Environmentally-Friendly Property Management

Michael Gubbins of the Solaire in Manhattan talks about what going green means.

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AP: What’s you background? And how did you get to manage the country’s first “green” apartment high-rise, the Solaire?

Michael: My background is mechanical engineering. In property management, I have managed different types of buildings, such as commercial properties and recording studios. In 2000, I opened my first residential building for the Albanese Development Corporation in Manhattan. At the same time, I started working on The Solaire. Construction began in 2001 and the building opened in 2003. Throughout that time I had some input. This was a great advantage to me as a manager, it’s a sophisticated green building and has many technical advances.

AP: How is managing a green building different from managing a traditional project?

Michael: Our project requires a lot of technical and mechanical skills, not just administrative. You have to understand the different processes in the building. For instance, our cooling plant is a four-pipe, fan coil system, with gas absorbers. We have a central air conditioning system that brings clean air into all the apartments. In a traditional building, the make up air comes in from the outside through curtain walls or from the door. Here at The Solaire we take outside fresh air, temper it, humidify and dehumidify it for summer or winter use. We supply air into the apartments through this four-pipe mechanical system that then exhausts it.
One of the major components getting this building started was commissioning. In a typical building, you check everything to make sure it’s running, but in commissioning you undergo a detailed functional and training process. And each piece of equipment is checked to make sure it’s running to design and spec standards.

AP: What kind of staff training is required?

Michael: The staff I brought in here is very unique. Some have worked in buildings before, others are new to the industry and wanted to build their careers. Some of the people I’m staffing want to be future building managers, so education is very important. We have 14 people, all of whom understand how the building its different systems operate. They learn how one system not functioning may affect the air quality in the building, or the residents’ comfort level. Our Building Management System monitors the entire building. Its sensors give us information on temperature, water flow, humidity, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Our front desk concierge staff monitors that system; it’s critical that they know the system and how it functions.

AP: What is the residents’ favorite green feature?

Michael: The internal air quality in apartments. A few days after I opened the building, I checked in on one of our families. They told me they slept for the first time in 2 1/2 years. Their 2 1/2 year old had asthma, and none of them slept at night until they moved into the Solaire. They attributed their first night’s sleep to the building’s air quality.

We take the outside air and filter it at 95%. In addition, every apartment has a Merv 12 filter, which is approved by the American Lung Foundation. Plus in all of our apartments and in all the bathrooms we have exhaust, so we have more transfer of air throughout the apartment than you would have in a typical building. So people are more awake and brighter, and there’s much less dust.

Energy savings are another popular green feature of the building. Because of the 4-pipe fan coil system and the energy efficient system, tenants’ energy bills are lower. For example someone living in a competitive building, in a 2-bedroom apartment, typically pays $200 for electricity per month. In our building that bill is $100.

Our residents enjoy the overall quality of life in the building. We used low-VOC products, paints and other materials without toxins; there are no foul odors from construction adhesives and other materials. When one of our staff goes to service an apartment, they wear slip shoes like surgical shoes, so they don’t track anything in from the outside. It’s just general good practices and service.

AP: Talk about the green roof.

Michael: The vegetative roof is a big draw. The benefits to the building are numerous; we use it to catch rainwater, which we reuse for irrigation; from a temperature point of view because of the heat in Manhattan the green helps keep the temperature down at least 10 degrees. The roof itself is a sanctuary. We have deck and lounge chairs out there so people have their dinner in the evening, or catch up on their work, or take in the sun and listen to the Hudson River. It’s a wonderful amenity, a place for people to unwind.

AP: Is it more or less expensive to manage a building in an environmentally responsible way? What are the financial benefits of green building?

Michael: For an owner, it costs more to build and manage a green building, but the benefits are that we can get more dollars per square foot. The value of our building is higher because it’s environmentally friendly and a green building. Our energy costs are much lower because of the energy efficient equipment, and because of how our equipment is set up and managed and used as needed. Because of the commissioning and the preventative maintenance, we get greater use out of our equipment, it isn’t replaced as much as a regular building’s is.

AP: What do residents have to say about the green building?

Michael: We get very good feedback from our residents, we get a lot of positive energy back from residents. We have a very
positive sense of community and very low turnover. We actually have a waiting list because of resident referrals.

Residents sign one or two year leases and all but one or two have renewed; those that didn’t it was due to them having to relocate. We have people that started out here in one-bedroom apartments and have expanded their family and moved into the two and three-bedroom apartments, which is unusual in New York.

AP: The financial benefits in running a green building are substantial. Say more about them.

Michael: Some people are under the impression that because you build green it’s cheaper to maintain your building. Well, that’s generally true. But they don’t understand the full benefits across the line. The Albanese Corporation is either converting its current buildings to green buildings or purchasing existing green buildings; it’s the only way of life we know right now. As an organization, we believe in doing this and see the benefits. We are constantly analyzing our buildings and the building data. We are grooming our future building managers and operators likewise. We are setting a new standard. We’ve taken lots of people who are interested in green building through the Solaire, and they will come up with more ideas. The more people involved, the better for everyone in the future.

AP: How much is the rent on a two-bedroom in the Solaire?

Michael: $5,000 per month, depending on the square footage. Our most expensive apartment is $7,000 for a three-bedroom around 1,500 square feet. We get up to about $60 per square foot. We get more now than when we initially rented it. We just started our next building in Battery Park City. All are required to be green. One of the things that makes us unique is that we have exceeded Battery Park City’s guidelines and green tax credit requirements. For example, we’re not required to put a Merv 12 filter in the building. We could put in a filter that costs $1, but instead we put in the $15 filter and we change them four times a year. Our organization is continually finding innovations and new ways to do things. All the water coming into the building is filtered at entry and at refrigeration, so you get double filtered water, which is better quality than bottled water. We try to improve every day. In our new operation we are going to use micro turbines to generate electricity, and then we use the heat from that to generate hot water.