The Empire State Building is green…

In all the times I have been to the USA I have never really thought they go mad on green. I think a few years ago, the best they got was lighting the Empire State with green lights – missing the point a bit?

But times have changed and this building now sources 100% of renewable energy. The owners announced recently that they are buying all of their energy from the Green Mountain Energy Company. This is reckoned to save around 45,000 tonnes of CO2 annually – or the equivalent of
planting nearly 150,000 trees – more than 6 times the number of trees in Central Park now.

The owners have spent $550m in the last twelve months – of which $100m has been on ‘green technologies’. 6,500 windows have been upgraded to replace the glazing with a new super-insulated sandwich glass. This will save another 100,000 tonnes of CO2 over a 15 year period – the equivalent of 17,500 cars being taken off the road.

I think it has taken the Americans some time to come to the sustainability table. New York is rather consumer-centric.

The Empire State building isn’t my favourite New York piece of architecture (The Chrysler Building is), but you can use it in lots of places to identify where you are! It is certainly iconic. And at 2.85m sq ft – it is a monster of a building – from a different era. But it is now bang up to date! And very green…

When I say ‘green’ I mean purple…. bright purple last night!

Small is beautiful?

A few weeks ago I watched the excellent mini-series on TV presented by Tom Dyckhoff about architecture. It was called the Secret Life of Buildings and one of the programmes set out to show how our houses are getting smaller. The average new home is now 76m2 – the same as it was in the 1920′s.

One of my great examples about value is the phrase “gross to net”. We value net floor area, but build cost is usually calculated on a gross floor area. The two pretty much follow each other, so if you can reduce the net floor area, the gross comes down and the cost comes down. Easy really. But the reduction has been a slow process, so as we don’t notice!

I was amused to read an article about the Small House Society – who actively promote living in tiny spaces. Some are just 10ft square! It seems that there are quite a few examples around – like the Dwelle.ings example. The latter has won all manner of awards – as it hits some pretty high ‘free’ standards. I love the home – priced from £75,000 for a 43m2 home. This is fantastic value and must be an answer to some of the housing problems we allegedly have?

These are timber framed, double glazed, under-floor heated zero carbon homes. Build period is around three weeks. And they are small but perfectly formed!

I wish I could get one of these put up in New York City as a holiday pad – now that would be a great idea?

A very very green building!

I had the pleasure this week of having a look around a passiv-haus development at Water Meadows Park, just north of Leicester.

And this is one of the most sustainable buildings I have ever been in. It has been built by and for Interserve. Designed by my friends at CPMG Architects in Nottingham it is at the edge of our current green technology. The developers are Raynsway Properties - they are the ones who took the leap of faith!

In essence this building is a super-insulated box. It has thick walls, small windows on the north elevation, huge windows on the south and lots of technologies to reduce the pull on our valuable resources. It takes cooled air from earth tubes and has very effective solar shading in the form of external venetian blinds. The real key is air-tightness – trying not to let the ambient air escape. Building regulations have been exceeded ten-fold in the air-tightness test! This is not the only impressive statistic – the space heating demand is one-fifth of a ‘normal’ building, energy demand is less than one-third!

All of this adds up to energy bills way below the current averages – it is estimated that it will cost less than £3,000 p.a. to run. On a like for like basis you might expect a 10 year old building of a similar size to cost around £9,500 p.a. to run.

Inside I quite liked the building – it is minimalistic – clean lines and high ceilings help. I am never sure about exposed mechanical venting systems – but like most buildings people stop looking above eye-level after the fist week! Interserve have only just moved in, so it is a little sterile at the moment. It needs to be lived in for a while to gain some personality.

But the real question, as you might expect from me, is about ‘value’. It was more expensive to build than the average. I know the rent agreed, but I figure that in the current market the figures don’t quite add up. But I admire the developers approach – this is for the long term. It won’t be long before occupiers start to look at occupancy costs – especially as fuel bills rise.

There has also been a learning curve on this building – which someone has to do!

Sometimes it is good that it is not all about the money?

Super-green building?

Hot on the heels of my blog post earlier this week comes news of the greenest building in the world!

I had a meeting with Juwi – a sustainable energy company in the week and they were keen to tell us about their ‘life choices’. The spiel goes, “Our headquarters in Wörrstadt are the world’s most energy efficient building in the world, which produces more energy than is used.”.

So, the World’s most energy efficient building. You can download their data sheet here. It makes for interesting reading.

