This is the latest installment in the Signs of Sustainability series, organized by Sustainable Tompkins.  Visit them online at sustainabletompkins.org. This installment was written by Guillermo Metz, Energy Educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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Local businesses, save 30 to 50 percent! That’s right, you could be saving enormous amounts of energy and money by making some fairly basic energy upgrades. On Saturday, February 27th, you will have the opportunity to tour three very different local examples of businesses addressing their energy use, as well as incorporating materials and practices that improve indoor air quality and other important measures.

Obviously, homeowners have many options available to them to achieve what in some cases can be similar energy and cost savings, and, among other events, the Green Buildings Open House each fall showcases many of these. This tour, however, is meant for facility owners and managers, architects, engineers, commercial builders, and the like.

It will provide an in-depth and unique look at both how these buildings’ owners and designers have technically chosen to reduce their energy use and how successful those measures have been. And for architects, the event qualifies for continuing education credits.

Beginning at 10am, the tour will start at the Nevin Welcome Center at Cornell Plantations, followed by lunch (provided), a tour of the Maguire automobile dealership at 1 and then the main offices of Taitem Engineering at 3. Coordinated by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, with support from the AIA Southern NY Chapter, the tour of each site will be led by someone intimately knowledgeable about each of the systems to be viewed, including the engineer(s) and/or builders who worked on them.

A LEED Gold-rated educational facility completed in 2010, the Nevin Welcome Center features solar collectors that, through a radiant floor system, provide about 40% of the building’s heat, and design and other elements, including being built into a hillside to minimize heating and cooling needs, being oriented to maximize solar exposure for passive solar lighting and heating combined with wood louvers to minimize excessive exposure in the summertime, natural ventilation, and a green, or living roof, that further reduce those loads.

Something as simple as fixture selection is saving the facility about 47% or 22,000-gallons of water per year. Together, these initiatives were designed to reduce energy consumption by nearly 50% and CO2 emissions by 13 million tons per year compared to a similar code-built building.

The Nevin Welcome Center. (Photo: Matthew Kozlowski)

The project team also took measures to ensure good indoor air quality, including using interior finishes and sealants with low- or no-volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and natural ventilation that helps keep indoor air cleaner. It also earned points for materials use, including sourcing many from within 500 miles of the site and making use of materials with recycled content.

When it was completed in 2012, Maguire’s became the first auto dealership in the U.S. to be certified LEED Platinum. Solar power generates about 20% of the building’s electricity from 180 photovoltaic panels on the roof, while energy-efficient lighting makes it 34% more efficient than industry standards, a high-performance building envelope means it uses 45% less energy than buildings of comparable size, and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system is 34% more efficient than ASHRAE standards.

Natural lighting throughout also reduces energy use, in addition to making it a very pleasant space and a great one to show off new cars in. And, like the Nevin Center, all of the interior materials contain no or very low VOC levels.

Important for a dealership, which uses a lot of water, rainwater from the roof is collected in storage tanks for the car wash, toilets, and landscaping, allowing them to use 64% less water than buildings of comparable size.

In addition, the building, which was a rebuild of their existing dealership, made heavy use of the existing materials, with 95% of the existing structure being reused and 97% of the construction waste being recycled (further, 22% of the building’s materials were recycled products). And to promote commuting without driving, the dealership has bicycle racks, locker rooms, and showers on site.

The tour concludes at Taitem’s offices, which became the first LEED Platinum existing building (renovation) in the Ithaca area and only the fourth in New York State when their project was completed in 2014. Highlights there include a vertical-well geothermal system as well as an air-source heat pump; energy-efficient heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and computer equipment, which, combined with insulation and air sealing of the building, results in energy use that is 37% less than the national average; low-flow plumbing fixtures that reduced water use by 31% (as well as a brilliant toilet lid sink); and a variety of solar collectors (types for hot water and electricity), with some of the PV panels installed at different angles to test how they perform.

“I believe savings were just under 50%,” says Taitem founder and Chairman Ian Shapiro of the combination of initiatives they have undertaken. And they’re not stopping there. “We are about to do another energy audit to see how to reduce the energy farther, and assess whether net-zero is feasible,” he says.

In addition to energy-saving features, bike racks and a shower encourage employees to commute without driving, and a level 2 electric vehicle charging station allows employees with EVs to fuel up while at work (it’s also open for use by the general public). Low- and no-VOC paints and finishes ensure good indoor air quality, which is further protected by a green cleaning policy and design features like boot brushes that help keep the building cleaner and reduce wear and tear on carpets.

The firm also earned kudos from local preservation groups for making such significant building upgrades while retaining the 1870’s-era building’s historic features, such as stained glass windows (to which they added interior storm windows).

This tour will allow visitors to see these features up-close and talk with the people who made the choice to go green. Learn first-hand about any issues they have encountered, their ROIs, and other questions that have kept you from upgrading your building!

And for architects, we will be able to provide CEU credits. There is a $25 fee (for the entire tour); discounts available for groups from the same business. Light lunch will be provided. Visit http://ccetompkins.org/gboh or contact Guillermo Metz at gm52@cornll.edu or 607-272-2292 for more information and to preregister. Contact Guillermo if you are interested in a vanpool option.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.