Thinkspace a place of building connections and strengthening our community

On June 30, 2008, Thinkspace had it’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.  Thinkspace broke new ground by being the first building in the Puget Sound Region to market pre-certified, “green” LEED-compliant executive office suites with a carbon neutral option. The 25,000 square feet of executive office suites is located at 8201 164th Avenue in downtown Redmond. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, Thinkspace is the 7th largest executive office suite in the Puget Sound Region and the largest in Redmond. Thinkspace provides private offices, coworking space, virtual offices, meeting rooms, and hosted software.

Peter Chee, CEO of Thinkspace, states “I’m looking forward to working closely with Chris Hoffman, President of the Chamber of Commerce and we are looking to build a strong community inside Thinkspace and the City of Redmond.  We’re planning on holding events for the business community and are also looking to coordinate brown bag lunches where businesses can learn more about how to operate their business in a sustainable manner”.

Mayor John Marchione was on hand for the ribbon cutting.  “Building businesses in Redmond is about building connections and Thinkspace is another place of building connections and strengthening our business community and strengthening our community as a whole,” Marchione said.

Click here to see the Flickr Photostream.

Recycled Glass Counter for our Commercial Lobby Desk

The Thinkspace main lobby desk has been built and installed.  In addition to having a professional appearance we wanted our lobby to make a statement about sustainability.  To gather ideas, we went to Ecohaus and looked at different types of materials and decided we wanted to showcase beautiful sustainable materials.

We used a gorgeous Vetrazzo recycled glass counter top.  The counter is made of 85% recycled glass.  The color of the glass is clear, green, and brown and comes from curbside recycled glass bottles.  The glass is shattered into tiny pieces and mixed with cement, concrete, and fly ash.  Fly ash is a by-product of coal fired electric generating plants and improves the quality, strength, and durability of the concrete.  The material is as strong a granite, is scratch resistant, is thermal resistant, and has a similar care and maintenance to granite.  Vetrazzo recycled glass counters come in 60″ x 108″ slabs and can be cut down to any size.  Any granite frabrication shop can polish the edges.  Be sure to ask the fabrication shop for any of the remnant pieces.  The cost of the slab runs about $70/SF.  When you compare the cost of granite versus the cost of a recycled glass counter, the recycled glass falls right in the middle range of granite.  Cheap granite can cost $30/SF while the high end can cost $120/SF.  One positive about recycled glass counters is that it does not come from a granite quarry where after all of the granite is mined, all that is left is a big hole in the earth.

The front of the desk is constructed with Teragren Moso bamboo panels.  Moso bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource.  Teragren is a company with a very strong sustainability statement and controls the manufacturing process of the bamboo.  They handle the process from harvest to distribution.  This is important as they are not just an importer of the bamboo materials.  Teragren is located in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

The workspace counter top is made of Formica Laminate.  Formica Laminate is a low-emitting product and is GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified.

All of the items used to construct the lobby desk (recycled glass counter top, bamboo panels, and laminate counter) contribute to our LEED certification.

 

“Green” Commercial Eco-Carpet

For our commercial tenant improvement project we chose to go with a “green” carpet.  The critical  things to look for when picking a commercial grade environmentally sustainable carpet is 1) what is the carpet top made of; 2) what is the backing material made of; 3) what type of adhesives will be used.

Carpet Top: The carpet that we selected is Shaw Eco Solution Q.  Is premium nylon carpet.  The carpet top is made of 25% recycled content.  Any amount of recycled content helps reduce the amount of raw materials use to create the carpet.

Carpet Backing: The backing of the carpet is Shaw EcoWorx.  EcoWorx is marketed as the first 100% sustainable non-PVC tile carpet backing.  Based on my research I’ve learned that for the last 25 years PVC backed carpet has been predominately used.  This is bad because PVC backed carpet can’t be recycled.  The PVC backing contaminates the yarn.  This means once the carpet has reached the end of its useful life it ends up going into the landfill.  By using EcoWorx, our carpet will be recycled when it reaches the end of its useful life.