On the face of it, it’s pretty ‘green’. Solar panels, wind turbines, natural ventilation -lots of natural light and all of the other features we have become used to.

They are a hugely successful company – 1,400 employees and €800m turnover. They do live a green way of life.

But is their claim about being the greenest building in the world right? Well, the answer is that I don’t know. I can’t get any information. It seems they produce more energy than they need. But I can’t work out how much. Nor can I find any information on what certification has been used for the building. In Germany I had thought the body responsible was the German Sustainable Building Council – they have a website here. It even has a list of certified buildings here.

This is not a blog post criticising Juwi – far from it, I think their building looks brilliant. And it clearly is ‘dark’ green! It has all of the features we have become used to – and they need to be congratulated on their work.

But, I think this reinforces my earlier blog post. we need some consistency in how we measure buildings. And be clear about what we are measuring. We also need to be careful if we make bold statements – like being the greenest, bluest, yellow-ist etc.

In Aya Sofia in Istanbul a few weeks ago I stood at the centre of the Universe. That’s what is said on the sign…

SET Conference 2011

I can’t believe it is 12 months since I first went to Shanghai – a year ago I visited the City with Nottingham City Council and The University of Nottingham. I spent a fascinating few days with the University at a conference aimed at Sustainable Technologies. I also got to see the World Expo – which was fascinating.

One year on and we hit Istanbul. I have been invited – and this time I am speaking at the SET (Sustainable Energy Technologies) conference.

I have written a joint paper which addresses the question of whether green property attracts premium prices*. It’s not an easy question for various reasons. The paper is lengthy and can’t really be published in a blog post. You would fall asleep! I will though, after the conference ends, put it on its own ‘page’ on this site. I would welcome comments and observations. I don’t expect the findings to be popular!

I am in Istanbul this morning where the conference starts today and, assuming the technology works, I’ll do some updates on anything interesting I come across.

We also get a chance to see some of Istanbul after the conference ends – I am looking forward to this. I’m told that this is one of the most photogenic places in the World – so you may see some images… I’ll try to limit it to twenty images (which I guess will be as difficult as my attempts in Nottingham over the last few weeks – see here).

The one thing I won’t be doing is Turkish Delight – which ranks alongside Mushrooms as food of the devil in my book.

If it goes quiet, you will guess that I can’t work the Turkish wi-fi!

*PS – the answer to the question is no for commercial property and yes for residential… in Nottingham at least!

You need Planning Permission – of course Sir….

The Government are currently consulting on a Draft National Planning Policy, by all accounts it’s creating quite a kerfuffle!

The document tries to set out some key parameters – one of which suggests that there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development. On the face of it this sounds admirable – we should be encouraging ‘green’ developments – but this policy goes a bit further than that as I read it. It is a short document – around 50 pages – down from the 1,000 plus we had before.

The granting of Planning Permission for ‘green’ development doesn’t come with many other strings as far as I can see. In other words if it’s green you can have permission? Is this what was intended? Or is that one of those great political statements as opposed to a great policy statement?

There are good arguments on both sides. On the one hand it will probably surprise you to know that the UK only has around 9% of its area developed. Thats 91% ‘available for development’? Our towns are fairly well constrained – often by green belts I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. The amount of green space in our cities has been decreasing as we cram more of the built environment onto constrained parts of the Country.

But the other argument runs that our Countryside should be sacrosanct – we don’t need urban sprawl. Where is has happened it has failed. I saw this in Los Angeles which is a fine example of how not to ‘plan’ a place. We do have space in our Cities – even if it needs renewing and updating. But that is a good thing. Keeping communities together help with critical mass for shopping, transport and other infrastructure.

The argument is going to run – the consultation ends on 17th November… It will be interesting to see what the feedback is.

I’d like to teach the world to see?

You will know, if you are a regular reader of my blog that I have some issues with ‘green bling’. I an all for us finding technologies which can reduce running costs and or ‘carbon footprint‘ (whatever that is!).

One of the issues we come across in the valuation world is the apparent dichotomy between who pays for the technology and who benefits. My research with Nottingham University suggests that,at present, we can’t see increased values for sustainable buildings in the commercial sector*. This is partly as a result of the fact that some of the technology is expensive for the developer, but it is not he who benefits on the long term.

So this video (don’t worry about the language!) is brilliant – it takes a humble coca-cola 1.5l bottle and turns it into a sun pipe! Sometimes the best ideas in life are the simplest!

