What is RAPIDGREEN?
The RapidRealty Green Team, led by our Chief Sustainability Officer Stephanie Barry, is a collaboration between RapidRealty and a carefully selected array of eco-consultants and service providers.
Our goal is to help landlords, developers, and homeowners save money and protect the environment by connecting them with the very best in green energy, waste reduction/recycling, and sustainable and resilient building services. We know that a lot of people want to go green with their new or existing properties, but don't know where to start. We're using our real estate expertise to make it easier and more affordable than ever to follow best practices and build green.
RapidGreen is also working hard to reduce RapidRealty's carbon footprint in a multitude of ways, such as by planting gardens and eliminating paper waste.
I'd like to take part in a planting or community beautification project. How can I get involved?
The RapidRealty Green Team is always looking for an extra pair of hands, and we're always looking for new projects, too! Some of our previous outings have included planting gardens to improve city blocks, cleaning up public parks, and taking part in the coastal reforestation effort to protect the Rockaways from the kind of damage suffered during Hurricane Sandy.
Whether you're an individual looking to get involved or a business or other group interested in teaming up to tackle a green project, send an email to RapidGreen@RapidNYC.com to learn about upcoming opportunities.
What are "sustainability" and "resilience" in real estate?
Sustainability in real estate means reducing a building's environmental impact by eliminating unnecessary waste, minimizing harmful emissions, and utilizing renewable resources . Examples of sustainable building include using recycled materials in construction, double- or triple-pane windows that cut down on heating and cooling needs, and using renewable energy sources like solar power or biodiesel.
Resilience means building to last. Using sustainable materials in building a structure doesn't help the environment nearly as much if you have to build it twice, or if it gets torn down after just a few years. Resilient buildings incorporate sturdy materials and smart design choices to reduce the need for maintenance and ensure they can withstand natural disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes, so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
An example of a building choice that is both sustainable and resilient is bamboo flooring. Bamboo grows up to 15 times faster than other trees used for traditional hardwood flooring, making it a much more sustainable material. Bamboo is also denser, which makes it more resistant to damage, so it lasts longer and requires less maintenance than standard hardwood floors, which makes it a resilient option, as well.
How do buildings affect natural resources and climate change?
Buildings have an enormous impact on the environment. For instance, the construction of new buildings alters the natural terrain, consumes natural resources, and releases pollutants into the soil, water, and air.
Heating, cooling, and powering buildings consumes massive amounts of energy, which is primarily derived from burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. This releases greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide into the environment. In fact, the basic operation of buildings accounts for over 38% of America's total carbon dioxide emissions.
Buildings also consume vast amounts of water, while altering the way that water interacts with the environment. Buildings and roads replace natural, porous surfaces with impermeable surfaces like pavement. This prevents rainwater from being absorbed into the ground normally, causing it to instead become runoff, which accumulates pollutants that damage the surrounding ecosystem and can cause flooding.
When buildings are clustered together, as they are in cities, the high concentration of paved and non-reflective surfaces leads to what's called the heat island effect, which is when cities experience higher temperatures than less developed areas. Higher temperatures pose health risks and lead to greater cooling needs, which in turn require more energy, which means the release of even more greenhouse gasses.
These are only a few of the ways that buildings negatively impact their environment that can be reduced or eliminated entirely through green building practices.
What makes a building "green"?
Any building, from a single-story home to a skyscraper, has an enormous effect on the environment and the health of the people who live and/or work there. A green building is a structure that is designed to be sustainable and resilient in order to minimize its environmental impact throughout its entire life cycle, from its construction, to its daily use, to its maintenance, renovation, and eventual deconstruction. Sustainable site development, the use of renewable materials, water and energy efficiency, and indoor environmental quality all contribute to making a building green.
The global standard for green building is LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. This independent, third-party system can certify that any type of building was designed for maximum human and environmental health.
LEED uses different ratings systems for different kinds of structures, but all buildings must satisfy certain requirements to obtain basic LEED certification. Buildings that take additional steps to minimize their environmental impact can obtain silver, gold, or platinum ratings, indicating the extent of their additional green features, which can range from optimizing water usage to improving access to natural light.
Even if a building was not originally designed to be eco-friendly when it was built, it's never too late to go green. No matter how old your building is, there are ways to retrofit it to make it more energy efficient, cut down on heating and cooling costs, and reduce its environmental impact.
What are the benefits of green building?
Green buildings benefit both the environment and their owners/occupants in a wide variety of ways. Here are just a few:
- They use energy, water, and other resources efficiently, which lowers operating costs.
- They produce fewer pollutants, which protects the health and improves the productivity of their occupants.
- They require less frequent maintenance, which saves money and reduces unnecessary stress.
