LEED BD+C: Homes v2008
Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph
LEED Platinum 2010
* This profile has been peer-reviewed by a USGBC-selected team of technical experts.
The below stakeholder perspectives address the following LEED credits:
AEc1, MRc1.4, MRc2, WEc3, EAc2, EAc3, EQc5, IDc1
Goals and motivations
What were the top overarching goals and objectives?
One project goal was to save water. As Franciscan Sisters, we are concerned about the environment and our fresh water supply. With low-flow fixtures, we become aware every time we turn on a shower or faucet. It is a gift from God and this sends a strong statement.
Another goal was to let nature come into the house. Using passive energy brought us closer to nature, which is especially important for Sisters who cannot go outside as they get older. It helps psychologically and spiritually to see and appreciate nature and the beauty of creation, helping us to be strengthened in our desire to care for others. This important aspect of the housing, for us as well as visitors, influences how we use and impact creation.
The project also has a small footprint for a 72-person home. Initially, we wanted it to be single floor, but we learned there were wetlands behind us, so we made the front part two stories and the back of the house one story. We don't want to take up more space than we need. Also, even though the house looks big, the fact that it houses so many people earned us LEED points.
What were the top overarching goals and objectives?
The Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph's main goal was to create a sustainable and accessible home. As the future home for aging Sisters, it was important to include the message of caring for the Earth in the residence itself. The Sisters prompted the discussion for a green home. This led to further talks about what it means to them to be green - if it meant literally a lush landscape. They started talking about another parish that installed solar panels and then I knew they wanted a sustainable home.
The Sisters took the message of the building a step further by learning about it themselves. During construction, they asked us to explain in-depth what we were doing. Their interest in the process was so great that I wrote a feature story on one LEED credit per month in their newsletter. The project took on an educational element and now a group tours their home weekly.
What were the motivations to pursue LEED certification and how did they influence the project?
- Message of caring for the earth
From the start, the Sisters wanted a green building. In 2008, I was not familiar with LEED for Homes. As a new LEED AP, I knew that it was challenging to earn LEED for New Construction certification as a residence. The moment I heard LEED for Homes was available, we knew this project needed to get certified.
New York State Energy Research & Development Authority incentives allowed the project to make money by building sustainably. Fees related to the LEED Green Rater were less than this incentive. We used good common sense. Knowing it would be a challenge to balance increased efficiency with a good comfort level, we spent extra money on foam for the thermal envelope. This has already proven results through a low heat gain in a particularly hot summer in 2009. In this way, we turned a challenge into an opportunity for increased efficiency.
What were the most notable strategies used to earn LEED credits?
There were many notable green building strategies implemented to earn LEED credits. As a suburban project in Hamburg, New York, it was challenging to earn many LL points. Thus, the project team had to be innovative when it came to designing the mechanical systems, building the envelope, and choosing materials.
The project earned seven of the eight possible points for Environmentally Preferable Products by choosing FSC-certified wood framing and sheathing, recycled and low-emissive insulation, low-VOC paints, and local lumber throughout the project. This strategy is not so much innovative as it is opportunistic. For instance, the FSC lumber was harvested within 50 miles of the mill, far less than the 500-mile maximum required by LEED for Homes.
What cutting-edge strategies or processes were implemented?
Each unit has limited ductwork, which tested with no leakage, for the water-source heat pump (MaQuay Infinity). Long duct runs can reduce efficiency from source to supply, so eliminating long runs was a project team goal. Placement of the heat pump in relation to ducts required strategic planning to ensure the comfort of residents.
Heat recovery ventilators exhausting through bathrooms were carefully designed to meet the ASHRAE 62.2 target. The limited duct work and unit ventilation was deemed a priority since these senior residents are more susceptible to respiratory issues.
How was the integrative process applied and what was the greatest benefit gained?
Throughout the design and construction of Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, the project team collaborated. The entire project team was involved from the conceptual level to project completion.
The 104,000-square-foot assisted living facility contains independent living units and skilled-care nursing wings to accommodate 74 residents.
With the right team, you can even generate revenue by going green. Since completion, the same team has worked on several projects together. There are huge benefits to an integrated team approach. There are several groups with different areas of expertise: The nuns looked for function in the resulting building; the architect focused on materials and what the spaces looked like; I watched the budget. We all shared a common goal. The healthy tension resulting from different perspectives maximized results and the client benefitted from all areas of expertise.
