Walk Score helps calculate community connectivity for office neighborhoods and LEED Certification

A local Seattle company, Walk Score, has just launched a new service to calculate the walkability of your neighborhood.  I don’t think I can better state what their service is so here’s a quote from their website: “We help people find houses and apartments in walkable neighborhoods. Walk Score shows you a map of what’s nearby and calculates a Walk Score for any property. Living in a walkable neighborhood is good for the environment and good for your health.”

The reason I like this tool is because it visually shows where all the area ammenties are in relation to your address.  When deciding where to run your business you should look for a building that has a high Walk Score.  Having a higher Walk Score, can provide local businesses with foot traffic to help sustain their business.

As soon as I saw this website, I wanted to see what my Walk Score was for our office space in Redmond.  We managed to score a 95 out of 100 possible points.  It’s important for businesses to be operating in a building that has high community connectivity.  I’m always looking to do business locally with other businesses in Redmond, rather than sending my business off to other cities.

The other useful thing that I can see this service being used for is for LEED Certification.  The first thing that is on the USGBC LEED Certification checklist is Sustainable Sites and Community Connectivity.  In order to get points toward your LEED certification your building has pedestrian access to at least 10 of the basic services below within ½ mile:

  • 1) Bank; 2) Place of Worship; 3) Convenience Grocery; 4) Day Care; 5) Cleaners; 6) Fire Station; 7) Hair Care; 8) Hardware; 9) Laundry; 10) Library; 11) Medical/Dental; 12) Senior Care Facility; 13) Park; 14) Pharmacy; 15) Post Office; 16) Restaurant; 17) School; 18) Supermarket; 19) Commercial Office; 20) Community Center, and other recognized services evaluated on their merit.

The one thing that Walk Score does not factor in is alternative transportation.  They are aware of this and have an FAQ that addresses this on their website.  I think my Walk Score would be even higher if they included this as we are located right next to the Redmond Transit Center.  If they expanded their service to include this, it would help with another LEED Certification Category of “Alternate Transportation: Public Transportation”.  The requirement for that is: 

  • Tenant to select building within ½ mile of a commuter rail, light rail or subway station or ¼ mile of two or more public or campus bus lines usable by tenant occupants.

I’m very happy with Walk Score and have added their Walk Score Real Estate Tile onto the thinkspace website location page.  I think it helps show why our location is ideal for coworking space and where people are looking for high community connectivity.

Advertisements

How to conserve water and pick a toilet for your LEED project

I’ve focused a lot on energy conservation in the thinkspace blog, now it’s time to address water conservation. When setting goals for our project, I originally was thinking about how can I conserve the maximum amount of water in my project. According to various articles that I have read, toilets consume the most water in a building — usually between 25 percent and 33 percent. I started to compare standard toilets to waterfree urinals. The metric that stood out the most was each urinal flushes down 40,000 gallons of water each year. My plan was to save 40,000 gallons of water for each urinal. I started to research customer satisfaction of these waterfree units and talking with people that worked in buildings that used these. The response I got from them was “whatever you do, don’t install those waterfree urinals, they smell bad, they are hard to maintain, it’s just not worth it”. The maintenance issue is also a tough one to deal with as I hear it’s not cheap to keep those filters serviced and if you don’t do a good job servicing them, that’s when the smell gets pretty bad. That’s too bad that I kept hearing these kinds of comments from various people, as I was pretty excited to be possibly saving so much water.

The next thing that I started to look at was the Toto Aquia dual-flush toilet. These types of toilet use less water than a traditional toilet. It’s not a toilet that flushes either once or twice, but rather it has two buttons on top of the tank that release either 0.9 gallons or 1.6 gallons depending on whether it’s a #1 or a #2 (I guess since this is blog, it’s safe to talk about this as this does not reflect the official view of the company, LOL). I spent a bunch of time talking with my rep at Keller Supply about water conserving toilets and she said these kinds of toilets are much better than the smaller tank toilets that were used in the past because those toilets seemed to get clogged all the time or people would have to physically flush the toilets twice, thus, not really saving any water at all. I didn’t want to have a sign in our bathrooms that say “flush toilet twice”.

