By Pamela Dittmer McKuen
Special to the Chicago Tribune
June 5, 2009
New condominium and town home associations are increasingly designed to be kind to the planet and its people. But what if your community was built during the days of asbestos, leaded paint and energy-hogging systems? You can go greener, and there are good reasons to do so.
"As the property becomes healthier, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, it will become more valuable and marketable," said architect Dan Baigelman of Full Circle Architects, in suburban Chicago.
Green properties also are less expensive to run, said Greg Martin, vice president of residential management for Draper and Kramer in Chicago.
Most associations can't afford a complete eco-makeover all at once, but they can develop a plan that gets results over time. Here are some ideas to get started:
Stop wasting energy. Energy takes a big chunk out of any housing budget. An energy audit figures out where your energy dollar is going, and how to spend it better.
"You go through the building piece by piece, and look at every area that consumes energy -- electricity, natural gas, water," said Martin. "Then you look at the possibilities for conserving energy and getting higher efficiency."
Sometimes the fixes are simple, such as changing light bulbs to compact fluorescents or installing motion sensor lighting in bathrooms or getting rid of an old refrigerator.
Others are more detailed. "Let's say you've got a 35-year-old boiler, but you can get newer, more efficient equipment," said Martin. "An energy audit gives you a payback analysis. It calculates how much gas you're going to save and how long it will take to repay the total capital cost."
"Be sure to hire somebody who has experience with your kind of building and who has the appropriate equipment," said architect and sustainable design consultant Helen Kessler of HJKessler Associates in Chicago. "An infrared camera can take a thermal scan of a building to see where the heat losses are."
Compile a green report. Expand the energy audit to the rest of your budget -- items like landscaping, janitorial service, and administration. Research possible improvements, and make recommendations.
"Maybe there are areas where natural plantings or a rain garden can replace sod that has to be maintained," said Baigelman.
Conduct a green reserve study. A regular reserve study identifies the components that are the association's responsibility, calculates their remaining lifespan and estimates the replacement cost when the time comes. A green reserve is similar, but assumes that replacements will be environmentally responsible.
For example, a regular reserve study might plan for the resurfacing of an asphalt parking lot. But a green reserve study will plan for that parking lot to be replaced with permeable paving to prevent storm water runoff and puddling.
"Improving indoor air quality and conserving natural resources should be considered part of every project, not an ancillary concern," said Baigelman. "As part of that thought process, all improvements should include proper disposal of waste materials."
Adopt green construction rules. When the hallways need painting or the clubhouse is due for a facelift, do it in an eco-friendly way. Green rules can require such practices as recycling demolition debris and non-toxic clean-ups, and they can specify products and materials.
Some product suggestions from Kessler: paint that emits low levels of volatile organic compounds, wood from sustainably managed forests, particle board without formaldehyde, and carpeting produced with low environmental impact.
If properly adopted, the green rules can apply to owners who remodel units.
"Later, when the building turns a little greener and support for the movement increases, they can be modified to require a minimum level of green performance," he said.