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Tuesday, Jun 6, 2023

Solar Panels, Other Green Designs Grow Popular for Buildings

From the sidewalk, the looming office building at Hollywood Way and Olive Avenue in Burbank doesn’t look too revolutionary. In fact, it looks like a lot of other stylized office buildings in the Valley. But behind the shiny facade, the 56,000-square-foot structure that houses 150 Warner Bros. International Television Distribution employees is one of the best examples in the region of so-called “green design,” a system that utilizes environmentally friendly construction materials and energy-saving devices that pay special attention to Mother Earth. Green design, an increasingly popular concept that has been utilized in dozens of projects from a new library in Sunland to a Van Nuys car wash, may be one of the Valley’s best kept secrets. All together 10 buildings in the Valley have been certified LEED by the U.S. Green Building Council, a trade group that monitors and commends eco-conscious designs. For businesses, adding green features such as water collection, solar panels and even wind turbines, or larger windows that allow more light in and better ventilation systems to bring fresh air to the workplace just makes sense, said Dr. Lance Williams, executive director of the L.A. Chapter of the U.S. Green Buildings Council. “From a business standpoint, if you occupy a building for a long time, you save a lot of money,” he said. Expenses reduced That was the motivation when Valley Car Wash installed hundreds of photovoltaic solar cells atop its roof at 7530 Van Nuys Blvd. in Van Nuys, said owner Sean Shouhed. “The reason was to save money and replace the money we were losing to pay the electricity,” he said. Other area green structures include the 13-story Encino Financial Center at 16133 Ventura Blvd., The Country School in North Hollywood and West Hills Caf & #233; in West Hills. Solar panels have gone up at Rydell Automotive Group, the Woodland Hills Whole Foods Market and Earth Island Natural Foods in Chatsworth. But the most committed company so far has been Warner Bros. Entertainment. Its environmental initiatives division is charged with creating a cohesive green policy on everything from boosting recycling awareness and reducing waste to creating and implementing a program that’s reduced energy consumption for the studio by 6.7 million kilowatt-hours every year. The studio has even installed 360 solar panels atop one of its Burbank studio buildings. In 2003, the division decided to apply all it knew about green design to an entire building: the 1980s office tower at Hollywood Way and Olive Avenue, which Warner Bros. wanted to remodel. “At the same time the U.S. Green Building Council was coming out with a new green building rating system for commercial interiors,” said Shelley Billik, vice president of environmental initiatives at Warner Bros. Entertainment. Billik set up a team and hashed out a plan, which drafted a comprehensive blueprint. “We really went through point by point,” she said. The project called for more daylight, a new ventilation system and a rooftop coating that protected against heat. Everything from drywall to ceiling tiles to flooring was composed of recycled materials, and the entire facility was designed to be served by a new ventilation system that provided cleaner air. All told, construction took about a year, wherein more than 80 percent of the old structure’s demolition materials were recycled. When it opened, reaction was almost immediate, Billik said. “The people who inhabited the building were absolutely thrilled,” she said. While a few area businesses have gone green, the eco trend hasn’t caught on here nearly as much as other areas of the country and state. Graham Owen runs GO Solar Co., a North Hollywood solar energy company, and said most of his installations are on residences and many aren’t for saving electricity; they’re for heating pools. That’s because electricity costs in Los Angeles are actually far cheaper than other areas of the state. “The solar panel and electricity market is really booming in California, but not in the San Fernando Valley area,” he said. “It hasn’t taken off.” The cost of a large solar system can start at around $20,000 installed, and without a clear cost savings businesses just aren’t motivated enough to invest in solar panels, Owen said. In fact, the one industry that has made the most commitment to green design so far has been the public sector. Cities like Burbank, Glendale, Santa Clarita and Lancaster have all adopted green policies on new buildings, installing rain collection devices and increasing recycling activities. Even in L.A., where the environment is not typically considered a pressing issue, the Los Angeles City Council in 2002 passed a motion to use econ-friendly designs for municipal buildings more than 7,500 square feet “whenever possible.” The result is that almost all new police and fire stations, transit facilities, libraries and schools built within the past few years have at least some green elements. Just last month, the Board of Airport Commissioners voted to adopt green building policies at its facilities, including those in Palmdale and Van Nuys, while the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also voted last month to require all county buildings over 10,000 square feet to meet certain green standards. Los Angeles Valley and Pierce colleges and California State University Northridge have also adopted eco-friendly design elements. Such public investment shows that the green movement is catching on and will eventually become an accepted part of building design, Williams said. “People are becoming more and more aware,” he said. Business should take notice, Billik said, especially since the benefits are so pronounced. Case in point: the Warner Bros. remodel, which received LEED certification for its interiors, made that structure 38 percent more energy efficient, saving about $75,000 annually. (The company would not release how much the renovation cost, but a similar-sized LEED overhaul today would cost around $45 million, according to the Building Council.) Additionally, officials believe the extra light and natural light has improved morale and even cut down on sick days, not to mention improving employee retention. Those pluses show the power of green design, even if the materials sometimes cost more. “If you look at your building as an investment, it’s less expensive because you have lower operating costs,” Billik said. “It’s good in terms of the economic benefit. It’s good in terms of our employees,” she said later. “There’s no reason not to do it.”

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