Thursday, September 2, 2010

ecoFLATS showcased in Daily Journal of Commerce article

Developer relies on human nature to hit net-zero goal

POSTED: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 05:05 PM PT
BY: Daniel Savickas / Daily Journal of Commerce 

Jean-Pierre Veillet's new Eco Flats building on North Avenue is designed to be the first mixed-use residential building in the nation to achieve a net-zero energy status. Whether the goal is met will depend on tenants monitoring how much energy to use. (Phtoo by Dan Carter/DJC)
Jean-Pierre Veillet's new Eco Flats building on North Williams Avenue is designed to be the first mixed-use residential building in the nation to achieve a net-zero energy status. Whether the goal is met will depend on tenants monitoring how much energy they use. (Photo by Dan Carter/DJC)

In 1994, Jean-Pierre Veillet, owner of Siteworks Design Build, reinvented the wheel when it came to how his company showed up at a job site. Instead of driving to work on four wheels, Veillet rolled up on his bicycle, pulling a trailer of tools and materials.

Now Veillet hopes to reinvent the way developers design mixed-use projects with his new 20,000-square-foot, mixed-use apartment building on North Williams Avenue. The project is aiming to reach a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-gold certification, but the main goal of the project, Veillet said, is to turn the building into a net-zero energy apartment building. He’s putting the success of his project in the hands of his future tenants.
The building, called Eco Flats, is designed for people who are more concerned with being energy-conscious than living in a building with amenities such as a swimming pool, Veillet said. But their level of being energy-conscious will essentially determine whether this project succeeds or fails in its bid to achieve a net-zero energy rating.

The building will contain a common hydronic heating system and a 3,000-square-foot solar array of photovoltaic and thermal collectors. The system, attached to the fourth floor of the building, will attempt to produce enough hot water and energy for the entire building. This means that each of the 18 apartments in Eco Flats will have to work together to achieve goals set each month so that the building can operate on its own without having to pull power from the energy grid.

Becky Walker, program manager for the Energy Trust of Oregon’s New Buildings program, said the Eco Flats building is one of 15 projects accepted into the Energy Trust’s Path to Net Zero pilot program, which aims to have projects achieve energy savings of up to 50 percent beyond Oregon’s building code. But it’s the only one that’s attempting to achieve a net-zero energy rating while offering a residential component, an approach Walker said is the first of its kind in the nation.

“You just don’t know how much energy the tenants are going to use until they are there,” Walker said. “But they are looking into designing some pretty creative ways to provide feedback to the tenants.”

The feedback, according to Veillet, will come in the form of monitors in both of the building’s entrances. The monitors will act as a virtual “big brother” for the tenants, showing everyone how much energy and water each apartment is using. Forget to shut off the bedroom light before leaving for the day? Someone is watching - or at the least, tracking the action.

The fact that someone, or possibly even everyone, in the building is watching will likely influence tenant behavior, according to Joe Rhinewine, a clinical psychologist and director at Portland Mindfulness. Eco Flats tenants might watch their energy use if they’re given data privately on their individual use. But if a tenant knows her information is being shared with her neighbors, that will probably have an even stronger effect, Rhinewine said. He likens the behavior to what happens to a driver traveling down a road where a digital reader board is tracking the speed of vehicles in the area. A driver may not think twice about how fast his vehicle is moving until the actual speed flashes up in big digital numbers. If the sign is being monitored by police, the driver becomes even more cautious, Rhinewine said.

Veillet isn’t going to rely solely on human nature to keep his building at net-zero energy, however. The building doesn’t have any associated parking for vehicles, a deliberate omission that Veillet thinks will result in attracting mainly bicycle-centric tenants who might take a certain amount of pride in leaving a small footprint on the planet. In addition, on months when tenants take steps that lead to the building hitting net-zero status, Veillet plans on giving tenants rewards, such as drink and food coupons redeemable at neighborhood restaurants.

Of the 18 apartments in the building, 12 are 600-square-foot, one-bedroom units while the rest are 750-square-foot, two-bedroom apartments. Veillet said the building will be ready for tenants to move in March 1, and although rents aren’t firm yet, he expects they will be about $900 per month to $1,400 per month.

The building will also feature two retail spaces on the street-level - an unnamed restaurant is considering one of the spaces, Veillet said - as well as secure bicycle parking, a bicycle maintenance room and communal showers. Community garden space and a courtyard are featured on site and connect with a space that Veillet said could feature an additional building with 12 apartments and two more retail spaces in the future.
“This is a prototype,” Veillet said. “If we do it well, we’ll do this many, many more times. Right now we’re just trying to understand what this population likes and wants in a building.”

Aurora State Airport, Oregon's third busiest airport, was recently awarded $4.3 million from the ConnectOregon III program to build a control tower at the airport.
Developer Jean-Pierre Veillet hopes the Eco Flats project will appeal to some of the 3,500 bicycle commuters who use North Williams Avenue daily. (Photo by Dan Carter/DJC)

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