Greenbuild 2006 post-show report

Over 13,000 attendees traveled to Denver in November for the U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild 2006. The conference and trade show provided a setting for continued education about sustainability and green building techniques. Veterans and newcomers alike were energized from the start with an opening plenary by William McDonough of William McDonough + Partners, author of Cradle to Cradle. He discussed strategies for renewing our understanding of the city as well as developing new standards and relationships with the urban environment in order to improve the lives of its citizens. Urban growth, coastal development and human and environmental health were topics explored with the audience.

Inspired and energized, attendees moved forward for four days of informational sessions, enlightening tours and, on the show floor, over 700 products, services and resources to support their path to sustainability. Program categories focused on architecture and design, building engineering, government initiatives, construction, green operations, the business of green building, sustainable sites, new research and education, as well as real estate, insurance and finance.

Those focused on multi-family housing had the opportunity to attend "Getting it Right: Lessons from Green Multi-family Developments." The session offered a discussion of cohousing success stories followed by lessons in green building management and maintenance.

Insight into the success of cohousing projects was led by Kara Strong of Sustainable Design Consulting, . Cohousing is a residential concept that combines private home ownership with shared community resources. Unit sizes are reduced and extensive community facilities, a "Common House," are incorporated as shared spaces. A large kitchen and dining area provides an optional space for shared meals and meetings and provides spaces for guestrooms, office work, children's play, exercise etc. The common space helps to minimize waste and encourage community activities and shared resources. Residents are active participants in the community with involvement in the design process as well as property management. Environmentally focused, the residents come together to create a supportive community.

Cambridge Cohousing in Cambridge, MA, Takoma Village in Washington D.C. and Eastern Village in Silver Spring, MD were projects examined. Eastern Village represents the first cohousing project to be LEED certified. It received USGBC LEED Silver-level certification (LEED-NC, v2.1 Silver) and was also selected as the National Association of Home Builders' 'Green Project of the Year' for 2005 and Environmental Design + Construction's '2005 Excellence in Design Award Winner'. This project was an adaptive re-use of a 1950's office building that was abandoned and now offers 56 condominium units. A ground-source heat pump, extensive green roof system and energy star appliances are additional features of this project.

Strong offered results from Post Occupancy Evaluations as well as insight into project decisions that might be cause for reconsideration in future projects. She recommended properly researching the materials and suppliers to insure the quality you are receiving. Bamboo floors were cited as one such material. Bamboo reaches full height at three years but full strength at seven years, so knowing the suppliers and the quality of the product will prevent regrets when products are not wearing well in the installation. While fluorescent lights are a great resource, aesthetics can play a role in the satisfaction of this product and unappealing fixtures that over light the space were criticized in her evaluation process. Energy Star appliances were well received while programmable thermostats were questionable due to owner operation difficulties. Strong continues to conduct surveys to gather results but finds that 99 percent of those surveyed would recommend green building construction to anyone looking for a new home.

Following Strong, Andrew Palladian of Steven Winter Associates, , discussed "Greening Building Management and Maintenance in Multi-family Housing." Palladian offered a synopsis of a four-day curriculum created by Steven Winter Associates to train building managers and staff "to reduce energy and water usage, learn to quantify energy usage by fuel type and end use, and reduce overall usage while increasing building health and safety."

He raised the energy level in the room as he opened the audience's eyes to all the energy lost in existing buildings. He focused on what building managers should be doing to reduce their energy consumption and lower their building costs.

"These buildings and their staff can typically reduce usage by 40% at no to low cost through better management and purchasing practices. Once you get the building down to a reasonable consumption level, then you can consider adding new technologies for alternate energy," describes Palladian.

Intelligently replacing the HVAC system, turning down the water temperature on central and individual units, learning how to properly run the control systems, checking ventilation rates, installing light and motion sensors, and procuring good water saving devices such as shower heads were all discussed methods. He challenged the audience to find out what the problems in the building are and then to actually fix them.

"You have no idea how much energy your building is using," advises Palladian. "Analyze the problem and solve it. Get the managers buy-in on energy efficiency and then do it right. Learn how to maintain and manage."

During the "Green Communities: Looking Forward and Backward," Cynthia Gray of Torti Gallas and Partners, Inc, , discussed "The Conservation of Community: Low-Impact Development for Affordable Housing." Salishan, a 1,180 unit, 188-acre development in Tacoma, Washington was highlighted. Through HUD HOPE VI funds as well as public and private entities, this community with 800 public housing families and 380 affordable market-rate families shows the ability to achieve a higher standard of sustainable design for a large-scale affordable neighborhood revitalization.

Located on an infill site with accessibility to public transportation, the availability of community services, a series of parks and green spaces, pedestrian-friendly design with bioretention swales, sidewalks and setbacks this project is considered a model for Smart Growth development. Gray points out, "In the first phase a total of 3.12 acres of swales were provided for a 47-acre area, achieving 91% infiltration of all storm water on the site. In future phases, the team is committed to a minimum of 91% filtration and 91% infiltration wherever possible based on soil quality."

For those who wanted to see first-hand some of the local Denver multi-family development projects, a half day tour traveled to Stapleton Community and Highlands' Garden Village.

Stapleton, , a community that occupies 4,700 acres on the former site of Denver's Stapleton International Airport is one of the nation's largest infill projects. Still under construction, the project has received regional, national and international attention. Upon completion, it will be home to over 30,000 residents and 35,000 workers. A combination of residential, office and retail space as well as 1,100 acres of park and open space makes this a massive project that is committed to creating a master planned community that realizes a vision of sustainability.

A model for revitalizing underused sites in near-downtown areas, Highlands' Garden Village is an environmentally responsible infill development project developed and planned by Perry Rose LLC & Jonathan Rose Companies, . Formerly an amusement park site, the development combines the sentimental history with a variety of housing types, income levels and building uses to create a vibrant community. Single family homes, carriage houses, town homes, senior living, multifamily, cohousing and live/work lofts offer a variety of housing opportunities for a diverse population without drawing attention to the disparity in income levels.

A network of gardens, parks and pathways combined with community programs in public spaces create interaction between the generations of residents on the property. Education and cultural experiences as well as commercial retail conveniences are all a part of the community plan. A walking labyrinth was even incorporated into the dome-like structure that used to house the carousel. Reuse of existing structures, extensive green building techniques, public transportation options and usage of recycled materials and low VOC paints are examples of environmental features of Highlands' Garden Village.

From inspirational keynote speakers and informational seminars to a multitude of products and resources concluded with a wide range of local tours, Greenbuild 2006 energized the masses, leaving them with a spurred passion for sustainable efforts. It was not just the change in altitude that had everyone excited about a "higher level" of commitment to green design, it was the sharing and camaraderie that together we can make a difference.

Jenny Rebholz is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, WI.

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