reductions of using these LEED guidelines to design and construct a building.
Learning to be LEED
The TCC main campus was originally built to house Radio Shack and not a community college. This transition has left the facilities management in some difficult positions. The newness of the building and equipment should mean that the operation of the building is highly automated. During the tour, I noticed that one of our guides was maintaining a control chart on the chiller system. When I asked about this he told me that the software did not provide these readings and that they were keeping these charts by hand. There was also a statement about the measurement of the pressure drops across the filter material was automated and provided the information needed to change filters. The reports for this were not presented and may not exist. The high efficiency motors and direct drive for the pumps make use of some good energy saving technology, but the lack of either vibration profiles or sound profiles for the individual pumps and motors demonstrates a need. These tools would allow the facility people to begin a proactive predictive maintenance program for these systems. Some automation in the water systems to allow for the proper addition of the chemicals to maintain pH would also increase their effectiveness and reduce the need for manual oversight of these systems. As we toured the facility, the fact that permanent walls are being added may also contribute to the inefficient operation of the building systems. It seems to become a theme as we tour these buildings that the maintenance and operations need to be more automated and the skills to properly perform these tasks may not be fully understood by the ownership. There seems to be a real need for both the owners and operators to work with the contractors and architects to get these procedures documented and in place as the building are turned over for operation.
Texas Agri-Life Extension Agent Steve Chaney provided insight on landscaping for Texas. His presentation was very informative. He gave examples of plants that are able to thrive in this Texas environment. These plants, while not always native, are well adapted to our climate and require less water and are heat tolerant. Again, the recurring theme of the day becomes maintenance. These landscapes require less of it, less mowing, less water, less fertilizer and less herbicide. As we keep finding in these case studies and presentations, less is more. The other large waste in landscaping is from water. Most of us are used to endless turf grass. This is not the recommendation of experts. They typically recommend no more than 33% coverage of turf grass with the rest allocated to native or adaptive annual plantings that don’t require much care. This reduces air pollution from mowing and reduces water usage. Another way to reduce the water usage is mulch. This is an inexpensive way and an environmentally responsible way to reuse grass clippings, limbs and some household trash (food usually) to increase the moisture retention and reduce the summer heat effect on landscaped areas. His example of the landscape installed in Wichita Falls (Below) is a great example of what is possible using his methods:
The remodel on Lovell was an interesting use of new technologies in an old house. Using some of the same technology as the Bailey Street house, Heather Ferrier has transformed an older home with lots of character into a very livable space. The energy efficiency gains from the HVAC system to the insulation has helped to transform a structure that many people would have torn down and scrapped into a nice home with the charm of an older house. The detail with the beaded walls was preserved and the kitchen space is very usable. The small room off the side of the stairway is a nice touch that provides privacy and space for an office or small bedroom. The workmanship and use of the older materials was blended well and offer the owners a chance to see return on their investment. Of all the Ferrier homes we saw this was the most unique. It demonstrated the ability to remodel older construction and the transformation using best practices to an energy efficient livable home. It does strike me as odd that the techniques and material used is very common in home construction and that it is presented as something very unique. I don’t think these combinations, even in a remodel are all that unique. The Ferrier’s have developed a great marketing approach with the LEED or green labeling of their work. I am wondering as society demand for these characteristics increases, will they be able to grow their niche and maintain their brand.
Making chips, not those you can eat, but those we unknowingly use every day. Yes, even those that are the dreaded energy vampires in our homes. The Texas Instruments Richardson FAB was an outstanding site that demonstrates how companies that are not in a sustainable business, electronics manufacturing, are able to make attempts with facilities to begin the move to sustainability. The building has gotten a lot of publicity as one of the only FAB plants in the world that is LEED Gold. This is a great accomplishment and the publicity for Texas Instruments has been priceless. Even the neighbors like the facility.