Carpet Adhesives: The carpet adhesive is Shaw 5000 Pressure Sensitive Adhesive.  It is a low-VOC adhesive as its VOC properties are negligible.  This means better air quality for everyone working inside our space.  For more details about why indoor air quality is important please read my other post on this subject.  Of all the various materials brought into our space, the Shaw 5000 adhesive definitely has the strongest smell.  Most things like the paint have been nearly odorless.  Even though the Shaw 5000 contains no solvents, alcohol, ammonia, is non-toxic, non-flammable, no calculated VOC’s, and is anti-microbial it still has a pretty strong smell.  The smell is not over powering, does not cause your eyes to water, give you headaches, or harm your body in any way, but I was a bit surprised with the odor.  The adhesive was rolled onto the concrete surface and allowed to sit for a day prior to putting down the carpet tile.  By allowing it to dry it become very tacky but allows the carpet tile to be removed if necessary.  If the carpet was put down immediately after the adhesive was applied (when wet), then the carpet would be permanently installed and very difficult to remove in the future.

At the end of the carpet installation, all of the scraps will be collected and sent back to Shaw to be recycled.

We decided to use a carpet tile instead of carpet delivered on a roll.  The carpet tile we picked came to us in boxes containing 24”x24” carpet tiles.  Commercial carpet needs to be very durable, handle high traffic wear, be stain and color resistant, and provide a high fire rating.  Using carpet tile is a smart choice for Thinkspace because we are in the executive office suite industry which means we have a high traffic wear.  The other big bonus for us is in case there is permanent damage from coffee or copy toner spills inside the private offices, we will not have to replace the carpet in the entire office, rather, we can just swap out the stained carpet tiles and replace it from a less visible area or quickly put in a new tile.  It allows us to keep the space looking clean and new and keep our maintenance costs down.

Why is indoor air quality in offices important?

Sherwin Williams Harmony

We have put a lot of focus on air quality for our executive office suites build-out.  Early on in our design process we decided to use either a low or no-VOC paint.  Yes, it’s good for the environment (reduces smog and ozone pollution) but even more important it is good for your health.

“VOCs” are Volatile Organic Compounds and are loaded in traditional paint.  VOCs are chemicals like benzene, toluene, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, ethyl and mercury.  These chemicals are what you would call “new paint smell”.  Breathing in these chemicals can have short- and long-term adverse health effects.  In a residential application, it is these smells which cause you to leave your house for a few days after you paint.  These smells continue to off-gas for a long time after you can no longer detect them.

According to the EPA, “Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of pollutants are often much higher than outdoors. Risk assessment and risk management studies have found that indoor environmental pollution is among the greatest risks to human health”.  The EPA’s study further disclosed that “Conventional paints contain VOCs that vaporize, dispersing into the air we breathe.  Exposure to VOCs can result in irritation of the eyes, nose, and skin; respiratory problems; headaches; nausea; and dizziness.”  Workers are more productive in non-toxic environments, less prone to illness, and employees feel that their employer cares about their personal health.

The EPA produced a publication titled “Ventilation and Air Quality in Offices”.  It stated “A committee of the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 30 percent of new or remodeled buildings may have unusually high rates of sick building complaints. While this is often temporary, some buildings have long-term problems which linger, even after corrective action. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that poor ventilation is an important contributing factor in many sick building cases.”

When evaluating the decision to use low or no-VOC paint, we had two criteria.  Firstly, was cost.  The cost of low or no-VOC paint is about fifty cents more per gallon than a high quality latex paint.  That is really insignificant and makes one wonder “why do paint manufacturers make paint that contain VOCs?”.  If everyone knew how harmful traditional paints are, I don’t think anyone would want to use them anymore.  I paid about $24 per gallon for the Sherwin Williams Harmony paint.  The other area of importance to us is performance and maintenance.  We checked to make sure the paint is scrub resistant, washable, and does not yellow over time.

The paint that we selected is Sherwin Williams Harmony.  The paint meets the GS-11 standard and qualifies for LEED certified projects.  While the painters where applying the primer and paint I was amazed when I walked into one of the offices and could barely detect any paint smell.  Not only is this good for the future tenants that will occupy the space, it is also good for the existing tenants that are currently working in the building.  For any future projects, home or office, I will definitely use a no-VOC paint.

Buildings represent the greatest opportunity for considerable reductions in CO2 emissions.

 On March 13th, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) issued a report stating “buildings represent the greatest opportunity for considerable reductions in CO2 emissions”.

“Every year, buildings in North America cause more than 2,200 megatons of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere, about 35 percent of the continent’s total CO2 emissions.  In the United States alone, the total built floor space covers over 27 billion square meters, or more than five and a half times the size of Grand Canyon National Park.  According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, buildings represent the greatest opportunity for considerable reductions in CO2 emissions, with net economic benefit.”

