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City and Town of Ithaca Take Green Building Steps


When Quay Thompson and his team set out to transform the old property at 619 West State Street into the new Ithaca headquarters of HOLT Architects, they had two goals in mind. The first was to create a building design that represented the identity of the firm, and provided employees with a space to be collaborative, creative, and ambitious.

The second goal was perhaps more ambitious.

Thompson, an architect at HOLT, worked to design an office that came as close as possible to net-zero energy consumption. This means that the amount of energy produced by the building is equal to or above the amount of energy consumed by the building.

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HOLT Architects Ithaca office, 619 West State Street, was designed to be as energy efficient and as close to net-zero carbon emissions as possible. (Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week)

“There are a few stages to the design,” said Thompson about the process of creating a net-zero building. “First you want to create a good thermal envelope, so the energy that you are putting into a building stays in the building.”

“Then you want to design efficient systems, so you can heat or cool the building with as little energy as possible.”

Thompson came close to his goal, with the office currently operating at about 93% net-zero efficiency.

Quay Thompson, of HOLT, points out the ecological innovations within the office building, including this converter station for the photo-voltaic system that powers the building. (Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week)

Thompson and his team at HOLT undertook this project independently. The decision to build an energy efficient office was their own, and the City and Town of Ithaca were not involved in the process.

But that might not be the case in the future for new buildings in Ithaca.

In August, the City and Town of Ithaca released a draft of the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement  for public feedback. After several rounds of community feedback, the code is now back in City Hall awaiting revision, with a plan to adopt it by the end of the year.

The Energy Code Supplement, created by the City and Town in a collaboration with Taitem Engineering and STREAM Collaborative, would act as an addition to the building codes already in place by New York State, and would apply to all new buildings within the city limits. The goal of the supplement is to create a policy that would require all buildings constructed under this code to reduce carbon emissions immediately by 40 percent, as well as be net-zero by 2030.

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The City and Town of Ithaca have put together the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement, which would require all new buildings to reduce their carbon emissions in a similar manner as HOLT. (Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week)

The most common way that new buildings would achieve this 40 percent reduction is by following the code’s “easy path,” which gives certain points to buildings depending on the energy saving methods they use, and requires that buildings gain at least six points to meet the code. Ian Shapiro, of Taitem, was a member of the design team and tasked with arranging the points system so that it fairly represented a building’s true emissions cutbacks.

“Our intent has been to eliminate carbon emissions, while not adding to construction costs,” Shapiro said of the project. “We are in fact promoting more affordable buildings, and I believe the proposed policy does this.”

Balancing the ideas of affordability and sustainability was a key part of the design for Nick Goldsmith as well.

Goldsmith, the Sustainability Coordinator for both the City and Town of Ithaca, is one of the main collaborators on the Energy Code Supplement project. He said that while it was an important goal of the team to make sure that the new code did not make buildings drastically more expensive to build, affordability and sustainability are not always at odds.

“There is a big misconception that building green is drastically more expensive to developers,” he said. “This is not always the case, and one of our goals with this Energy Code Supplement was to figure out a way to make energy efficient construction affordable.”

In fact, despite the reluctance of some insurance firms to back green buildings, as exemplified by this 2005 report from Zurich Insurance, Goldsmith said that building to reduce carbon emissions will reduce construction costs in the long run as well. There is one caveat however, which he says must be factored in.

“Energy use cannot be an afterthought,” he insisted. “The potential carbon footprint has to be a part of the developer’s design plans from the very beginning.”

Thompson and his team made sustainability a priority in the beginning of their design, which led to a building that was affordable, innovative, and ecologically friendly. (Photo by Noah Barnes/Ithaca Week)

This is something that Thompson, whose office building would have gained 10 points under the “easy path” section of the code, would agree with.

“I think it’s a very reasonable approach to take,” he said about developers who invest money from the beginning into more energy saving design. “You’re going to be making payments anyway, so might as well essentially pay them to yourself.”

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