First net-zero apartment building fills up quickly.
POSTED: Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 02:23 PM PT
BY: Angela Webber
In Portland, green buildings can be attractive – especially if the price is right.
Apartment tenants are in the process of moving into ecoFLATS, a Siteworks Design | Build mixed-use building at 3951 N. Williams Ave. The $3.2 million project could become the nation’s first net-zero apartment building, according to the project leader. That will depend on how energy is used in the building’s two retail spaces and 18 apartments, which are all leased, and much sooner than projected.
The recently completed ecoFLATS building, which contains 18 residential units and two retail spaces, aims to be the country’s first net-zero apartment building.
“Almost without exception, the people who contacted us about living in ecoFLATS wanted to live there because it was green, and they cared about that,” said Susan Stratton, president of NBS Multifamily Management.
The secret, according to one of the project developers, Jean-Pierre Veillet, is to offer sustainable living at an affordable price. No bells and whistles are necessary, he said.
“A lot of developers still make a fatal error in their design, in terms of what people want for finishes,” Veillet said. “Here, they aren’t stainless steel appliances; they’re Energy Star appliances. Instead of ceramic sinks, we have IKEA sinks.”
Also, the units’ light fixtures and curtains were designed by students at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
To keep lease rates down for the building, which has a $200,000 solar array on its roof, Veillet said his team performed a lot of vetting on each decision in regard to affordability and energy efficiency.
Tenants pay approximately $1,000 for a 594-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment or $1,550 for a 770-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment, Stratton said.
Floor plans in ecoFLATS apartments are open to provide better circulation for energy efficiency. Entrances to the units are on the outside of the building: The absence of interior corridors means less area to light, cool and heat, Veillet said. Even with these energy-efficiency measures, net-zero status will depend on the tenants.
Each apartment’s energy usage will be monitored on a screen in the building’s lobby. Veillet also plans to encourage energy conservation by offering incentives – such as a coffee shop discount – to residents.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge,” said Sean McGuirk, an ecoFLATS resident. He worked with Veillet on a green building project for Nau, where McGuirk works in marketing. When Veillet started working on ecoFLATS, he offered McGuirk a chance to get involved and become an on-site manager.
“Sean is helping to create community,” Veillet said. McGuirk will help foster what Veillet calls the “social aspect” of net-zero energy.
McGuirk predicts that the sustainability-minded residents of ecoFLATS will “all about” achieving net-zero energy usage. However, there are no provisions written into tenants’ leases about energy consumption, Stratton said.
Veillet said he may consider taking on another green apartment project, but not until ecoFLATS wraps up. Apartments are completed, but some parts of the project are still in progress.
The ground-floor retail units, which will be occupied by a tattoo shop and Hopworks Urban Brewery, are still being finished.
A community garden space will be created, and the energy monitoring system still needs to be set up.
“We didn’t expect to need it until absorption was complete, and we didn’t expect that to happen within 30 days. The bank told us it would take a year,” Veillet said.
The ecoFLATS project was developed by 3935 N. Williams LLC, under the direction of co-managers Veillet and Doug Shapiro. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification is being pursued for the building. The quick success of the project is drawing attention: Veillet said he is giving tours of the facility once or twice a week to developers, researchers or government officials. His hope is that the project could be duplicated on a larger scale.
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