The next toilet that I started to look at was the Sloan Ecos Dual-Flush Electronic Flushometer. Now this really was an interesting looking toilet. It is a hands-free, state-of-the-art, and dual-flush water saving toilet. Their marketing material states it’s “the ultimate in water savings and hygiene”. It sounded great to me as I don’t know who really likes touching the flush handle of a toilet. The Sloan Ecos releases 1.1 gallons for a #1 and 1.6 gallons for a #2. The water savings is not as good with this unit when compared to the dual-flush Toto Aquia. The question that everyone is always dying to ask is how does this know whether it’s a #1 or #2? Based on what I’ve read, the Sloan Ecos uses “Smart Sense Technology(tm)” that automatically selects how much water to release based on how long a user remains in the sensor range. Basically, the time interval is as follows: a person that stays in range for less than a minute is categorized as doing a #1, otherwise, the toilet is thinking it’s a #2.

We looked into what it would take to install a Sloan Ecos and it is a wall mount toilet. Meaning its water supply comes off the wall. Due to the location of where the toilet was being installed, I would have had to build out the thickness of the wall and run the plumbing inside the wall rather than having the plumbing under the floor. Since this is a commercial tenant improvement on an existing building and would have cost me a lot more I had to make a business decision and go with the Toto Aquia instead as that is more like standard toilet installation. While it doesn’t have the smart technology, it a less expensive and a more water conserving solution! Of course, this also earns us LEED points toward our LEED certification!  The price of the Toto Aquia is also priced reasonably (approximately $370) and I will definitely consider it using it again in my next project.

Keilhauer Junior “Green” Office Chairs

I’ve finally got a little time to write about my office chair.  While out shopping for new office furniture, I had my sights set on a Herman Miller Aeron.  The same kind of chair that I used to sit on back when I was working for “the man”.  I had been looking around for a long time trying to find a good deal.  I looked on Craigslist, Murphy Auctions, eBay, DoveBid, I even asked my neighbor Rick who still works for Disney to sell me one of the old chairs that they were no longer using but he was not able to get me one.

When I was out looking, I saw a funky looking chair in the showroom and decided to give it a try.  The shape of the back is unlike a traditional chair.  It still provides all the support of a “normal” chair but it seems to be supporting my spine angle much better.  I also like the support that I’m getting right between the shoulder blades and lower back.  I sat in a Herman Miller Aeron for four years and I don’t remember ever having my chair feel as comfortable as the Keilhauer Junior.  I ended up purchasing the chair with a black leather seat and adjustable arms.  It has enough controls without being too complicated.  The Keilhauer Junior is designed by Tom Deacon.  The design has a very contemporary style to it and makes a bold statement.  The chair is also GREENGUARD Certified and contributes to our LEED certification.

I’ve been using the chair for one month and absolutely love it.  The cost of the Keilhauer Junior is maybe $200 cheaper than a Herman Miller Aeron.  While the cost of the chair is still not cheap, I rationalized with myself that I’m now at that age where I can’t afford to have back pain.  Going to a chiropractor would cost me a lot more in the long run not to mention the impact on my golf game.

Puget Sound Business Journal discusses “Office Suites Providers adding Value by Going Green”

On page 7 of the May 23-29, 2008 edition of the Puget Sound Business Journal, Thinkspace is highlighted as a new Eastside executive office suite.

The PSBJ commercial real estate reporter Jeanne Lang Jones tells the story of Thinkspace how we are seeking LEED silver certification, how we used HEPA filters to control dust during demolition and how we recycled 97.7% of our demolition debris.  She also mentions that we have energy efficient lighting and our goal of reducing our energy costs by about 30%.  She also states “Besides using nontoxic (low or no VOC) paints, recycled carpet and energy efficient lighting, Chee is also providing tenants with bike racks, a shower and changing room and a charging station for electric cars.”

I’m being quoted saying “It’s better space at the same price our competition charges.”  In the article, a tenant of Thinkspace is quoted, “It’s the nicest Class A space in downtown Redmond…An office with sustainable features like this is just not available to small businesses…For entrepreneurs, it is an affordable way to limit their carbon footprint.”

If you have a online subscription to the Puget Sound Business Journal, you can read the whole article here.  If you don’t, contact me.

