- A gravel filled chamber storm water retention system was built to take advantage of the building’s location at the lowest point on the block. The system retains about 95% of storm water from the site and 100% from the entire block’s alley runoff to allow its gradual absorption into the groundwater and to divert if from the bay.
- A microturbine on the roof — “like a jet engine the size of a refrigerator” — converts natural gas to electricity to meet the base load power needs of the building and captures waste heat to produce hot water and space heat.
- Photovoltaic panels have been integrated into the façade of the building and are on the rooftop, producing surplus electricity during peak daylight hours that can be sent back to the power grid.
- Passive design features include shading for south-facing windows, walkways on the north and south of the building, minimal glazing on the west façade and more on the north.
The building has been designed to maximize natural ventilation, is well insulated, uses fluorescent lighting, requires no air conditioning and generates just about all of the power it needs on site.
Scarpa said that by designing his buildings to be “very simple” with identical stacks he can keep change orders to 1% and use the savings to buy such green products as no VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and formaldehyde-free carpeting.
“We need to look at long-term costs,” he said. “The cheapest capital investment is not the best way to go because a little more cost upfront saves a lot over time.”
On a project that is supposed to last 100 years, a 20-year payback on energy systems is a good return, he suggested, and the energy systems at Colorado Court are expected to pay for themselves in less than 10 years.
The green features in the 44-unit project totaled about $580,000, or roughly 10% of the total budget.
Scarpa complained about the funders of affordable housing for tending to limit technological innovation, noting that the building codes can also be problematic. He also questioned how countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, which are far from being the sunniest places in the world, “can afford to do solar and we can’t.”
“In Switzerland,” he added, “they quit funding projects that use solar and they are providing incentives for buildings that reduce infiltration. That’s where you get the best bang for the buck.”
For more information on one of Pugh + Scarpa’s latest projects — Fuller Lofts, redevelopment of a 1920s cast-in-place concrete building that will provide 105 for-sale live/work and loft housing units, with a number of units reserved for households earning below $66,000 a year — as well as similar development projects, go to livableplaces.org.
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