By Bruce Naegel February 2019

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

First Community Housing (FCH) uses the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC)  LEED green building rating system. LEED  provides an independent standard and third-party review of sustainability measures in a project. It  is the most used and recognized rating system in the U.S. and beyond. Successful projects are certified by the USGBC. The highest level of certification is LEED-Platinum.

LEED Levels and Criteria

LEED has 4 levels of certification (Certified 45 points, Silver 60 points, Gold 75 Points and Platinum 90 Points. s. (A)  Categories include:

  • Innovation and Design
  • Location and Linkages              
  • Sustainable sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere 
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Awareness and Education

Multiple award winning, low-income housing on Gish Street

Gish Apratments, San Jose California

Gish Apartments, San Jose, California

The  AIA (national and local chapters) , the USGBC (LEED Platinum) and  NAHRO recognize  the Gish project’s excellence.This then prompted national and international interest in the project. As a result, a team from Japan came to visit Gish to learn firsthand about the project.  I was lucky enough to get a tour of this and one other building by their Sustainable Facilities Program Manager, Hamid Kaheli.

Nine Story Apartment Building on 4th Street

Fourth Street Apartment
Fourth Street Apartment, San Jose, California

Fourth Street Apartments, San Jose, California

Further, USGBC certified the Fourth Street Apartments as LEED-Platinum. It offers 100 energy-efficient apartments (one, two and three-bedrooms) on a downtown site near light rail. This multifamily housing includes a landscaped courtyard with a playground. In addition, it also has a roof terrace, and a living roof.

Like many of FCH’s projects, the roof includes three efficiency features:

PV System

There are two solar arrays installed on the building.

One of two Solar Arrays

Cool Roof

The white TPO roof is highly reflective. It  diverts heat before it enters the building , reducing cooling energy demand.

Green Roof

A portion of the roof also includes a living roof with native plants. There were some challenges establishing the garden due to its location on the 9th floor and wind exposure. However, with some attention and persistence the plants are now thriving. In addition to keeping the building cooler, the bushes also attract birds, butterflies, and bees.

Part of the Cool Roof and the rooftop garden

How to afford LEED-Platinum

How can FCH afford to build to LEED-Platinum standards? To begin with, FCH focuses on TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). So, they look at costs over the life of the project.Second, the company also takes advantage of available incentive programs. These programs provide operational savings for affordable housing projects. For example:

Solar Hot Water Heating Systems

Hamid is especially excited about solar water heating upgrades. These systems reduce fuel costs significantly. In addition, the upgrades are available at no installation cost via a utility based CSI (California Solar Initiative) program. This upgrade can either act as primary hot water supplier or as a storage device for hot water. Hamid can provide references for this upgrade. Heating efficiency is part of LEED-Platinum

Click the link to the video to see how it works. (C)

Landscape Improvements

Santa Clara Valley Water District provided an incentive program for existing properties. These incentives work to replace lawns and traditional water-intensive landscaping. Instead, the property plants  drought  tolerant alternatives and smart, sensor-driven irrigation. Reducing the irrigation related water demand means  FCH saves money on their monthly water bill. Saving water on an ongoing basis helps maintain the building’s LEED-Platinum status.

EV Charging Station Installations

PG&E has a mandate to install 7500 Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations across the state. They have two programs. One  supports disadvantaged communities (DACs)_ DACs are communities with environmental challenges such as:

  • Higher than average air pollution,
  • Water pollution,
  • Low birth weight,
  • Higher incidence of disease.

FCH EV Status

Six FCH properties are accepted into this program. The preliminary design phase is complete, and final design is underway.  Ten(10) charging stations will then be installed at each of the six properties. This is with no upfront cost to the properties.   EV support contributes to LEED-Platinum. 

The state uses Cap and Trade funds to help the people living in DACs.  One use is funding  Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations. Both siting and equipment costs are covered.

Solar PV

FCH currently has twelve properties with installed PV systems. More properties are in the process of installing new systems. Solar energy is a cleaner, renewable source of energy.  This lowers carbon footprint, saves money, and helps FCH with LEED-Platinum certification.

FCH also takes advantage of programs like LWIP, PG&E’s Energy Saving Assistance Program, and WaterLink.

Keeping a building tuned up

Facilities Managers will tell you how important it is to keep a building up. If a building is not properly maintained, its efficiency goes down. Hamid indicates he improved energy and water usage at a building by over 27% just by tuning up existing systems.  

Reporting to stay on track

Hamid developed a maintenance program customized for each of FCH’s properties. Building management at each property follows the established maintenance protocol. Each month they  submit a monthly report to Hamid for review. These reports create a history of the maintenance services and repairs for each project. In addition,  the required constant monitoring of the HVAC and other energy systems ensures potential problems can be identified in a timely manner and addressed.

In addition, the PV system has a monitoring system that management and tenants can see to inform them of how the PV system is performing in real-time. Hamid can see it remotely as well.

Screen monitoring solar elecricity output

This is one of the screens monitoring the performance of the PV system. It is located in the building lobby.

Getting Tenants Involved

Making a building more sustainable benefits the people who live in it. There are property owners who feel that minimum tenant interaction is the best  tenant strategy. However, Hamid takes the opposite approach. He fosters cooperation with the tenants. These  tenants can take advantage of programs such as ESAP (Energy Savings Assistance Program) for upgrades in their individual units.

Training for best results

Any building needs skilled people to maintain it, especially if it includes newer technology.  Professional videographers produce videos about the basic components of each FCH building and its systems. These videos are kept at the property. So, when staff changes, the information is readily accessible for the next building engineer.  Hamid spends a lot of time training the building engineers maintain the properties and use the reporting protocol, as well as identify and solve issues that may arise.

Conclusion – Sustainability Needs Everyone’s Cooperation

Hamid says everyone at FCH believes in the mission to build better, healthier, and environmentally responsive buildings. So. , they can achieve the high standards they have. They understand that it is not enough to build sustainably. Buildings must be maintained with the same goals in mind.

Photos of the 2 apartment buildings via permissio from Hamid Kaheli of First Community Housing. All othr photos from Bruce Naegel.