This is a wonderful, happy feel good story except….The manufacturing processes that occur on this site use lots of hazardous chemicals. If any of these escape, it could be deadly for people who come into contact with these chemicals. So how is it that a plant that uses these types of processes and tools, can be held up as being environmentally responsible? It is because the manufacturing processes are continually refined to reduce the use of the hazardous substances (or eliminate them if possible) by a European Environmental Directive called RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances). Since the use of the devices is critical to everyday life, society is happy to let them continue to exist. TI has programs to reuse these materials when possible and sell them to other industries that have to make use of these chemical wastes. Paul and Pablo provided a great tour and presentation explaining this logic. The energy use and life cycle cost of this facility is much lower that even the existing plants in the TI portfolio. This facility, when fully in production, will allow manufacturing to continue in the United States at a competitive cost with those plants in Asia. It was also great to learn that facilities like these can be build without a premium.
Now, the eating chip manufacturing is also energy intensive, but better tasting and much less dangerous to the environment. The only problem is we did not go to a site that made these chips, but the corporate headquarters. They did provide food, which was a big plus. George Guck, Director of Facilities, Frito Lay, was our presenter for this site. This 23 year old site was an existing building that has been updated to LEED Gold over a two year period by George and his team. The upgrades to HVAC and kitchen facilities have resulted in energy savings that have resulted in payback of the initial investments. Automated building management systems to operate the HVAC and irrigation systems have allowed George and his team to reduce the number of people needed to maintain the grounds and facility. The grounds are maintained using organic materials that are composted on site. Turf grasses were changed to Zoysia to reduce the need for irrigation. Building operation costs have been reduced by about $750,000 per year. These are outstanding examples of what can be done to an existing site with the addition of technologies to measure the correct data, monitor these systems and make adjustments to the operation of the systems based on the data.
The second presenter for the evening, Jim Johnson with Downtown Fort Worth Inc., discussed the meaning of sustainability with the class and how sustainable development may be enhanced or discouraged based on public policies.
Public policy is important for encouraging a district or neighborhood to be dense, multi-purpose and vibrant places. Cities should encourage multi-use buildings with residential and retail mixes. The infrastructure in the city is typically in place to support this type of development and can work to eliminate or at least slow down the urban sprawl that leads to traffic congestion. This dense multipurpose use also allows cities to better control the public transportation corridors and plan for growth along those corridors. The need for jobs within the neighborhood was not a discussion point but should also be considered when attempting such development. We would like for people to work close to their homes so as to reduce their commute times and better utilize the public transportation systems.
We were treated to a presentation by PhD candidate, Jerry Burbridge. Jerry gave an entertaining recap of his 50+ years in the real estate business. I agree that many people don’t realize the potential environmental impacts on a site that were the result of prior use. When Jerry spoke about in the “good old days” I was shocked that people did not consider these when purchasing either raw land or a building. He reminded everyone of the times when no environmental assessments were required and it brought down the savings and loan industry. I remember those times and the remediation of sites. Some had far reaching impact and have disrupted entire communities.
Jerry’s career over the last “many” years has evolved. His latest evolution as a project manager has even evolved during his tenure. He now has worries about site security as well as potential environmental concerns. He talked in depth about site selection, and building requirements for the government. His description of the last project in McAllen Texas and slide show of the LEED Certified project at various stages was informative. His team makes a site selection and places an option to buy on the property. They then find a development company with the resources and knowledge to transfer the option. The development company will then purchase the property, conduct the ESA and arrange to build to suit for the government. He then arranges a lease for the buildings which must be built to exacting standards and oversees the construction of the project. The best take away from the presentation however, was that real estate is six sided. It has a top, a bottom and four sides.
Today we made a site visit to a new construction LEED certifiable Platinum home on Bailey Street in Fort Worth. The home is a modern floor open floor plan and has only been occupied for one month. It is owned by Thomas and Charlotte Delapina. The home was constructed by Ferrier Custom Homes. The energy usage of the home to date has been 500 kWh. The home owners believe this compares favorably to other comparable homes. The total square footage for the living area is 1,700 square feet. The HVAC system is an LG system that is zoned and controlled on a room by room basis. The ceiling insulation has an R value of 40 and the walls are R value of about 25. The open floor plan was very appealing but the acoustics were severe with back ground noise from our crowd drowning out some of the information from the home owner and builder. The outside of the home was not really appealing to me, but the home owners were very pleased with the design. The energy efficient window were very usable and allowed for good cross ventilation of the main living area.