St. Mary’s Street LEEDs the Pack
BU’s first green residence nears completion
By: Leslie Friday
Remodeling a home can be a chore; remodeling nine requires angelic patience. And remodeling nine homes to meet LEED green building standards requires $3.5 million, repeated inspections, and meticulous documentation of such things as water efficiency, energy use, origin of materials used, and indoor environmental quality, all of which is being done at the 13,700-square-foot faculty and staff apartment complex at 85–87 St. Mary’s St. The building, which was stripped down to its rafters, studs, and floorboards, is being methodically built back up using the latest in green building technology. The yearlong project is nearing completion, and if all goes as planned, it will soon become the University’s first residence to receive certification under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which administers LEED certification.
“We are striving for gold,” says Dennis Carlberg, the University’s sustainability director, who is a LEED-accredited professional and an architect by training. The only higher certification would be platinum, a level Carlberg would be particularly pleased to reach.
Carlberg and his assistant, Ian Johnson (GRS’12), have amassed more than 400 pages charting the progress at 85–87 St. Mary’s St., tracking such things as how much material was recycled during demolition and getting signed statements from everyone involved that the recorded information is true.
On a late June afternoon, Carlberg and Johnson walk through the revamped apartment complex. Sawdust covers the floor of a third-floor unit and occasional hammering echos in the back rooms.
The two men tick off features that were made with recycled or renewable materials, are more energy- and water-efficient, or ensure a healthy environment for future residents.
Before the walls were sheetrocked and painted a soft cream color, workers sprayed foam insulation between beams and around window frames. Carlberg compares this step to “wrapping the building in a blanket.” Any air leaks in its envelope could translate into higher heating and cooling bills for tenants.
Carlberg had Advanced Building Analysis, LLC, perform a blower door test to locate offending air leaks. Workers closed all windows and doors and installed an improvised door with a fan that sucked air from the building. The air pressure difference inside the apartment complex created a vacuum that pulled air from the outside. Infrared cameras detected where leaks seeped around window frames or through walls. Workers then marked and filled the spots with additional insulation.
“We did it before installing drywall so any problems could be fixed easily without any cost,” he says.
Another blower door test will be performed once construction is complete. “You don’t get certified until you’re done,” Carlberg says. “The blower door test is going to be key.”
Heating and cooling ducts are extremely well insulated to “get heat where you want it,” he says. And high-quality filters within the heating and cooling system remove dust, pollen, soot, and bacteria from the air. “This is cleaner than breathing the outside air,” he adds.
Carlberg shows off a tankless water heater hidden in a closet. Bamboo flooring is just beginning to spread across the living room. All lighting is energy-efficient. And paint is made from low-volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The nine units—a mix of one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartments—are individually metered so tenants can monitor their energy and water use.
In the kitchen, several appliances are Energy Star–rated. Cabinets come from wood harvested with the Forest Stewardship Council’s stamp of approval. Countertops are made with at least 80 percent recycled materials, like glass and metal.
In the bathroom, Carlberg points out the dual-flush toilet, low-flow showerhead and faucet, and the floor tiles made from recycled materials.
On the way down the landing, he and Johnson pass workers feverishly hammering and sawing on the first and second floors. They have until early September to make the place ready for move-in. This is where that angelic patience comes in handy.
The third and final edition of BU Today’s occasional series on 85–87 St. Mary’s St. will be a video walking tour of the remodeled apartment complex with This Old House host Kevin O’Connor (Questrom’99).