SN&R hosts eco-charrette

Workshop brought together government officials, SMUD representatives, engineers and designers for the party of 2007

Brian Sehnert of SMUD helped SN&R make sense of the LEED checklist.

Brian Sehnert of SMUD helped SN&R make sense of the LEED checklist.

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

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

Although I’d read that “charrette” was the French word for a two-wheeled cart used to transport condemned prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution, I understood it as currently referring to some sort of special meeting.

Thankfully, that’s how I experienced it too, as our charrette did in fact turn out to be a meeting, or rather more of an intensive design workshop to talk through obstacles and issues in SN&R’s attempt to renovate a building on Del Paso Boulevard. The charrette illustrated an integrated approach to construction and renovation, a critical component in successful green building.

In typical SN&R “We do what we want!” style, we held our eco-charrette, undesirably, a bit after the schematic design process had begun and, desirably, it consisted of an eccentric, hodge-podge collaboration of engineers, building-industry professionals, government officials and SMUD representatives, making it probably the best eco-charrette ever, even though we sat crammed uncomfortably in a tiny conference room and my grilled-cheese sandwich was cold by the time we broke for lunch.

Participants discussed green-building criteria that made sense for our project—19,000-square-foot building and 24,000-square-foot parking lot with a $1.4 million budget—and illuminated environmental priorities for the Sacramento region. Ideally, we want to use our project to facilitate changes that make it easier for people attempting similar green-building projects because, believe it or not, city ordinances, building codes and eco-responsibility don’t always fit together like three peas in a pod.

Coincidentally, the following week in mid-December, the Sacramento City Council voted in favor of adopting a green-building program for the city.

The players at the charrette: Bob Chase, chief building official, and Jamie Cutlip, assistant planner, for the city of Sacramento; Gary Verbeke, an energy specialist, and Brian Sehnert, senior architect for New Construction Services, from SMUD; SN&R co-owners Deborah Redmond and Jeff vonKaenel, and systems manager Ric Marques; Roy McBrayer, program manager of the California Green Building Initiative; Theresa Townsend, senior architect with the state’s Department of General Services Green Team; Jerry Martin, assistant secretary for the State and Consumer Services Agency; Winfred DeLeon, principal engineer and architect with the county of Sacramento; and Kris Castro, account manager for Dinyari Roofing, a green roofing company.

Our design team: architect Allan Hoshida, contractor Mark Wright, mechanical engineer John Thompson and designer Nirav Shah, electrical engineer Amanda Martinez and designer Michael Justice, and landscape architect Susan Collopy.

At our eco-charrette, kindly chaired by Chase, a LEED-accredited professional, we narrowed down the goals for SN&R’s project by going through the LEED checklist. We didn’t agree on everything (besides unanimously acknowledging that an Eco Warrior Princess is just about the coolest thing west of the Mississippi). We discussed whether SN&R should pursue LEED-certification, something we currently don’t plan on doing because of the cost of documentation, although we’re still open to that possibility.

Members of our design team and SN&R co-owner Jeff vonKaenel at the eco-charrette.

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

“Do we want to spend the money on documentation or on more green things?” Redmond asked during the charrette. “That’s still a question mark for us.”

McBrayer and Chase agreed that third party documentation is a valuable quality-assurance step, especially in light of all the greenwashing going around. Whatever we end up doing, LEED is a great resource. For instance, the vast expanse of black asphalt outside our new building first excited Redmond because we’d finally have enough parking for all our employees. But LEED recommends limiting parking, so Hoshida downsized the number of spaces and allocated spots for fuel-efficient vehicles.

“I’m an environmentalist,” Redmond said. “You’d think I’d be thinking that before but I wasn’t. [LEED] really changed my thinking around.”

Next, we discussed shade requirements. Collopy incorporated 33 percent shade coverage in her design and ideally we’d have 50 percent but we face a dilemma: With photovoltaic solar panels on our roof, there’s likely not enough room to fit more trees without blocking out the sun.

We moved onto water efficiency, settling on some yeses: Waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets. And no’s: No to rain-water harvesting because precipitation is not regular and heavy enough to warrant water collection and re-use for our purposes. To mitigate storm water leaving the site, we considered pervious pavement, in which water drains and recharges groundwater below. Porous material, however, is not realistic with our budget. We said no to bioswales because you can’t plant a tree in the middle of one and expect it to grow and we don’t have the extra space. We discussed ultra low-cost approaches, such as using dry wells (pits created by digging holes through the ground and filling them with gravel), in spots where water runs off.

Next on the checklist: energy and atmosphere, a Sacramento priority, as we need to increase energy efficiency to reduce the burden on the electrical grid. We hope to have LED (light-emitting diodes) lighting fixtures in our parking lot and the California Lighting Technology Center in Davis developed a nifty one we’d love to show off. Only problem: According to Justice, code is written as a “one-foot light candle requirement from dusk till dawn,” and the LED lamp won’t meet code because it dims down to 30 to 50 percent until sensing movement in the parking lot.

“Codes need to change or budge to make way for green building,” Chase agreed.

I’m going to gloss over the discussion related to indoor air quality and mechanical systems because I pretty much didn’t understand any of it. Thompson will incorporate operable windows to bring in outside air, and we’ll use whole house fans along with efficiently-sized HVAC package systems.

I could go on but I fear I’ve bored you already.

Overall, the eco-charrette was a lively discussion of people invested in green-building activism, who may not have anything to gain personally but feel we have a lot to gain collectively. The workshop was fun and informative and stimulating.

And at the scheduled end of the three-hour-long meeting, everyone wanted to stay just a little bit longer.