* I am yet to work out how best to share my joint research with you!

Copenhagen – looking back

It’s been a busy few days and I have only just got round to putting my thoughts together on Copenhagen.

I have had a few days to reflect on our visit to Copenhagen last week. Although I had been to the airport before this was the first time I had ventured into this Danish city.

Putting the rain to one side (they had two months worth in two hours) I really enjoyed the City. My overriding impression of the place is good; it is a very cosmopolitan place. Although it’s hard to pin down such a label, you will know what I mean!

There is something about the pavement cafe culture, the canals and water inlets and stunning architecture. The Danish Royal family base is here. Some of the buildings are fantastic – both modern and old.

Sadly we didn’t get time to get to Tivoli Gardens; I had wanted to if only to see where Walt Disney got his inspiration for what has subsequently been one of the most iconic visitor attractions on the planet! Apparently Walt went there when his early attempts at theme parks were failing.

The Nyhaven harbour has had a chequered history, but is now home to some great outdoor bars. Cobbled pavements, colourful buildings and boats in the harbour almost guarantee the areas success.

The paved, car-free shopping street (Strojet) houses some very high-end shops – even if they are rather expensive.

Your money doesn’t go far in Copenhagen – it is much like most Capital Cities. I don’t think it was as expensive as Paris – but it was a close run race! Beer at £8 a go helps in the abstention stakes?

On balance – it’s a great place and if you haven’t been I would recommend it. But if you get the chance to go I would encourage a trip across the water to Sweden and Malmo…

The carbon question…

Chris Huhne seems to be in trouble with the Mail on Sunday – who have devoted a number of weeks column inches in trying to bring him down for allegedly getting his wife to take his speeding points.

But there was a sideshow in this weeks paper which levelled an attack on him for the work he is doing on the UK’s green agenda. His Carbon Budget commits the UK to reducing its carbon output by 50% over the next 14 years. A tall order.

What was really interesting about the article was the language – it was suggested that in the policy-making bubble of the Palace of Westminster it is “settled” that there is such a thing as ‘global warming’. Even the most vocal of global warriors dislike the phrase and say the Scientific community don’t know for certain – it is work in progress. And the University of East Anglia (who were at the centre of the last ‘data’ storm) have now suggested that there has been ‘no statistically’ significant increase in global temperatures since 1995…

I have always been a sceptic of some of the stories that are put about. The low point was the Al Gore ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘ shambles. Someone should have told us it was a work of fiction – we all thought it was a documentary.

At the back of my mind is that we should take care of the planet – and shoving pollution out can’t be good in the long term. But we have to make sure that what is being done is relevant. If the UK ‘only’ contributes 2% of the Worlds emissions we need to prioritise. None of the big polluters (The USA, China or India) have carbon reduction commitments – if they did so, it would have an impact. Until you realise that the human race only account for 3% of the total carbon dioxide produced…

My research work on the correlation of values on green buildings is nearly complete – and it seems to show that the commercial markets are not buying into green buildings – but more of that later.

I have always said that we really do need some clear Scientific evidence to demonstrate that we are causing the problems. Then we can respond accordingly, but in the meantime – we will just go around in circles?

Valuation – beautiful simplicity?

You probably already know that I value buildings as part of my job. And I have an interest in green buildings – particularly the relationship of ‘greenness’ and value.

Valuation can sometimes be complex, but on occasion there is a simplicity which can be quite stark. I drew this picture above to a group of people at the conference I was at in Shanghai. Whilst I ‘think’ in pictures, many of them didn’t, but immediately spotted the issue.

There is a difference between the cost of a building and its value. We measure buildings differently for each. For cost we generally take the external dimensions. For value we take the internal measurements. If in my simple buildings above suggest £200 per unit to build and £325 per unit of value, the calculations will be 12x12x200 = £28,800 for cost to build and the resultant value is 10x10x325 = £32,500.

One of the big ‘easy’ solutions for buildings is to improve insulation. We are told that this single element could reduce our carbon footprint by the most significant amount.

So my ‘green’ building on the right has walls twice as thick – allowing for extra insulation.

The calculations – as you can see – build costs are the same but the value is 8x8x325=£20,800. Not only is this £11,700 less, but the builder loses £8,000!

I accept that I have simplified the calculations, but you can see that simply increasing the insulation depth has a significant effect on value.

We still have a lot to do in trying to increase the thermal efficiency of a building – whilst making sure that the usable space delivers value.

Simple really!