As seen on the Best of BERDO Blog
June 25, 2018
201-207 South Street | Leather District | Boston, MA
The Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) requires that all larger buildings in Boston make concerted efforts to improve their energy and climate performance. The Environment Department would like to highlight leading example buildings that have excelled in reducing their utility consumption. This series hopes to provide innovative strategies to building owners and managers throughout Boston, while defining Boston as a leader in building energy efficiency.
Please introduce yourself and your property.
My name is Sarah Barber and I work for the Lincoln Property Company. I manage 201-207 South St which is located within the Leather District. These properties were originally two different buildings that were adjoined in 1983. The building is now a little larger than 70,000 square feet. The building was initially very involved in the Leather District and housed tanning and manufacturing operations for a variety of goods, such as shoes and handbags. Over the years, the property has had various uses but now mainly functions as a commercial office building. We have a variety of tenant types and sizes such as high-tech startups and other tech companies, as well as tenants that range from 13,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet. Some of our tenants have been with us for more than ten years and others are recent. Currently, we have no retail component and do not envision this for the immediate future. In the five year period since I started managing this building, we have not only turned over the tenant spaces but have gone through many major capital improvements. On a daily basis we continue to look for ways to improve the building and to upgrade the spaces both mechanically and aesthetically.
What methods have you used to reduce your energy and water consumption by 15% or more?
When I started managing the building in 2013 it was running very inefficiently and our Energy Star score was 42. There was a natural gas steam boiler that was immediately turned on once the heating season began. When the boiler was on it was severely overheating the property. The building was actually 92 degrees inside on my first day at work. All of tenants wanted help to resolve this issue. They were actually opening their windows or running air conditioning in the middle of winter just to make themselves comfortable. Additionally, the windows in the building were very old and in many cases single paned and broken, making them very inefficient. The façade of the building was approaching its five year recertification and was constantly leaking cold air from all directions. When walking throughout the building it became clear that the lighting, faucets and toilets had contained residential grade materials rather than commercial grade.
We took a holistic approach when viewing energy efficient solutions for this property. The first step we took was to put new roofs on both buildings. We ripped off the old material, reinsulated and resealed everything. Then we input a firestone membrane system that has a 15 year warranty. We began repointing and reinsulating the building’s façade. These two improvements immediately resolved the building envelope issues. We then moved towards replacing the windows, starting with the most damaged ones and we still work on this today. At this point, we have replaced 45% of the windows to a Low-E double-paned glass system which is helping us control the temperature of the building. At this point, we decided to start working on the mechanical equipment.
In 2014, our major objective was to test for efficiency throughout all of the units to see what projects we could tackle next. We modified the existing steam boiler from a full flame boiler to a boiler which cycles with a fluctuating load. This improved our boiler performance and natural gas consumption. We also replaced all of the steam condensate lines in the basement to increase efficiency and reduce domestic water consumption significantly. We then started thinking about how to control this within the tenant spaces. We installed over 90 Danfloss valves so each tenant can control and use the amount of heat that they need. This eliminated the need for redundant systems so that air conditioning and open windows would not need to be used in winter. In terms of air conditioning, the building has 36 split systems which ranged in effectiveness so we have replaced about 42% of these with an environmentally friendlier alternative and we plan to replace the rest in the future. We also put in electrical and programmable thermostats to better control the AC and reduce off hour usage.
Lastly, we started working on upgrading the residential grade appliances. So far we have replaced 20 out of 29 toilets and we plan to continue replacing the remaining ones. We also replaced our lighting to LED and utilized interior and exterior autotimers. We started replacing the blinds to drape reflectant shades and implemented a single stream recycling program that has allowed us to reduce our waste by 29% just within the past few years. We plan to continue switching to more energy efficient options as they become available.
Have you experienced any unexpected benefits through your BERDO compliance?
Customer satisfaction! People want to be in a building where they are comfortable and where their electric bills are manageable. When we first took over the building, the tenants were running very redundant systems where they pay for their own electric usage. Their bills have gone down by over 50% and they could not be more thrilled. They are also genuinely happy to be a part of something more sustainable. So customer satisfaction is an element of this that is truly key. Not only is this the right thing to do but it makes people very happy and more comfortable. For this reason, I would say customer satisfaction is one of the strongest side effects that we have received.
Do you plan on making more energy efficiency modifications to your property in the future?
We are continuing to replace old window, blinds, toilets and the split system on the AC. We will also continue reevaluating new lighting options. Currently LEDs are the best thing on the market but we didn’t know about them 10 years ago. Maybe in 5 years something better will come out. So, we are always on the lookout for new opportunities to use the very best products to achieve the most efficiency. The job is never really done when you manage a commercial office building because once you think you’ve updated everything something new comes along. This is a process you need to look at from a fresh set of eyes every single year to always find the best approach for the building. Every building is unique and different so you need to evaluate new opportunities for each location and look at the individual capacity to match the best systems to each building.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your utility reduction journey?
When I started in 2013, I wanted everything to be done all at once but that’s impossible. It’s the scope of your project and your financial limitations to get things done all at once. A façade project alone is well over a million dollars and there is only so much capital that you can work with. So the managerial side of you wants it all done at once but logically you need to find an approach to tackle the most important projects first and get them all done in a timely manner. You then must devise an annual plan of how to make the building better. Buildings are similar to people in this way. They get sick sometimes and they have problems and you want to fix them right away but sometimes you can’t get it all done at once. So, I would say that’s been the biggest challenge. Sometimes we just can’t do it all as quickly as we would like.
Do you have an interesting story about your utility reduction process that the metrics do not express?
Yes and it’s a pretty funny story. When putting on the new façade of the building, most people are not considering the energy saving implications. Rather, they’re thinking “oh that looks pretty or oh I like what they did with that building”. Completing a big project like this in the city is tough, especially where our building is directly above a residential building and the next building is residential and retail. So similar to many Boston neighborhoods, there is a real mix of uses so it’s a very livable and workable block. This façade project is not by any means a silent project; it makes a lot of noise and a lot of dust. It took us about 9.5 months to complete.
It was incredibly challenging and the scope of the project was very large. Due to the residential component of the neighborhood, we had specific times of day where we could work and we wanted to be friendly to our neighbors. We couldn’t work on this project at night because it would make too much noise for the neighbors to sleep so we could only work during business hours. This then impacted the tenants within the building and their ability to work. But we needed to get it done so we stuck to business hours and the city allowed us to work on Saturdays and Sundays as long as we kept to 8 am – 4 pm. It was challenging because a lot of people were unhappy with the noise level.
The tenants in the building understood the necessity and need to get it done so they were fantastic throughout this process. There was one day, and it happened to be April Fool’s Day, where the construction workers were trying their best to get the project done. One of the neighborhood women who was particularly unhappy with the amount of noise decided to start egging the workers. I didn’t originally believe it because I thought it was an April Fool’s joke it but I was sent a video clip so I understood the severity of the issue. I can now look back and laugh but the most ironic part is that the same woman thanked us for doing the work when it was completed because it beautified the neighborhood so much. This goes to show get these things done is not always easy but even the people who find it the most painful can sometimes recognize the benefits.
Property Management Sarah Barber