LEED BD+C: Homes v1.0 pilot
SAN JOSE, CA 95112
LEED Gold 2008
* This profile has been peer-reviewed by a USGBC-selected team of technical experts.
Goals and motivations
What were the top overarching goals and objectives?
The goals for Gish Apartments were to develop a mixed-use, transit-oriented building for families, while mainstreaming tenants with developmental disabilities. Indoor air quality was a primary concern because of the special needs tenants, and since the site is a brownfield site, appropriate "clean-up" was also a priority.
The project's goal was to achieve a LEED Gold rating. This was an ambitious goal at the time because very few multi-family projects had pursued any level of certification. The key for setting the LEED goals on this project was that charrettes and the integrated design process were reinforced throughout the project schedule, which reinforced and supported the goal of achieving Gold with a team that had not worked on a LEED project to date.
What were the motivations to pursue LEED certification and how did they influence the project?
- Integrated Design Process
- Organizational Priority
- Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) Reduction
The corporate goal of the owner, First Community Housing (FCH), is that all developments achieve at least LEED Gold. At the time of Gish Apartments' development, LEED for Homes Multifamily Midrise did not exist and LEED for Homes was in early development. We were certified Gold in both LEED for New Construction and LEED for Homes because we wanted to understand how both certifications responded to an urban infill, multi-family housing development. At the same time, we were actively involved with USGBC in advocating for a more appropriate LEED certification program for this building type.
Even before LEED, FCH had sustainable project goals, such as incorporating low toxic and renewable building materials and sustainably harvested wood. Having LEED as a goal helped provide the framework and expand FCH's commitment to building sustainable multi-family housing projects.
What were the most notable strategies used to earn LEED credits?
Two major strategies for this project were increased density and providing less parking than required by the local planning agency. Mainstreaming special needs tenants, who don't drive, and providing them with transit passes was a primary strategy for increasing density by locating near transit and reducing required parking.
Twelve apartments are reserved for developmentally disabled tenants who do not drive. Because Gish Apartments is across the street from a light rail station and because First Community Housing provides free, annual transit passes to all tenants, Gish received another 10% transit-oriented development parking reduction. This resulted in a parking requirement that is 18 spaces fewer than the City requirement, which helped make the project feasible both economically and by fitting it on such a small site.
In terms of innovation, this project pursued LEED Innovation in Design Credit 1.4 for Green Housekeeping. Since the project team was emphasizing indoor air quality, it was critical that we also emphasize green operations and maintenance practices.
Gish tenants are provided a tenant manual, which explains First Community Housing's (FCH) goals with green building and the benefits to tenants. The manual includes recommendations on caring for the linoleum floors, recommends green cleaning products, and shows where those products can be purchased. Apartment maintenance staff undergoes a training process with First Community Housing's sustainable facility manager, who approves all cleaning products to ensure they are non-toxic.
The photovoltaic system was an add-alternate. During construction, the City of San Jose provided FCH with a workforce housing grant of $180,000, which paid for the photovoltaic system. The PV system provides about 30% of the building's common area electrical needs.
What cutting-edge strategies or processes were implemented?
Gish Apartments was built concurrently with First Community Housing's (FCH) Villa Montgomery in Redwood City, about 40 miles away. Both projects received Gold certification under LEED for New Construction. The buildings look nothing alike and have different architects, though both have below-grade parking, are family projects, and were brownfield sites.
FCH used the same general contractor and all the same sub-contractors on these two projects. Since FCH, as the owner, dictated all product and finish specifications, all finishes, systems, and products used were identical. There was no additional coordination required, primarily because both building specifications were the same and because through our integrated design process, all of the sub-contractors and suppliers were well-versed on this approach. According to our general contractor, Branagh, this process resulted in a 2% overall savings.
How was the integrative process applied and what was the greatest benefit gained?
First Community Housing uses an integrative design process on all of our developments. This process is based upon a negotiated, design-build contract with the general contractor and all major sub-contractors, who are involved in the project from day one. In addition, we use two to three general contractors and two to three architects consistently, using the same teams over and over again. Since Gish Apartments, we are on our fourth integrative design process with each team. This process has led to increased efficiency; better design and problem solving; and decreased change orders during construction. Knowing that each development will have minimal change orders allows our team to consider green add-alternates during the construction process. Team members are more excited about the process and bring creative ideas to team meetings.
First Community Housing normally has a list of upgrades or green add alternates that are listed in the specification. As soon as the podium is completed and our team has a good sense of potential future change orders, we begin to add in these green upgrades, which are normally upgrades that would require no additional structural or HVAC design and no additional building permit review. Due to the owner's integrated design process, there are normally few change orders. Specific examples of green add-alternates applied to Gish included a photovoltaic system and upgrading vinyl windows to fiberglass.
Gish Apartments: South Elevation with Light Rail station on the left. Photo by Bernard Andre
Aside from LEED certification, what do you consider key project successes?
The mainstreaming of special needs tenants (35% of Gish's tenants are developmentally disabled) into the general population of tenants has become a state-wide model in California. Several of our special needs tenants have noted significant health improvements due to the superior indoor air quality. One special needs tenant no longer has to take anti-anxiety drugs.
Christopher Dodd is a resident who has severe autism and lives in a three-bedroom apartment with two providers. His mother, Kim Dodd, told us, "Ever since Christopher moved into Gish Apartments, I've noticed that he is calmer. He no longer has asthma symptoms and no longer has to take anti-anxiety medication. The green environment helps him cope and process more easily. He really likes the building structure itself and is very happy there."
Photo by Bernard Andre
An additional success was that in 2009, Gish Apartments was awarded the National AIA COTE Award.
What were the most important long- and short-term value-add strategies and what returns on investment (ROI) have been experienced or anticipated?
The most important strategy was utilizing more durable exterior materials and finishes, such as metal siding, fiberglass windows, and concrete walls. As an affordable housing developer, we own these buildings for at least 55 years, so durability is critical. Our maintenance costs for the exterior of Gish Apartments are significantly lower than many of our earlier projects that utilized more standard residential finishes.
What project challenges became important lessons learned?
The challenges for this project involved trying to make LEED for New Construction work for an infill, mixed-use housing project. Since this time, LEED for Multifamily Midrise has responded to this challenge in a very positive way.
The biggest issue with Gish Apartments is the ongoing maintenance costs of the below-grade parking. The energy projections for the cost of lighting and venting below-grade parking were not accurate. We have traded out all the metal halide garage light fixtures for induction and LED light fixtures, which we hope will show a significant reduction in ongoing energy costs.
Since Gish, the owner, First Community Housing (FCH), has avoided using below-grade parking. FCH now focuses on on-grade parking because of the extremely high cost of ongoing maintenance and energy of below-grade parking due to lighting, sensors, and ventilation. On new projects, FCH is investigating painting garage walls white and using dimmers with LED lighting to reduce lighting energy costs.
What was a pivotal moment that impacted the project's direction?
Due to the acoustic impact of the light rail, our team almost deleted the balconies facing the light rail tracks. However, we decided to use the balconies to both mitigate the sound impacts and facilitate air flow and natural ventilation. Sound was mitigated by installing full-height glazing facing the light rail; air flow was supported by leaving the southern end of the balconies open. Hence, the balconies facing the light rail became major exterior design features, making the apartments appear larger and allowing tenants to grow plants.
Glass Balcony facing Light Rail for acoustic, light and durability. Photo by Bernard Andre
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