Life cycles of buildings

Wherein the Eco-Warrior Princess reviews the importance of green building projects

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess to write a column about it.

On a rainy fall afternoon, two young women wandering around an abandoned building on Del Paso Boulevard noticed an obscure drawing on a wall. Enveloped in darkness, they inched closer and squinted to get a good look at the mysterious drawing, recognizing the outline of a headstone. They shuffled even closer and read two names scrawled there—Joe Ehly and Jerry Silva.

Then one of the women, we’ll call her Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess, received a phone call from a man named Freddy Ehly. Turns out, back in the 1950s and ’60s, the building housed a Van’s Market, where this man’s brother Joe and best friend, Jerry, worked together before joining the army. Freddy worked there, too, when we was about 12 or 13 years old, sorting bottles. In those days, when people bought soda pop, they’d pay a couple pennies for the glass bottle and later return it to the store.

A Barney’s Drive-In operated next to the grocery store, which did carhops, where waitresses on roller skates brought out food to waiting customers. Freddy attended the now-closed Norte Del Rio High School and graduated in 1965. Living in North Sacramento back then “was wonderful,” he said. And that headstone? Well, that was simply a tribute to the hardworking young men; both men are still alive and healthy. Heck, Freddy and Jerry regularly golf together!

Freddy still lives behind the old Van’s Market in the Woodlake neighborhood. SN&R plans to renovate the former grocery store in a green manner and turn it into office space. The idea is to make the building awesome; after all, that neighborhood could use a little pick-me-up. So this one’s for you, Freddy!

By green building, I mean a structure designed to conserve energy, water and material resources. Let’s use this opportunity to do a little refresher course on the importance of green building, in case you’ve forgotten, which is the absolute last thing we can allow ourselves to do.

Why, pray tell? Because buildings in the United States account for 73 percent of all electricity use, 38 percent of carbon-dioxide emissions, and 41 percent of cement and concrete use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

You know what I haven’t harped on for a while? Energy efficiency! California is ahead of the curve, and our stringent building standards combined with energy-efficient appliance standards have saved more than $56 billion in electricity and natural-gas costs since 1978, according to the California Energy Commission. We’ll save an estimated additional $23 billion by 2013. Imagine all the greenhouse-gas emissions that’s preventing.

Before we know it, all of the new or renovated buildings in north Sacramento and the rest of the state will be sustainably designed, thanks to the green building code developed by the California Building Standards Commission this past July. The new rules start taking effect in 2010.

I like to be as energy efficient as possible, which means I refuse to turn on the heater in my apartment, content with feeling invigorated by the frigid winter air (it really gets the blood circulating). Well, maybe not content but, hey, I’ve got my electric bill down to $10 a month. Don’t be jealous! Reducing a building’s heating-and-cooling load produces the largest reduction in energy use.

But back to SN&R’s building. We’re going to extend the life cycle of the building by recovering as much material from the current structure as possible and recycling most of the rest. Currently, large quantities of construction and demolition debris are disposed of in landfills, which is so not cool. Buildings account for 33 percent of the solid-waste stream in this country, and the renovation and demolition of these structures account for 91 percent of the construction and demolition debris generated each year. New construction accounts for only 9 percent.

You may be asking yourself, “Where is the Eco-Warrior Princess getting these incredibly invaluable statistics?” Well, it comes from the new green-building columnists at our sister paper up in Chico, who also work as professors of construction management and mechanical engineering at CSU Chico. Apparently, earning fancy-schmancy degrees and working professionally in the green-building field gives them some sort of expertise on the subject matter.