Consumers finally got the energy wake-up call last fall: higher home heating bills would burn through family budgets this winter. While energy efficiency is just beginning to dawn on most homeowners, the idea has long inspired Carlton Brown, co-owner and chief operating officer of the real estate development company Full Spectrum of New York L.L.C.
Harlem-based Full Spectrum’s showplace is a 220,000-square-foot, $40 million high-performance building at 1400 Fifth Ave. Imagine 129 condominiums where geothermal heat pumps ensure puny winter utility bills, pure air invigorates breathing, and daylight floods through large windows. Add broadband, wireless courtyard connectivity, and network-controllable washing machines. Last winter, monthly condo heating bills were typically $75.
Demand for buildings that use less fuel depends on who’s buying, Brown says. Institutional investors have for years recognized that the lower operating expenses of energy-efficient real estate mean higher profitability. “But when it comes to regular home buyers, here is where there’s an education curve going on. It’s starting to grow in demand,” says Brown. Today’s lesson: “The cost of energy is never going to go down. Over the last 20 years, it’s always spiking up, growing faster than income. It is increasingly becoming a disproportionate share of people’s disposable income,” Brown says.
Smart features can accentuate a building’s energy efficiency. At the building, digital submetering of electricity allows residents to view the quantity and cost of the current consumed by individual appliances online. Multifamily buildings with digital submetering are able to collectively get a lower bulk electric rate while billing individual units for their usage.
The building weaves several threads of innovation: building materials made of 70% recycled content, a high-tech air filtration system, and use of products that don’t emit toxic fumes. Geothermal heat exchangers and structural envelopes reduce energy consumption by 70%. And the building’s “structured wiring” is the backbone for programmable thermostats, home entertainment, and high-speed Internet access.
Efficient single-family homes are attracting attention as good values, says Ann Arbor, Michigan, architect Louis B. Smith Jr. Home buyers get high-performance features only if they ask for them in custom-designed houses, says Smith, a committee member of the American Institute of Architects Small Project Forum. An architect’s analysis can determine which features in new or renovated buildings are good investments.
Borrowers choosing verified fuel-conserving homes qualify for energy-efficient mortgages. Buyers are eligible for larger loans than their incomes would ordinarily allow because money saved on energy means homeowners can afford higher mortgage payments.
Just as the computer industry integrates several powerful electronic components onto one tiny silicon chip, a revolutionized construction industry will increasingly prefabricate multiple architectural functions into larger building modules, Brown says. Wall panels will have windows, insulation, wiring, and wiring connectors already embedded.
Advanced building technology is Brown’s prescribed stimulant for smaller cities. In Trenton, New Jersey, Full Spectrum is proposing a $175 million, 800,000-square-foot complex consisting of structured parking, condominiums, townhouses, offices, and retail space. “We believe this is a strategy to help revitalize an investment in those second-tier urban markets,” says Brown.