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Is your building ill? Audubon renovating for environment.


Audubon renovating for environment

The National Audubon Society is renovating a NoHo loft building to create, what is expected to be, the most environmentally efficient structure in the world. Scheduled to be finished in March of 1992, the $14 million renovation will cut the 100 year old structure's energy costs by more than half and will also be earth and user friendly.

Audubon's Christie Williams, who is the campaign manager for its new world headquarters, said there were three criteria used to choose systems for the building: Is it good for the environment? can it easily be duplicated or is the technology available on the shelf? and does it make economic sense?

Audubon felt it could build some "extraordinary paradigm," Williams explained, which could not be duplicated, or build something that could be used as a model for other concerned builders.

By performing at a rate 68 percent more efficiently than conventional buildings, he added, Audubon will be able to save 68 cents per dollar. "It is real compelling," Williams said, "because it means that for every piece of hardware -- even those that haven't established themselves to be cost effective -- we will repay those costs in three to five years. It's money on our bottom line to the tune of $100,000 per year just on energy savings."

Energy efficient windows, lighting, insulation, and a gas -fired energy system will be combining to produce a thermal shell and projected low bills for the society. But the construction costs of the energy-wise building were not the only things concerning the architects and Audubon.

Kirsten Childs, director of interior design with Croxton Collaborative, which is spearheading the transformation, said energy conservation, a minimization of toxic building materials, building conservation and recycling aspects were all priorities. The architects also took a "cradle to grave" approach for all the materials used in the building including interior design items.

Williams said the first motivating factor in deciding to own its own headquarters was financial. "We pay high rents in Manhattan and a quarter of our rent goes to pay our landlord's real estate taxes, he said recently. "As a not-for-profit, we are exempt from paying our taxes if we own our own building."

The "linchpin" of the project, Williams said, was that the society would do an environmentally sound retrofit. Most of the buildings they looked at needed wholesale renovations, which was a plus for Audubon. "We had a good sturdy shell but all of the systems would have to be brand new, state of the art so that coincided with what we wanted to create," he said.

"We view the headquarters as a model for the environmentally enlightened office buildings," Williams said. "We are promoting the methodology that anyone can use."

Croxton Collaborative, which created the first environmentally sound office for the National Resources Defense Council at 40 West 20 Street a few years ago, was called upon by Audubon for both the architectural and interior design of their new headquarters. It is because of organizations such as the NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund, Childs said, that there is greater awareness and more call for efficient buildings.

As there is more demand, she said, costs will become even more reasonable. "The cost penalty is very small," Childs said. "Six or seven percent and the payback is quick."

Audubon will be enjoying total energy savings of 69 percent over the 1987 code which translates to 50 percent in heating costs and 75 to 80 percent in lighting costs.

Consumers, Childs said, cannot simply take a product labeled "green" or "environmentally sound" and believe it. "It may perform in the workplace," she said, "but could have a negative manufacturing process." Therefore, the architects looked closely at the factories to ensure the product did not produce noxious gases while being made and that the factories themselves were sensitive to environmental concerns. For instance, she said, "were they doing closed loop circuitry on water and heat?"

Childs said they also look at a product and what became of it after its useful life, asking themselves if it was bio-degradable.

Many materials are highly toxic, Childs explained, causing "sick building syndrome" which affects workers through noxious gas odors and bacteria and fungi growth. The architects reviewed and independently tested manufacturers' claims of low toxicity, particularly with regard to toluene, benzene and formaldehyde. "we never say to eliminate but to minimize the incident of toxic material," she said. When they finished the NRDC environmental retrofit three years ago, she said, "it did not smell like you were stepping into a new Volvo."

Audubon's Guidelines

Through the renovation of an old building, rather than new construction, Audubon claims it has recycled 900 tons of steel, 9,000 tons of masonry, and 560 tons of concrete. While the cost of purchase and renovation was $24 million, it believes a similar new installation would have cost $33 million.

In the next step, construction debris was sorted and recycled to keep as much as possible out of landfills.

The building team then consulted the Official Recycled Products Guide to select recycled building materials, which have become more plentiful over the last five years.

