Need your help! Which environmentally friendly features should our new building have?

Readers, I’d like your help!

Clean Air Gardening has purchased a 13,000 square foot building in Dallas. We are renovating it before we move in to attempt to make it LEED certified, Energy Star certified, or both.

We’ve already hired an architect for the interior layout of the building, who has planned out the showroom, offices and warehouse space.

The building was built in the early 1960s. It’s basically just a big cinderblock shell that is sandwiched between a whole block of buildings exactly like it.

Our budget for the renovations is approximately $50,000.

We are planning to use a large part of that money to frame up some office space inside the building. (Still getting quotes on that from our contractor, so I can’t be more specific yet.)

We are looking for ideas for insulating the ceiling better. Something that is cost effective, and has the highest R value for the money. Anyone familiar with specific products or types of insulation that are available in Dallas?

We are knocking out that glass door / bay window that you see in the photo and replacing it with a dock door again.

We’ve signed up with Green Mountain Energy for our electricity.

We’ve found a highly insulated metal door that they typically use in refrigerated warehouses that we are going to put in. (In the space we are leasing now, we have a non-insulated metal dock door, and you can literally feel the heat coming from it like an oven when the sun shines on it. So we wanted to avoid that for sure.)

We are considering adding efficient skylights like this Solatube brand. Natural light is easier on the eyes, gets you some LEED points, and is free when the sun is shining. Anyone have any experience with this brand, or a different brand?

We are going to use low VOC paint for anything that needs painting. (I just tried some out at my home, and had great results with it. The lack-of-strong-smell alone is reason enough to buy this stuff if you are painting!)

We are replacing the old toilets for the two small restrooms with dual flush toilets. Any brand or model suggestions? I am partial to Toto, but I have read reviews that their dual flush model doesn’t stay very clean, so I am hoping for a different brand suggestion.

We are considering installing a water cistern to the big downspout on the right side of the photo. We would use that water for a raised bed garden, and to water some kind of vertical climbing vine that we plan to grow on the front of the building to make it “greener” literally and give the building some life.

We are considering adding some solar panels or a wind generator, but we’re not sure if it is financially realistic or not, and whether or not the city allows a windmill. Anyone out there know of any wind or solar dealers who work in Dallas that they would recommend talking to?

One thing that probably isn’t realistic for now:

A green roof. (The current roof has at least five to 10 years of life left, and it would blow our whole budget and then some to reroof with even a regular roof.)

Some of the AC on top of the building is getting to the end of its useful life, so we are going to have to replace some units in the next year or so. The AC doesn’t figure in as part of the budget I mentioned, because we will spend money on this separately, and hopefully a bit later.

Any ideas for energy efficient AC options?

Please leave a comment with any suggestions you might have for ways that we can make our building more environmentally friendly within our price range.

We are looking for:

1. Things that will give us the biggest bang for our buck.

2. Things that will give us LEED points.

3. Specific products or types of products that are available now in the Dallas area.

4. General suggestions.

Thanks!


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

NICOLE May 15, 2007 at 6:17 pm

The biggest energy improvement I’ve made in my 1600 sq ft condo was placing a patio umbrella I already had in front of one of the east facing windows that heats up a bedroom drastically over the summer. I’d look into window shade covers/overhangs as they’d reduce the amount of AC you’d need ten fold. Another thing add ventilation fans to any attic space to blow out the hot air, as attics heat up and continue to heat the structure throughout the day.

Preston May 16, 2007 at 1:58 pm

I left a few suggestions on a post at my blog, but I think you’re going in the right direction. I like to think in terms of three major groupings: (1) indoor air quality, (2) energy efficiency, and (3) environmental impact & footprint. With an old building, I think an audit will go a long way in figuring out what you can do to make a difference in all three groupings. The audit will tell you how the air pressure/moisture is, where you’re losing air through cracks, and what is being wasted. That’s good money spent. From there, you can look at where to put dollars first. After that, I have a few more recommendations.

Indoor air quality – go for the no- or low-VOC in everything, whether it’s tarnishes, paints, furniture, or whatever. I like Haworth for office furniture (www.haworth.com). They have a green showroom in downtown Dallas and know what they’re doing with carpet tiles, lighting, workstations, chairs, etc.

Energy-efficiency – you’ll want to maximize energy use to the greatest extent possible sans replacing the HVAC system. If you can seal up cracks and make the envelope appropriately tight, you’ll waste less energy. That will put less strain on the dated HVAC system. Combo that with the thermal energy storage product of Trinity Thermal (another Dallas-based group) and you’re doing good. Trinity’s TES product is an add-on to your existing system (can get LEED points). It stores energy during the night and uses it during the day, so you’re not buying as much energy during peak demand pricing.

Footprint – you can get as creative as you’d like and even consider the activities of the people working in the building before and after they leave. What happens with trash? Do you do things to prevent the creation of trash or material waste? Could a living wall on the southside help cool the building and help with rainwater runoff? Install a rainwater recapture system to subplant the use of new water for irrigation. Low-flow water fixtures will help with the internal water usage. Do you support and encourage carpooling/alternative transportation, or living close to work? Are healthy snacks available? Etc. Here, I think in terms of conservation and behavior, as opposed to offsets.

Good luck and have fun doing it green! Sorry for the long post and the errors, it’s too long to proofread.

"Mitch" MItchamore May 23, 2007 at 4:58 am

See if codes allow you to install a geothermal heat pump using vertical boreholes for the heat exchanger. Mine has a SEER of 27 – very efficient!

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