- They provide a more comfortable environment by eliminating draftiness and hot spots caused by inefficient insulation.
What is an energy retrofit?
No matter how old your building might be, it's never too late to make it greener. Even a building that was not constructed with any kind of environmental protection in mind can become green and even get LEED certified by making the right renovations and/or changes in equipment. Retrofitting a building can mean substantial savings on utility bills, as well as a greatly improved quality of life for its occupants.
A simple energy retrofit could be swapping out your building's lighting system for one that requires less power. A more complex, or "deep" energy retrofit would look at every possible area of improvement, such as filling wall cavities with resilient insulation that is designed for maximum effectiveness and lifespan.
One of the hallmarks of an energy retrofit is "sealing the envelope," which refers to the barrier between the interior and exterior of a building. If there's a spot in your building that's always drafty, it's a sign that the envelope is not properly sealed, which means you're wasting energy on heating and exposing yourself or your tenants to unnecessary health hazards. Sealing the envelope is one of the most crucial ways to make your building more energy efficient, save money on heating and cooling, and make it a more comfortable place to live and work.
Are green buildings more expensive to construct and operate?
A lot of people are reluctant to go green because they think it will cost a fortune. The truth is, whether you're building a new structure or renovating an existing one, building green generally costs only a few percentage points more or the same as conventional construction. And that initial investment can lead to serious long-term savings.
Think about it:
- Green buildings require less heating and cooling, which can reduce your monthly utility bill by 20-50%.
- They require less maintenance, saving on repair, replacements, and labor costs.
- There are numerous state and federal tax credits and rebates available for making green improvements or owning a green property, which puts more money in your pocket at tax time.
- And there are tons of financing options available at the national, state, and local level for green construction and green improvements that offer better interest rates than standard loans and let you keep more cash on hand.
- Planning to rent out the property? Green properties command higher rents and attract tenants faster.
- Planning to sell? Making green improvements substantially raises your resale value.
Our RapidGreen Affiliates can help you find and apply for the best tax incentives and financing for your particular building.
Here's an example of how going green can save you money:
Say you're a New York homeowner using oil heating, and you want to make the switch from traditional petroleum to more sustainable, cleaner-burning biodiesel. The vast majority of oil heating systems are already compatible with biodiesel, so there's no expensive equipment to buy. Biodiesel can cost 3-4 cents more per gallon, but New York offers a tax rebate for using biodiesel of up to 20 cents per gallon (many states have similar programs), so now you're already saving money. And because biodiesel burns much cleaner than petroleum, your heating system doesn't get clogged and break down like it used to, which means you're not paying for all that costly maintenance.
I want to make my property greener, but I'm not sure what it needs. How do I get started?
The first thing to do is to contact RapidGreen@RapidNYC.com. We'll help you schedule an assessment of your property with an accredited and certified technician. They will go over your property from top to bottom and put together a report to give you a complete picture of your current energy efficiency.
Among the top things your technician will look for:
- Heating efficiency
- Cooling/central air efficiency
- Water system efficiency
- Wall and ceiling insulation
- The seals around all windows, doors, and vents
- Gaps or leaks in any ductwork
- Indoor air quality
- Carbon monoxide levels
- Moisture levels
Once you see where you're losing energy or experiencing issues that could even be affecting your health, they'll give you recommendations to help you put together a plan for getting the biggest gains in energy efficiency and air quality for your money.
What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy is power that comes from sources that are constantly replenished. Using renewable energy sources lowers our dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels, slows the production of smog and greenhouse gasses, and reduces the release of toxins into our air, water, and soil.
Most renewable energy comes either directly or indirectly from the sun. Sunlight, or solar energy, is perhaps the best known form of renewable energy. Solar energy can be used directly for heating and lighting buildings, for generating electricity, for hot water heating, solar cooling, and a wide range of commercial and industrial uses.
Solar panels can make an individual home or structure energy-independent, or at least drastically reduce its dependence on energy from the grid. For instance, solar arrays placed on top of a parking garage could power the lights, toll kiosks, etc., while also creating valuable shade for cars.
Other forms of renewable energy include wind power, hydropower, geothermal (using the earth's heat), and fuels made from organic material, such as biodiesel. While not every form of renewable energy is currently available for individual use in every area, their popularity is steadily growing. You can support renewable energy in your area by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which ensure that the electricity you use is generated by renewable sources.
What are Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)?
In a perfect world, every building would be totally self-sufficient for its energy needs. Unfortunately, it's still a bit impractical for every building to have its own solar array or wind turbine. But thanks to Renewable Energy Certificates (also called Renewable Energy Credits or Green Tags), individuals and organizations can still make sure their energy comes from renewable sources with no special equipment required.
