In Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, you can use the white brick smokestack of the Supply Laundry Building as a landmark to help find your way among boxy new condominiums and low glass office buildings. The Space Needle is the western point of this local compass, and the smokestack is the east.
In the future, the Supply Laundry Building may also mark a new kind of path toward more energy efficient buildings. In early November, the city agreed to allow the building’s owner, Vulcan Real Estate, to renovate the building without adhering to the usual municipal energy code requirements.
Instead, the rehabbed building will have to meet an overall target: use 50 percent less energy than the national average for a building of its size and type of use.
The project will be the first major test of renovation under an outcome-based energy code, a concept that “turns the regulatory framework a little bit upside-down,” as Liz Dunn puts it.
Dunn is the director of the Preservation Green Lab, a Seattle-based think tank run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. With technical help from the New Buildings Institute, the Lab has been developing the outcome-based code concept over the last several years.
Standard municipal energy codes are highly prescriptive, essentially presenting developers with a checklist: windows with a certain U-factor, interior insulation with a certain R-value. “For existing buildings, for older and historic buildings, the prescriptive energy code is just a really poor fit,” Dunn says.
For example, the western façade of the Supply Laundry Building has its original early-20th-century wood window frames. Such frames are often too thin to accommodate double panes, and have to be replaced in order to bring a building up to code.
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