Because the owner was involved throughout, their expectations better aligned with results and they were less surprised and more informed. In fact, we took time to explain our methods of construction to the Sisters in depth and they share this knowledge today through group tours of their home. Client involvement made the project development experience much better.
Aside from LEED certification, what do you consider key project successes?
The educational value of sustainable housing was a success. More than 100 people attended our open houses, through which we were able to show how beautiful and spacious the housing is. It shows how sustainable living doesn't have to be barebones; it can be beautiful. Another success is the brightness and nature brought into the space. It helps us relate to one another and has increased community interaction between residents and visitors.
The town of Hamburg gave the Motherhouse a character award for perseverance in building a green house, as well as an award for the beauty the building added to the town.
The town of Hamburg gave us a character award for perseverance and sticking with our goals to build a green house. They also gave an award for the beauty added to the town through this building.
Perhaps the greatest success of this project was proving that LEED and green building are affordable and require no additional first costs. This LEED project resulted in very few, if any, additional upfront costs. The incentives received from the New York State Energy and Research Development Agency were enough to cover all additional costs, including that of the Green Rater. The project actually ended with a surplus of money after incentives were paid.
Additionally, this was the opportunity to do something unique by earning LEED for Homes Platinum certification for senior housing, which was an even greater challenge because it also had to be a skilled-care nursing facility. It was a chance to become a leader in sustainable multi-family building.
What were the most important long- and short-term value-add strategies and what returns on investment (ROI) have been experienced or anticipated?
The project achieved high ventilation rates without energy penalties, as well as superior air sealing. Intermediate tests and contractor training helped the builder achieve a high-performance envelope using flash-and-batt exterior walls (two-inch, closed-cell foam and fiberglass) and sprayed cellulose ceilings, resulting in high thermal performance and air tightness.
During construction, the individual rooms were tested to demonstrate weaknesses in the thermal envelope. The sub-contractors were trained to better air seal the sill plates, around windows, and interior to exterior wall junctions. Final testing, shown here, results improved thanks to the intermediate testing.
Testing during construction helped target problems along the way, and training reinforced best practices. The combination of insulation types capitalized on the best properties of each. For instance, the exterior walls combined closed-cell foam that provided air-sealing and a high R value with a more economical thermal solution of fiberglass batts. The interior walls used batt insulation for sound attenuation and fire-rated sealant for air sealing. We performed an intermediate blower door test during construction to help identify trouble spots in insulation and air sealing. Air sealing between units and hallways was greatly improved after the blower door test, reducing each unit's air leakage. The raters used REM/Rate software to calculate the residential units' energy savings. Wings were tested as whole "pods" and individual rooms were tested to demonstrate air tightness from room to room and throughout the whole building.
What project challenges became important lessons learned?
Not many challenges arose; the largest obstacle was air sealing, and we knew this going in. One of the most important lessons the project team learned is that the framing details directly relate to successful air sealing.
We tried to mitigate this challenge by finishing one apartment out of sequence to estimate the level of air sealing required to meet our goals. Then we took the Sisters through to make sure details like the outlet and phone jack were in the right locations. These abundant penetrations (outlets, phone jacks, etc.) made it particularly difficult to air seal the interior wall separating each unit and the hallway. At first, results were ok, however they got better as we continued and as sub-contractors improved the air sealing measures. Through this process, we learned to pay close attention and the importance of taking extra time to train insulators and framers in more efficient building methods with new materials. We also added the blower door test during construction to improve our methods.
Additionally, after this project was completed, it became clear that the hot and cold water were not mixing properly for the showers. After further investigation, we found that the flow rate of the low-flow showers was so low that the mixing valves were not detecting water. We had to install more sensitive mixing valves so residents could enjoy a hot shower. The good news is that mixing valve technology is catching up to better maintain comfortably hot temperatures in low-flow showerheads.
What was a pivotal moment that impacted the project's direction?
The direction of this project changed at USGBC's 2009 GreenBuild International Conference & Expo in Boston. From the start, the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph knew that these assisted living units needed to be sustainable. At that time, LEED for Homes did not exist, and earning certification under LEED for New Construction for residences was very challenging. I was the only LEED AP in the room during design discussions and knew that the requirements of LEED for New Construction did not mesh well with multi-family buildings. So, I went to GreenBuild in search of a better system. After we learned that this project was eligible for LEED for Homes, the project started on the path toward an affordable LEED Platinum project. I instantly recognized this program as a perfect fit, so this was a turning point for the project.
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