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.

Thinkspace’s Goal is Innovation in Design for Recycling

 Sorted debris

Tenant improvements can require a new company moving into an existing building to create a lot of demolition debris.  In order to build out our Thinkspace executive office suites, 5.79 tons or 11,580 pounds of demolition debris was removed.  The number of tons could have been much greater, but one of our goals was to reuse any and all existing materials for our new build out.

The demolition debris was sorted and put into sealed containers.  Each container was ticketed, tracked, and taken to a recycling center.  Once at the recycling center, the debris was resorted and weighed.  The report broke down the materials into the following groups:

Wood Derived Fuel, Alternate Daily Cover, Processed Planting Medium, Aggregate Feedstock, Bulk Steel to be processed, Prepared Steel, Scrap Aluminum, Scrap Copper Wire & Pipe, P.V.C. – Plastic Siding, L.D.P.E. – Plastic Film,  H.D.P.E. – Plastic, Carpeting, Carpet Pad, Cardboard, Gypsum Rock, Designer Mulch, Pulp Furnish, CHEP Pallets for Reuse, Electronics and Fluorescent Lights, Non-Recyclable Residuals.

Preliminary results show that we have exceeded our goal of 95%.  Our potential LEED recycling rate is 97.7%.  If we continue to maintain our recycling level throughout the entire build out, we will earn an extra LEED point for Innovation in Design.

I prefer to no longer use the term “demolition” as the process really should be called “deconstruction”.  In order to save existing door frames, trim, doors, etc, a lot of care is given to removing these items.  Also, the process of meticulously sorting and piling up debris is not easy.

Because there is so much additional labor to getting the debris recycled as well as additional attention air quality and dust control, I had to compare what the cost difference is versus going straight to the landfill.   It was definitely more expensive to recycle the debris rather than dump it in the landfill – it cost approximately 2% more.  Total demolition cost was about $2.06 per SF.

Being “green” is not easy or cheap, but the end result of having 97.7% of the material recycled is well worth the effort and money.  Up front, doing a LEED Certified for Commercial Interiors project is not cheaper than a normal tenant improvement project but the payback is huge in terms of air quality, healthy work environment, energy savings and knowing that tons of debris can be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill.

Furniture made from soft drink cans

Emeco StoolWe have selected furniture for the Thinkspace office and the one piece that I’m most excited about is the Phillippe Starck designed Emeco stool.  We have purchased these in bar stool height (14″ W x 14″ D x 30″) for the cyber cafe.

The stool is produced in the United States and is environmentally friendly.  80% of the aluminum is recycled.  Half is post consumer (soft drink cans) and half is postindustrial (manufacturing scrap).  The Emeco craftsman grind each weld flush to give it a seemless appearance.  The aluminum is three times stronger than steel and has a estimated life of 150 years.  It also comes with a life-time warranty.  Emeco started their business designing chairs for the U.S. Navy and one of the design requirements was that it be torpedo proof!  If you have the time, you should check out the video on YouTube that shows someone taking an Emeco chair and catapulting it into a brick wall 50 times.  It pretty much survives with very little damage!

By selecting environmentally sound product choices we expect it to provide us credit toward our LEED certification.  Also, there’s no off gassing because aluminum does not emit VOCs or aldehydes in any measurable concentration.  The things that I really like about this stool is the excellent craftsmanship, modern, elegant, attractive design and the fact that it costs about the same price as a nice stool made of plastic or wood.

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“.

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.

How to Maintain Air Quality during the Demolition Stage

HEPA Filter

During the demolition stage it is paramount to maintain air quality.  With a goal of being LEED Certified, we are taking the following precautions into consideration.  As the demo is in progress we have two huge dishwasher sized HEPA air purifiers constantly running.  The HEPA air purifiers remove particulates, VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), and odors.  As carpets and drywall are removed, dust in the air passes through the giant HEPA filters.  Once the air is purified it is released out the back of the unit.  The filters are constantly being monitored and every few hours as the filters change color from blue to grey, they are changed and replaced with new filters.  This ensures that air quality is maintained for the people are that are working as well as the other tenants inside the building.

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.