Blog: Peggy Brennan

Creating green, sustainable communities in Detroit will take more than just fuzzy, eco-friendly sentiments. For Peggy Brennan, co-owner of the soon-to-open Green Garage, a Detroit-based business incubator for conservation-minded businesses, it's mission critical. We bring back Peggy's blog on net zero energy design, why LEED certified isn't enough, and how Detroit is ready to go green.

Post 3: The Green Garage's Deep Dig into Sustainability

We have just begun the remodeling of our building after nine months of design work, followed by three months of gathering our learning into comprehensible plans. We are doing both a historic and green renovation - historic because the building is on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, and green because this is the great work we intend to do.
Many people have asked us whether we are seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, and we tend to surprise them by saying that our goal is not to seek certifications, but to simply do what is right for this place at this time. LEED certification is fine as far as it goes, but it falls short of our definition of sustainability. Achieving certification via a point system has its flaws. According to LEED standards, you can build an 8,000-square-foot energy-efficient home for two people and still be certified. For us, that is not sustainable.

Another significant flaw in the system is a failure to follow the operations of the building year after year to see if the energy goals are being met, or if the building's occupants are developing more sustainable habits.
We tell people, then, that we are going beyond LEED. We're learning about THIS building, THIS site, THIS Detroit environment, and shaping our design accordingly. We are looking for the most sustainable answer that makes sense. And, for us, how the building functions and how the people use it will be equally important. We're digging deep. Let me give you one example.

Our goal has been to make this building a net zero energy building, meaning that we have to produce as much energy as we consume. Instead of going directly to solar panels and wind turbines to add capacity, we first looked at reducing the energy need by utilizing passive design elements. We studied our daylight opportunities. We developed a wind rose to show air flow around the building. We looked at where the water was flowing, and in which direction. We designed a Super Insulated Building Envelope that will make our walls 18 inches thick. Our window design will provide 80% of the interior lighting with natural daylight. By using passive design elements, we found, using energy modeling techniques, that we could reduce the heating load for the building by 90%. For the remaining 10%, we're using solar panels to heat water that will be pumped beneath our floor. As a final resort, we are installing a geothermal system that will activate only in off-peak times (evenings), because we don't want to be part of a plan that causes another power plant to be built. All of this has been integrated to flow together.

Building design was part of the work, but we spent a substantial amount of time developing a transportation plan, looking at food management, examining how water would be used, and countless other areas of functionality. So perhaps we could become LEED certified. Maybe we will. But right now we're doing the work we need to do, and for now, that's enough.