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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Going green with buildings

Goldis and Ken Holdings believe this is where property development is heading.

There was a time some 20 years ago when being green was fashionable. Many felt it was just hype; like most passing fads, it would go away. It did not.

Instead, being green took on different hues. While issues like forest degradation and saving turtles continue to matter, being green has taken on a new persona. It has gone corporate.

GTower’s green rooftop. The grass is irrigated by harvested rain water. Inset: Colin Ng

In the property sector, the green movement is making its mark on buildings. Two current examples are Goldis Bhd’s GTower, a Grade A++ office building in Jalan Tun Razak, and Ken Holdings Bhd’s Ken Bangsar, a serviced apartment on commercial land. Both are commercial developments. And there are others.

GTower comprises an office and executive suites, a 180-room business hotel and a club that caters to its guests and tenants, while Ken Bangsar has over 80 units.

Going green has been an exciting challenge and adventure for Goldis head of corporate investments Colin Ng and Ken Holdings managing director Kenny Tan as it involves not only the hardware but the software as well, such as sourcing for carpets and planter boxes made with recyclable materials.

“We initially wanted to build an energy-efficient building and were advised to just ‘go green’ instead. The effect of this was the cost of glass used tripled, cost of air-conditioning system and lighting went up by a third each,” says Ng.

Says Tan: “A green building always has higher value. This is the trend moving forward for property developers. Caring for the earth is a social responsibility of all parties.”

There are five pillars to satisfy in order to get the coveted Green Mark award. Audits are done every two years. The pillars are:

Energy efficiency

This includes air-conditioning, heating and lighting. Air-conditioning takes up as much as 45% of commercial energy consumption. That part of the building which bears the greater heat from the sun will have more concrete and less glass.

Incidentally, GTower is among the first to use double glaze which traps layers of air in between. This helps reduce noise pollution and heat.

Generally, buildings relying more on natural lighting will use more glass. This means there will be greater usage of air-conditioning. To solve this, GTower advocated the use of an energy-efficient air-conditioning system which includes a chiller plant system.

GTower will also have motion sensors in toilets and staircases. Lights will automatically switch on when sensors are activated by movements in these areas.

Lobby and car parks will have photo sensors. Escalators and lifts will have dual mode systems in which escalators will operate on a slower speed when not in use. For parts of the building that gets direct heat from the sun, less glass is used.

Ng says some of the lighting used is about RM200 a piece compared to non-energy saving ones priced at RM30 a piece.

The company discovered that being green does not stop with the hardware. In order to get recognition from Singapore’s Green Mark scheme, carpets, timber, furniture and its fit-out had to be made from recyclable materials.

For example, its timber deck is made up of timber and 60% rice husk. Some of its planter boxes are made from timber doors recycled by a Chinese company.

The wooden strips on part of its club floor and walls come from the timber deck in Menara Tan & Tan. The buzzword, says Ng, is recycle and reuse.

To reduce heat, the top of roofs will also be landscaped and some walls – or vertical greening – like the one in the lobby, will be embellished with real plants using an irrigation grid-like system from Canada.

Over at Ken Bangsar, its key features includes the orientation and sunshade of the building, the type of paint used, the noise level and water consumption among others.

Putting his engineering knowledge to use, Ken Holdings executive director Sam Tan created an air tunnel in the building’s lobby area to ensure a continuous cool environment.

To save energy, motion sensors are used. As air conditioning makes up the bulk of energy usage in a household, Ken Bangsar used only multi-split inverters for its air conditioners to ensure 60% energy savings.

Water efficiency

Because of the country’s large amount of rainfall, GTower will harvest rain water to irrigate the landscaping and vertical greening. The idea is to reduce the use of potable water for its rooftop gardens. The company will also collect condensate water from its air-conditioning units.

Ng also claims that GTower has water-efficient fittings in toilets, shower and pantries.

Ken Bangsar is the first residential development to provide water closets (WCs) with eco-friendly and water-efficient built-in bidet seat covers. The penthouse units enjoy the luxury of the world’s most technologically advanced WC, the Toto Neorest, chalking up yet another first in the country.

Site and project management

GTower will also be linked to the light rail transit (LRT) line for the convenience of guests, and waste will be recycled. Says Ng: “Our proximity to the LRT is a green factor because we want to encourage our guests to reduce emission of carbon monoxide (CO). Our car parks will have special spaces for hybrid cars.”

Like GTower, Ken Bangsar also boasts extensive landscaping. Right from the start, a sunk cost of RM500,000 was spent building a reinforced concrete wall to cover up two unsightly reservoirs as well as landscape the entire 200 metres along Ken Bangsar.

Indoor environmental quality

Goldis has also installed a system to monitor the level of CO in basement car parks. Once it exceeds a certain level, the system will pump fresh air into the basement car parks. It will also have a system to monitor the carbon dioxide inside the building.

Innovative installations

The Green Mark scheme also looks at other environment-friendly measures such as the use of salt chlorinators in swimming pools, the presence of a recycling corner and various other cooling systems.

Ng says the cost of constructing GTower is marginally higher (15% more) than that of a non-green building. He says if the company had embarked on this project five years ago, the cost would have been lower.

Kenny says developers are initially apprehensive about constructing green buildings as the cost of construction is easily 18% to 20% higher.

Those that spearhead the movement may face challenges, like Ng, who had to source for fittings made from recycled materials from around the world, simply because Malaysia did not have them.

Nevertheless, both companies went into it despite the challenges because they believe this is where the green movement is heading.

By The Star

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