Internal recycling will be also be aggressive in the new Audubon world headquarters. A building-high chute system, terminating in the sub-basement, will collect aluminum, plastic, white paper, newspaper, glass, and organic material. The latter will be used for mulching the rooftop gardens. The system's installation cost $185,000 and Audubon counts this as part of the numbers on an "invisible spreadsheet" that considers the earth's diminishing resources and costs of waste disposal. Audubon estimates its recycling center will save 42 tons of paper each year.

The last step in constructing such a building, Audubon literature explains, is to establish the purchasing guidelines, as Childs explained, which consider recycled content and recyclability.

Energy Components

Energy efficient lighting will reduce the use of electricity by such simple tricks as occupancy and light dimming sensors, task lighting, skylights and glass partitions. The new headquarters is expected to use less between .55 and .7 watts of power per square foot while a typical office uses 2.8 watts and New York State code considered 2.2 watts to be energy efficient. So although the system cost over $100,000 more than conventional systems, it is expected to save $40,000 annually.

Childs said they Oare also taking advantage of a rebate from Con Edison based on performance, known as "power density," which she said is more substantial than if based on a per fixture basis. This also relates conditioning and heating costs, she said.

The windows have a Heat Mirror wavelength selective shield which allows for high transmissivity, cuts out ultra violet light in the summer and keeps heat from escaping in winter. Childs expects the windows to be decorated with a one-inch perforated blind for the direction of light on exceptionally sunny days.

The walls are insulated and together with the windows, combine to an R-12 rating, Childs said, while the roof is insulated to R-32. "As a result of the upgrading of the thermal shell we are able to reduce the size of the air conditioning and heating sample," she said.

Gas Fired Heater/Chiller Advantageous

There are many advantages to the gas fired, heater chiller, she said, adding that it was nearly a toss up between gas and steam which was also available. The decision to use gas here, she said, was based on the use of the fuels that Con Edison uses, including nuclear power, to generate the steam. "Electricity should really used for lighting and for what it is most effective to be used for," she said.

Gas also has emission advantages, Childs said, substantially cutting down on Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide emission and reduces Nitric Oxide and Sulfur Oxide.

"The first two contribute to global warming," Childs said, "and the other two contribute to Acid Rain. Fuel oil generates more of all of them."

The high efficiency heating and cooling unit cost $150,000 more than the most advanced electric system, Audubon material explains, but the society expects to enjoy $40,000 in annual energy savings and the total investment will be recouped within four years.

Croxton Collaborative decided not to use expensive solar panels but did conduct a computer study to determine where the roof should be left clear for future placement of the panels, should that technology ever become financially viable. "It's the cost of the photo voltaic system," Childs explained, "Right now, it does not fit in with our payback of three to five years."

Water saver devices are used on the plumbing but after looking at the potential for using "grey water", the architects decided the system would be "enormous." In grey water use, Childs said, all the water in the building other than that flushed down the toilets would go back to the toilets for use in flushing.

Audubon purchased the eight story building for $10 million last year after looking at more than 40 others with realtor Julian J. Studley. The new world headquarters is located between Tower Records and Unique Clothing on a strip frequented by college aged people from around the world, and puts the environmental society in a pivotal place to attract a youthful membership to a group trying desperately to distance itself from the image of the elderly bird watcher.

Audubon will occupy five floors, leave their current ground floor retail tenants, and rent space to two other not-for-profit organizations which will allow them to keep their tax exemption.

Deborah Binstok, managing director of Julian J. Studley who worked with the organization, said Audubon wanted the building to have good light, at least on two sides, and also had to have some architectural significance. "They liked the cast-iron buildings in Soho," she said. The building was also to be located near public transportation and be in a relatively safe neighborhood.

Finding the right building took four years because, Binstok said, they did not look at buildings being offered for sale. "We outlined an area and called the owners directly on anything that fell within the search criteria," she explained. Originally, the Schermerhorn building, which was designed by George B. Post who also created the New York Stock Exchange Building, was only available for net lease but Audubon eventually cut a deal for the 80,000 square foot property for approximately $10 million.

"We talk more about the cost benefits of designing things,n Childs said, "but there are client benefits, the earth benefits, the atmosphere benefits and by bringing in more fresh air you dilute the potential for sick buildings."

PHOTO : The new headquarters of the National Audubon Society.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Energy & Conservation Supplement; National Audubon Society
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Sep 18, 1991
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