Is 21st Century Urban America Turning Green?

The Green Movement and the Three R’s

The purpose of building Green is to change the way a building consumes energy and water as well as increase the use of recycled materials in construction. The result is less waste in the environment and lower operational costs for the building. Just like buying a diamond can be simplified by understanding the four C’s (Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat Weight), the simplification of the Green Movement begins with understanding the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle).

Reducing Energy Consumption and Power Dependence

The reduction element is in mitigating energy consumption by employing unique building features such as integrated photovoltaic cells, which harness solar power (in some cases up to 5% of the overall electricity used). In maintaining the reduction theme, features such as low-emissivitycoating on exterior glass windows which filter solar heat but allows light to enter the interiors keeps the interior temperate and reduces A/C usage—this is a feature of the proposed Brickell Financial Center. Another example of energy conserving in the BFC project is the plan for “punched” windows which are set twelve inches from the exterior thus allowing for physical shading and temperature reduction.

Other Green buildings are incorporating wind turbines that generate power and also serve to help cool the buildings. Chad Oppenheim’s COR project in the Design District is a local example of this type of groundbreaking technology. Again, the theme is energy reduction and sustainability. Buildings such as NYC’s Solaire are designed to reduce up to 35% less energy and 65% less electricity during peak demand. Some Green buildings are implementing geothermal heating, which harnesses stable warmth through pipes dug deep into the Earth. Geothermal heating reduces the use of electricity for heating purposes. Radiant cooling slabs, used in Europe for over two decades, is another Green energy conservation element (outside of Europe, it is used in mostly Canadian projects at this point).

“Normally these consist of small diameter plastic tubing mats embedded into plastered walls and ceilings, or integrated into suspended ceiling panels. Another system is the Swiss BATISO concept (an acronym for Batiment Isotherm–constant temperature building). This uses plastic tubing cast into the building’s concrete structure. Warm and cool water is pumped through the tubing to control the concrete slab temperature to create radiant cooling and heating. Coupled with a displacement ventilation system, much of the heat from lights and equipment can be removed from the space directly, resulting in a very stable indoor climate.” View Source

All of the aforementioned not only benefits the unit owners with decreased maintenance fees but the city power grid as well. Who knew Green buildings could do their part in preventing blackouts.

Reuse and Recycle

The Reuse and Recycle elements are found in the reusing of waste materials for construction and recycling water for conservation. A good example of reuse is the Big Dig House, which is a private residence in Boston that is composed of over 600,000 lbs. of recycled building material from the Big Dig public works project which has cost of over $15 billion—making it the most expensive public works project in U.S. history. There are different types of reusable material that can be used: salvaged, post consumer, pre-consumer, agricultural waste material, etc.

Without getting into the details of the material types, they range from bricks, lumber, and millwork (salvaged) to automobile tires (post-consumer) to PVC scrap (pre-consumer) and straw, the stems left from cereal harvesting, agricultural oil waste (agricultural). For simplicity I have left out other types of recyclable building materials. One has to wonder why this is not seriously considered by Miami-Dade planning officials due to the massive amounts of material waste being generated daily from the dozens of large-scale infrastructure improvement projects going on throughout the County.

Water Conservation

For the purpose of water conservation, Green buildings can have several unique features such as storm and waste water reclamation systems, rainwater runoff collection cisterns, low flow urinals and dual flush valves. The water collected from rain runoff can be used for irrigation, plumbing, and aquifer refilling. This, again, represents a level of sustainability that can only empower the building as a community and decrease its operating expenses.

Healthier Living Environments

Importantly, Green buildings can create a more healthy living and working environment by providing cleaner air and water filtration systems. Even during the a green building’s development the materials used are less likely to pose a health risk. In order to attain a higher LEED rating, green builders avoid using adhesives, sealants, and compounds with green house emitting gases (VOC’s).

Green Roofs

Interestingly, green buildings, which take a more scrutinizing approach towards design and engineering, have even come to embrace green roofs. That is rooftops with lush greenery/landscaping. This, to me, seems rather ingenious, on an aesthetic level alone. I’m an advocate of green (bushy) parking garages. Here we’re talking green (bushy) roofs. Objectively, from the standpoint of a resident in a distant high rise, it is monumentally beneficial to not have to see nearby bleak roof tops with exposed cooling towers and ventilation systems diminishing the view.

Instead, the green roof tops will appear as an extension of the natural landscape and the cooling towers, external piping, and ventilation systems on the roof would be more concealed. From the standpoint of a resident inside a green roof building, having a green roof can absorb rainfall (reduce leaks and messy water run off), reduce heat in the summer, provide added insulation from cold in the winter, and add to the natural wildlife habitat. The process of maintaining such a roof, which might feel like a natural preserve, is beyond me. Imagine having to replace a cooling tower on a green roof. The project might be much more costly just due to the removal and replacement of the green element. Still, the idea is fundamentally sound and rather exciting to ponder.

Developers and Consumers

With all the talk of global warming and the rapid modernization of China’s adverse effect on the environment, people are becoming more apt to be environmentally conscience. Still, the natural tendency for people is to care about their wallet first and then worry about everything else. So, with an added 2-5% increase in construction costs for developers and Florida lacking green incentives, how can one expect for builders to accommodate Green developments? Furthermore, the added cost implies an increase in the purchase price for the consumer. So, how then can one expect for the consumer to be receptive to a green product versus not? The answer might be rather simple. There is a crisis with condominium maintenance fees.

Is the Solution to the Maintenance Fee Crisis Green?

The maintenance fee crisis is usually derived from underestimated utility expenses in a building’s initial operating budget. The overages are more often than not felt with electricity first and water second. A unit owner can often find themselves in a tight spot, having to pay maintenance that is sometimes 25% higher than what was originally promised, as early as the first year alone. This also poses a legal problem for developers who are blamed for the maintenance increases. A Green building would incontrovertibly be better suited to reduce the likelihood of a maintenance fee increase. With that in mind, the buyer has to realize that although the purchase price of a green unit is higher at the onset, the cost of maintaining it in the long run will more than pay for the difference. Government incentives can boost developer participation which will in turn increase demand for green-related products, materials, and services, thus bring their costs down.

The growing U.S. Green Movement is felt most in Chicago, New York City, and Seattle. However, recently Florida has picked up on the Green wave and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz has embraced it in a platform-like manner. The next installment of this article will deal with the Green movement’s progress in Florida, particularly, Miami.

(To be continued…)



Filed under BoB Articles, The Big Picture

3 responses to “Is 21st Century Urban America Turning Green?

  1. Pingback: Outside of the Box: Eco-Architecture in Asia « Boom or Bust: Miami

  2. Pingback: One Year Later « Boom or Bust: Miami

  3. The Heat didn’t issue number 13 in honor of Marino but they gave it to Mike Miller this year for some reosan. Of course, the Dolphins retried Marino’s jersey for good lol.

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