'Green' Buildings Take Root in New York State

They're growing gardens insulated with 4 inches of Styrofoam on roofs — and collecting wastewater to irrigate nearby parks — at the 28-floor Battery Park Solaire Building in New York City. There's even a dense stand of bamboo trees to soak up nasty toxic heavy metals that might get into the runoff water.

Sep. 26 —Newburgh, N.Y. — They're growing gardens insulated with 4 inches of Styrofoam on roofs — and collecting wastewater to irrigate nearby parks — at the 28-floor Battery Park Solaire Building in New York City.There's even a dense stand of bamboo trees to soak up nasty toxic heavy metals that might get into the runoff water.

Call this a wild-eyed dream even back in 1974 oil crisis when odd and even numbered license plates lined up at neighborhood gas stations, but it's a New York City example of what could land in the mid-Hudson, in a big way. Well, it already has started.

Now, with RPGs igniting oil fields in Iraq, with the Department of Homeland Security saying pipelines around here are at risk from terrorists, the crunch is on again to conserve energy and build green buildings.

What's a "green building?" Mostly it isn't a home, office building or store that's simply painted green.

No. Green buildings are firmly defined as "resource efficient" and "environmentally sound" structures. That's the trade lingo. It really means they put in super insulation that won't breed mold, that's heavy duty. They install solar and stuff like it to make the most of the sun — including lots of daylight allowing windows, which green building people say cuts down on dental work because of the increased vitamin D, as well as improving employee productivity by vast amounts. Kids, too, learn better when there's more daylight and better green-type construction.

Guesswork? Nope. It's now hard fact, said green building advocate Rick Alfandre, a New Paltz architect who's making money by providing green building advantages. Alfandre's got the track record to speak. For example, his firm did the Harris Discovery Health Center. It is warmed and cooled by geo-thermal pumps (five feet down the earth is about 55 degrees and that's great for heating in winter and cooling in summer). He reeled off the stats yesterday to sometimes skeptical builders at a Mid-Hudson for Pattern education seminar.

They're impressive. Buildings account for 36 percent of total energy use in the U.S. and 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (think global warming), 30 percent of raw materials used, 30 percent of waste output and 136 million tons of waste a year. Plus, 12 percent of all potable water use. You get the idea. Buildings suck it up big time.

Cutting back those consumption figures is the point of green buildings, which boast everything from recycled materials to solar panels (remember them?).

And it isn't just Alfandre saying this. New York state in 2000 started a green buildings tax credit — for personal income taxes as well as commercial taxes that so far has seem more than $19 million in tax credits awarded for commercial and multi-family construction (aimed at developers). New York also offers a smart energy efficiency loans for single home builders that caries a mortgage interest rate reduction of up to 4 percent.

Green buildings are catching on around the mid-Hudson. But if it's such a good idea, what didn't it happen like years ago?

The green building hold-up has always been the bottom line — feared extra costs for construction that might deter home buyers and commercial developers.

That's still a worry, said Jim Brooks, of Highland Mills, one of yesterday's Mid-Hudson developers. If he offers customers $3,000 worth of extra energy efficient windows, for example, that will save $10,000 down the road he doesn't always gets an up and down head wag. Maybe just good-enough windows will do so the buyers can also have a Jacuzzi. Especially if they're buying short to resell. "It's the consumer," says Brooks who needs the education and will to spend for the future.

And that may all depend, all the builders agreed yesterday, on what Dick Ward, operations manager of Newburgh-based Hillside Homes, said: "we've all got to make a living but the more education we have (of the public, too)" the more builders can sell green buildings.

Alfandre said it's important enough for green building to be market drive, which means not just convincing consumers to pop a thumbs up but also builders trying to press the issue.

Think of the savings, said Alfandre. Workplace health costs drop, employee satisfaction improves, kids learn better, there are long-term resource savings in water, energy and even dental care (more daylight in a building doesn't just mean happier workers it means less dental work because vitamin D from the sun prevents decay).

The builders said yesterday they are eager to see the idea flourish.

No end is in sight for this conversation which continues Nov. 5 with an 8 a.m. to noon seminar about "Energy management strategies for industrial and commercial facilities" presented by Hudson Valley Energy Options.

There's another carrot being dangled to interest developers. Green advertising. If they qualify, they can earn green building bragging rights from the U.S. Green Building Council, which hands out certifications of green building merit and ranks them. They can also display New York's "Energy Smart" campaign logo if they earn it.

Called "green buildings," these projects aim at high levels of resource conservation at every level: water, electricity, gas, and even human effort. They achieve this goal by hundreds of new building strategies — some based on very old methods, some brand new.

This is good, proponents say, because buildings now pollute — through wastewater, erosion, allergy-welcoming mold, and scores of other pollutant, and even too much light that attracts flocks of nighttime migrating birds drawn to their deaths by the brightness.

Ingredients in green buildings may cost more initially but not as much as they used to. The prices are now very competitive when valued against long-term savings in worker productivity, occupant health, and energy costs that can only spiral as natural gas an oil prices continue to climb.

To see more of The Times Herald-Record, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.recordonline.com. (c) 2004, The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.