Here's how RECs work:
There are two kinds of energy providers: traditional fossil fuel-burning power plants and renewable energy facilities (e.g., wind farms or solar arrays). They both generate electricity, and the electricity from both sources goes into the grid. You pull electricity from the grid to power your building. Normally, you don't have any way of deciding which electricity to use, so you just pay your money to the big standard power company.
But for every unit of electricity they create, renewable energy facilities also generate one REC, which acts as a tracker for their electricity. By purchasing their RECs, you can still get your electricity through the grid like normal, but now you can proudly say that your money went to fund the creation of electricity through renewable energy.
RapidGreen can help you make the switch from paying a fossil fuel-burning energy provider to a renewable energy provider. You still get your utility bill from the same supplier (e.g., Con Ed), but you can choose to have your money go toward the creation of energy through clean, renewable sources. And since renewable energy facilities get a premium for selling their RECs, your purchase directly supports renewable energy providers, helping them to become the new standard for energy production.
What are cool roofs (A.K.A. white roofs)?
If you've ever been up on the roof of a city building on a sunny summer day, you know that they can heat up like an oven. That's because a lot of buildings have black roofs, which trap heat, just like black clothing.
Most cities are packed with buildings that have non-reflective roofs , as well as paved roads and sidewalks, which heat up in much the same way). This produces what's called the heat island effect. This is the phenomenon that accounts for the temperature in cities being significantly higher than in rural environments with more shading and natural surfaces. Higher temperatures lead to increased energy consumption from air conditioning, which then releases more pollutants into the environment.
Cool roofs are made from materials that have been painted with a solar-reflective coating that allows them to bounce back the majority of the sun's rays so they don't overheat. The most popular form of cool roof is the white roof, but these reflective coatings come in a variety of colors and materials even black! As you might imagine, though, the lighter the color, the more it reflects.
The difference between traditional black roofs and white roofs is amazing. Black roofs reflect around 20% of sunlight, while white roofs reflect 90%. On a hot day, that's the difference between your roof heating up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit vs. 100 degrees. If you're inside, that translates to an indoor temperature of 115 degrees with a black roof vs. 80 degrees with a white roof. That means you're spending a lot less on keeping yourself cool all summer long.
But the benefits go beyond your building alone. Cool roofs help to reduce the heat island effect, which means that your white roof helps your neighbors stay cool, and their white roof does the same for you.
What are garden roof and green roofs?
Garden roofs and green roofs both refer to rooftop vegetation, which helps to improve air quality, lower temperatures, assist in stormwater management, and provide shelter for animals and insects in an urban setting.
When it rains, water picks up pollutants as it runs through the streets of an urban environment. These pollutants wash into the oceans and rivers, and can clog sewers and storm drains, leading to flooding. Rooftop vegetation helps to prevent some of this harmful runoff by collecting rainfall and using it to nourish plant life, instead of letting it all run into the sewer system.
Garden roofs are, well, roofs with gardens. Whether planted for food or for aesthetic purposes, these gardens generally only over a portion of a roof (a garden that covered an entire roof would be too heavy for most roofs). Rooftop gardens provide some shading and insulation for a building and make an attractive addition to any building's living space. Although they don't offer the same level of environmental benefits as green roofs, rooftop gardens do not require professional installation, which makes them a wonderful DIY project for anyone looking to make their building a little greener.
Green roofs, however, need to be installed by a professional to avoid damaging the building's structural integrity. Green roofs, also called "living roofs," consist of a layer of self-renewing vegetation and a lighter-than-soil growing medium planted over a waterproof membrane. They cover the entire roof (or at least a large portion), and are specifically designed to provide the maximum environmental benefit while being as light as possible.
Because of their larger size and more sophisticated design, green roofs provide larger environmental benefits than garden roofs. They host more oxygen-producing plant life and do more to attenuate stormwater runoff and help to curb rising urban temperatures. Green roofs also provide greater direct benefits to their buildings. They act as natural insulation to keep buildings warmer in the winter, and like a white roof, protect against heat build-up in the summer, so they reduce your heating and cooling costs. Plus, the waterproof membrane actually protects your roof from damage, so roofing materials last longer before needing to be replaced.
What are deconstruction and reuse?
Deconstruction is an environmentally friendly alternative to demolition. Instead of reducing a building to rubble that just piles up in local landfills, trained crews carefully take apart a building piece by piece in order to salvage as many of the reusable materials and architectural elements as possible. The most commonly salvaged materials include doors, windows, cabinets, lighting and plumbing fixtures, lumber, roofing materials, and flooring.