If buildings are the greatest opportunity to reducing CO2 emissions, then what are the barriers?  The report stated “The barriers to doing improvements to existing buildings is understanding the lifecycle costs of the building.  Understanding the life-cycle costs of a building is still a significant challenge.”  Another barrier is split incentive.  “Often the one paying the bill and the one capturing the benefits differ.  A developer may not be interested in paying for green features when the benefits will be passed on to the new owners or tenants.”

“Green building will help ensure North American competitiveness in the global market for products, technologies, and practices essential to North America’s future. Such products, technologies, and practices include heating and cooling systems, advanced building materials, water-reclamation systems, high efficiency appliances, energy efficient lighting, construction and demolition debris recycling, and many more.”

I would highly recommend that you download the entire report from the CEC.

It Pays to be Green – Conservation Grant Awarded to Thinkspace

Save Energy

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has awarded a $13,000 conservation grant to Thinkspace for energy efficient lighting retrofits.  Thinkspace’s plan calls for a reduction in energy consumption by approximately 21,106 KWH.  Annual energy cost savings are estimated to be a little over two-thousand dollars per year.  Our discussions with PSE have been on-going for three months.  It is much more difficult to qualify for a grant that I would have thought.  In the end I’m glad that it was not handed out so easily as I got to have a much better understanding about what it really takes to save energy.  A lot of hard work and analysis by the architect and electrical contractor have made this possible.  Read about the first post regarding “Incentives for Going Green“.

Incentives for Going Green

Energy Efficient BulbOver the past few months, I have been searching for companies, organizations, government agencies that encourage other companies to go green with their tenant improvements.  One of the first places that I called was PSE (Puget Sound Energy).  I talked with an Energy Management Engineer and he was happy and willing to meet me at the building to discuss my goal of finding a way to reduce the building’s energy consumption by at least 30%.

I found out that PSE offers many different incentives to increase a commercial building’s energy efficiency.  One of the most attractive programs is their energy efficient grant which can pay up to 50 percent of a project’s cost, and may fund up to 70 percent of the installed cost.  Grants often range from several hundred dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars.  While that might sound really great it’s not easy to eligible for a grant.  I have been going back and forth with my electrical contractor, architect, and PSE Energy Management Engineer to come up with an optimal plan.  This has been an exciting process for me as I look at all the possible ways to reduce energy in the building and do so in a cost effective manner.  I think it’s much easier for a building to go green from the ground up than for a building that is only seven years old and retrofitting green.

One area of focus is using energy efficient light fixtures and lamps.  My research uncovered that many older buildings use T12 lamps (the diameter is 1 ½” lamp and use 40 watts).  They are cheap and reliable and approximately 58% of the buildings out there still use them.  One of the big drawbacks is that they draw approximately 6.5 watts of power even when the lamps are burned out.  The PSE Energy Management Engineer stated it’s much easier for a building that is using T12 lamps to replace or retrofit those fixtures with T8 lamps (the diameter is a 1” lamp and use 28 watts) and obtain a energy grant.  The space that Thinkspace will occupy is in a building which is only seven years old.  The building is already equipped with T8 lamps which is part of the challenge of identifying ways to be even more efficient.  A key metric that PSE uses is the ratio of KWH energy saved versus the total cost of the upgrade (materials and labor).

The architect has been focusing on ways to make sure we are optimizing as much daylight as possible.  The electrical contractor is focusing on reducing our watts per SF, calculating our total KW consumption with various light fixtures, and recommending the use of higher performance ballast and lamps.  We’ve submitted our plan to PSE Energy Management Engineer and are now waiting to find out if our latest plan will be eligible for a energy grant.  I will report back once I hear from PSE.

How to Maintain Air Quality during the Demolition Stage (Part 2)

HVAC Return Duct

In addition to using HEPA air purifiers to maintain air quality during the demolition of the existing space, we also took a close look at the existing HVAC system.  Inside the space we have existing VAV (variable air volume) boxes.  VAV boxes are used to zone areas in large commercial buildings and also contribute significantly to the efficiency of the HVAC system.  On our existing VAV boxes we added additional filter media to ensure that we were not redistributing dust and other particulates in the air to other areas of the floor space.  We also used box filters and an extra layer of filter media on all return ducts.  This ensures that we were not bringing poluted air back into the HVAC system and redistrubuting the air to other areas of the building where other tenants would be impacted.

