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Market for green remodeling still small, but interest on the rise

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Efficient lighting, new insulation and water conserving bathroom fixtures are among the measures commercial building owners are taking to attract new tenants.

Though the market for tenant improvements had plummeted along with the economy, interest in green improvement projects has increased, said Eric Scheidlinger, manager of efficient sustainable practices for Reno Contracting.

Still, that interest has yet to translate into an increase in retrofit projects. Since adding an energy consulting division last year, Reno has not completed any such projects, although several are in the pipeline, Scheidlinger said.

Such projects will be driven by Assembly Bill 1103, which requires building owners provide prospective tenants with a property’s energy consumption data.

Though it will have a major impact on the industry, many owners remain unaware of the legislation, Scheidlinger said.

DPR Construction recently completed a full-scale retrofit project on its new headquarters. The net zero office building provides natural light through 36 solar tubes that supply 100 percent of the building’s lighting needs.

“I have a sinking feeling that until business deals go south because of this, we won’t see a whole lot of projects,” Scheidlinger said.

While Reno has not completed any retrofit projects, it is working on several, including a tenant improvement project being constructed to achieve Gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Commercial Interiors rating system, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, Schiedlinger said.

DPR Construction Inc. has had a similar experience with the market for commercial retrofits.

“People aren’t retrofitting existing buildings in place,” said Zach Pannier of DPR Construction, who also serves as president of the U.S. Green Building Council San Diego Chapter.

While retrofit projects are few and far between, there has been a spike in interest in green building across all market sectors, Pannier said. Owners are interested in attaining LEED certification because it increases value.

“LEED buildings are still taking a purchase price premium,” Pannier said.

In San Diego, 25 projects have achieved certification under LEED for Commercial Interiors since the program was launched in 2007, Pannier said. Several projects are still awaiting completion. Data shows a surge in interest in sustainable office buildings, with more than 55 percent of all projects registered under LEED for Commercial Interiors falling in the office category.

DPR recently completed a full-scale retrofit project on an older office building to serve as the company’s new headquarters.

Now complete, the 37,000-square-foot 1970s-era building is the first entirely owner-operated net zero office building in San Diego County.

The offices of Architects Hanna Gabriel Wells in Ocean Beach became the first net zero office building in the region last year. Net zero buildings produce as much energy as they require, consuming no additional power from the grid.

Located on Shoreham Place less than a quarter mile from DPR’s previous location, the single-story office building incorporates passive cooling, with an innovative solar chimney system. Air enters the building through windows on the north side and exits on the south side through a vent in the 17-foot high ceiling. Every third window is operable and doors roll up, allowing increased airflow, Pannier said.

In addition to fresh air, employees enjoy natural light through solar tubes that collect and magnify the sun. Thirty-six solar tubes supply 100 percent of the building’s lighting needs through the use of screens reminiscent of sails that diffuse light.

The building also incorporates large fans, solar water heating and a 64-kilowatt photovoltaic energy system on the roof. A traditional heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is also present to control the temperature on exceptionally hot days.

The interior incorporates a variety of recycled and sustainable materials. Wood palates, commonly used to transport construction materials, are visibly incorporated in the base of walls, doorways and exterior rectangular arches. Such structures also include recycled steel plates used to cover open trenches during road construction. In addition to reducing construction waste, the materials helped create a beach boardwalk theme.

Floors are covered with stained concrete and 100 percent recyclable carpeting with a “completely random pattern” that follows the “biomimicry” principle -- emulating the non-repeating patterns found in nature.

DPR’s use of such materials reflects growing interest in “finding ways to recycle, reuse, repurpose and break the cradle to grave cycle (of materials),” Pannier said.

Sundt Companies Inc. recently undertook a similar project, installing a variety of green building products at its Mission Valley office building, said Adam Bellew, a project engineer with Sundt. Products incorporated in the interior remodel project include adhesives, paints and carpets low in volatile organic compounds.

“It was a test to see how these products held up and whether they’re worth using,” Bellew said.

The San Diego project is not Sundt’s first foray into green building. The company recently completed construction of its LEED Gold-rated headquarters facility in Tempe, Ariz.

While legislation such as AB 1103 will certainly spur demand for such green facilities, ultimately the push will be driven by the benefits, such as improved indoor air quality and fewer employee sick days.

“It’s a better environment for employees to work in,” Bellow said.

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