The salvaged materials are then made available for sale and distribution to the public at reuse centers. This is a wonderful way to preserve and breathe new life into classic and vintage architectural touches, even after their original building is no longer useable. Larger pieces of salvaged lumber are resurfaced, if needed, and incorporated into new and remodeled properties, while smaller pieces may be used as raw materials by furniture or flooring manufacturers.
Not only does deconstruction help the environment by reducing waste and the need for new resources, it is a way to preserve an area's architectural history. And it is also cost-effective deconstructing a building instead of demolishing it can provide a tax write-off of thousands of dollars.
If you have a property that's ready for demolition or even just remodeling, contact RapidGreen@RapidNYC.com to make the switch to deconstruction today.
What is sustainable landscaping?
We all know that landscaping can make a property more beautiful and more functional, but traditional landscaping methods and materials can disrupt local ecosystems and release dangerous toxins into the water, soil, and air. Sustainable landscaping are practices that not only avoid damaging the environment, but can actually be a powerful way to protect it, all while offering the same aesthetic and functional benefits or even better.
Sustainable landscaping is a fascinating and quickly-growing field. Practices range from resource conservation - like gardening techniques designed to minimize the water needed to maintain a property, or using recycled rubber and glass to make paving stones to utilizing natural resources to benefit entire communities, such as be planting (or restoring) wetlands that filter toxins out of nearby bodies of water, or planting trees designed to shield an area from wind to reduce residents' heating needs.
One of the biggest examples of sustainable landscaping is coastal reforestation, the practice of planting specifically-chosen trees along the shore to protect beachfront communities like the Rockaways from the powerful wind and waves produced by a storm like Hurricane Sandy. These trees provide a potent line of defense, thrive in a coastal environment so they need little maintenance, and they add a beautiful aesthetic element to the community.
I think there may be a lead or asbestos problem in my building. What do I do?
Although lead-based paint has been banned from household use since 1978, it can still be found in some older buildings. Lead can also be found in many household items, particularly older or antique pieces, including ceramics dishes, parquet or ceramic tiled floors, jewelry, and children's toys. Properties with old lead water lines can have lead contamination in their water supply, as well.
In addition, lead is naturally occurring in soil, with some areas having high concentrations. Lead can also get into soil through flaking paint on the exterior of buildings, exposure to leaded gasoline, or industrial sources. Lead in soil can be ingested by children playing outside, or even found in vegetables grown in contaminated soil.
Asbestos may be found in insulation containing vermiculite, vinyl floor tiles, shingles and other roofing materials, and anywhere you might find heat-resistant material, such as around hot water or steam pipes or near oil or coal furnaces.
Both lead and asbestos can be extremely hazardous to your health and the health of anyone else in your building, particularly if they are disturbed by renovations, which can release lead or asbestos dust into the air.
If you think there may be lead contamination or asbestos in your building or surrounding property, the RapidRealty Green Team can help you set up an appointment with a certified inspector who can test for the presence of these materials without damaging your building or belongings. If lead or asbestos are detected, the inspector can help you figure out how to go about removing and disposing of it safely, legally, and effectively.
If hazardous levels of lead or other contaminants are present in the soil or groundwater, the process of environmental remediation (A.K.A. environmental cleanup) can restore the health of the property through a growing range of techniques and technologies.
Contact RapidGreen@RapidNYC.com to schedule a lead or asbestos test for your property today.
What is E-Waste recycling?
We all love our gadgets, gizmos, devices, and doodads, but the downside is that Americans throw away an estimated 400 million pieces of electronic equipment every year. A lot of these devices contain toxins like lead, mercury, and cadmium, and when they sit in landfills, these harmful elements can seep into the water and soil. Electronic waste recycling protects the environment by diverting huge amounts of waste from landfills and allowing the useful pieces of even broken electronics to be repurposed in new devices, which reduces the need to produce new materials.
Many states have E-waste recycling laws on the books already. In New York, it will be illegal for individuals or businesses to dispose of electronics in the trash beginning in 2015. If you have broken or unwanted electronics (e.g., TVs, computers, cell phones, mobile devices) and you want to find out how you can easily recycle them, contact RapidGreen@RapidNYC.com.
What is textile recycling?
Between clothing, bedding, linens, handbags, and other textile goods, nearly 200,000 tons of textiles are discarded annually in New York City alone. Textile recycling is a tax-deductible way to keep all that cloth out of the landfill. Collected textiles are sorted by condition and type of fabric. Usable goods are sold or donated, and scrap material gets a new purpose by being turned into wiping rags, insulation, and even the fiber for car door panels.
Got clothes you don't wear anymore? Blankets that are getting a little threadbare? Decorative tapestry from a trip to Cabo you don't remember taking? Contact RapidGreen@RapidNYC.com to learn how you can easily recycle your unwanted textiles.