Filter Media

Energy Efficient Commercial Light Fixtures

Commercial Light FixtureElectricity is one of the largest expenses in a commercial office building.  Whether you’re the building owner or a tenant that is occupying a large space, it is good business to look for ways to reduce your energy consumption.  For a building owner it means lower utility costs, a more energy efficient, and desirable building.  For a tenant, if you have a triple net lease (NNN), that means lower operating costs.  For our project, we are looking to reduce our electricity consumption by at least 30%.  In addition to receiving the benefits listed above, we will also earn LEED points toward our certification.

One way we are reducing energy is by using energy efficient commercial light fixtures.  Initially, I thought that energy efficient light would be poor light quality with an ugly commercial looking lense cover.  I was pleasantly surprised to find this is not true.  The light fixture we selected is attractive with a contemporary appearance.  The smart design uses both a high performance ballast and lamp which provides a combination of direct and indirect light.  What I really like about the light fixture is that it looks great, the fluorescent lamps are not visible, and feels like more comfortable light with no glare.

Our LEED Recycling Goal

Demolition Chute

One of the LEED Certification goals is to divert construction, demolition, and packaging debris from landfill disposal.  Our personal demolition goal is to recycle 95% of all materials.  We started off our project with the Site Foreman telling all of our subcontractors that we don’t use the word “dump”.  All of the existing materials in the space that is removed will be recycled.  At the time of demolition we pile up similar types of materials into large piles.  All of the wood, cardboard, metal, plastics, low voltage wiring, sheetrock/gypsum, are stacked into individual piles.  Each of these items are then put into the debris chute which leads down to a container.  Each container is given a ticket number for tracking purposes.  We ensure that no garbage like McDonald’s trash is mixed up with our demolition debris.  The debris container is then taken to a recycling company which dumps out the contents of the container on a large warehouse floor.  The contents are then sorted out again and weighed.  A report will be issued with a detailed breakdown of how many tons of material were collected and a recycling rate will be determined.  Once I have received my first Recycling Rate Report, I will post the results.

Thinkspace is the first LEED-CI Office Project in Redmond

Once I decided that the business was going to make an impact by going LEED Certified, I spoke with my friend Stuart Mckee, former State of Washington CIO, who told me that I should look into how government could assist me in my endeavor. This triggered a whole bunch of ideas which included looking into grants from the State and City.

I immediately saw that Mayor Nichols had a huge initiative for Sustainability in the City of Seattle. I contacted Peter Dobrovolny in Mayor Nichols’ Green Building Program organization but he told me “unfortunately, we only work with projects within the City of Seattle”. I decided perhaps I should check with the City of Redmond. I went out to the City of Redmond website but could not find anything that stated they had a Green Building Program. I immediately thought perhaps it is best to contact Mayor Ives directly and ask if such a program exists. I contacted Mayor Ives through email and she responded “Thank you so much for your inquiry. We want to be very supportive of all property owners interested in sustainable construction and redevelopment. I have suggested that we consider a speedier review process for ‘green buildings.’ Staff will follow up with you”. Not long afterwards, I was contacted by City Staff and had a meeting to describe to them the type of sustainable improvements that was planned for Thinkspace.

The City of Redmond told me that they have not yet received a building permit that was for a LEED Certified Commercial Interior office building project, so they formed a “Green Team” specifically for this project. It consisted of people from different departments:

Judd Black, Development Review Planning Manager; Jason Lynch, Building Official; Cathy Beam, Principal Planner, AICP; Nathalie Schmidt, Assistant Planner, AICP; Mark Selvin, Building Inspector; Carol Anderson, Building Plans Examiner; and Jozanne Moe, Building Plans Examiner

The turnaround time for the building permits was truly expedited. The tenant improvement project was submitted as three different applications. From application to approval it took seven (7) days one of the floors and 14 days for the other two. I appreciate the fact that the building permit process was so quick and that City of Redmond is committed to sustainable buildings.

Why we are seeking to be LEED Certified

USGBCOur story begins with our business needing to build out space to run our company.  Our 25,000SF build-out is large and I wanted to make sure we did something special with the space.  I wanted to make sure that our space was not just another run-of-mill tenant improvement project.  After I started to do more research, I came across the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) website and found statistics which stated “worldwide buildings account for 33% of all carbon emissions”.  That’s when I felt strongly that Thinkspace pursue to be LEED Certified.  I didn’t want to just superficially put some “green” materials in the lobby area and call our company “green”.  Rather, I wanted to make sure that we took this as far as we could and try and obtain the highest level of certification.  I felt this is a great opportunity to make a dent and reduce our carbon footprint.