William “Ez” Housh III was working toward obtaining his U.S. Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional certification a few years ago when he came to the realization the Midwestern green building movement was severely lacking in one area - a working, breathing demonstration of green building technology.
As president of Monroe Mechanical, a 54-year-old, family-owned mechanical design and HVAC company, Housh has never been one to shy away from innovation. And the more he thought about it, he decided Monroe Mechanical was the right company - and Cincinnati was the right city - for what would evolve into GreenSource Cincinnati, a working building that features cutting-edge green technologies.
Monroe has been at the forefront of applying the most energy-efficient mechanical systems since its inception in 1954. Monroe was installing radiant heating systems in the 1950s, solar systems in the ’70s, and in the ’80s and ’90s was a pioneer in the application of geothermal technology in residential and commercial buildings (more than 700 geothermal units installed since 1988).
“Our goal is to become the Midwest resource for the sustainable building community,” says Will Housh IV, Monroe’s chief operations officer. “It’s so important that people are able to see, touch and understand these products for real-world applications.”
While GreenSource was initially going to be a mixed-use building, as Monroe approached its business partners and shared its vision, the building evolved into an educational resource and meeting center. Cutting to the essence of the green building movement, the Houshes sought to reuse a building in downtown Cincinnati.
The firm identified a 110-year-old, 9,500- square-foot building in downtown as an ideal site. The building, reportedly built in 1875 as the mayor of Cincinnati’s home, had been vacant for two years.
Planning For The FutureThe entire renovation was designed as an open-sourced job, “so that there’s not a single product installed, but many, so that if a better product comes along it can be integrated into the project,” Housh III explains.
The design of the building evolved as different sustainability-oriented companies became interested.
“The building became more of a live trade show,” Housh III notes. “Some equipment manufacturers were great about donating equipment to get it into the building and on display. That really helped us to keep different types of systems in the building and keep things affordable. However, it also created many last-minute changes as we implemented new products.”
Displaying the different technologies while keeping the systems flexible and not exceeding the fixed budget was quite challenging, says Shawn Jacobs of SJ Engineering, whose firm, along with Gerald Noe Jr., of Architects LLC, helped in the project’s architecture and design aspects.
Extensive work on the structure was necessary because it had been vacant for two years and the last major MEP improvements occurred during the 1960s.
“We could accomplish a large part of that by using green mechanical systems,” Housh IV says.
Noe and Jacobs worked with Monroe to make sure all necessary LEED points were achieved while keeping the original 1800s architectural features intact and staying within the owner’s budget. The main criteria needed to make the building LEED Gold-certified were accommodated.
Making sure the building was flexible enough to allow for the introduction of future projects was one of the most important considerations when planning the project, Jacobs says.
“As a result, we have a mixture of chilled water at various temperatures, heating water at various temperatures, split DX and variable refrigerant and energy recovery systems,” Jacobs says. “There was also a water-source heat pump in the design for a time. We have a wide variety of plumbing and building systems.
“It wasn’t a big project and it wasn’t time-consuming, but it was more challenging from the aspect of building it so you could add on later and not have problems.”
Piping AlternativeAquatherm’s polypropylene-random (PP-R) piping systems were installed in the building. About 400 linear feet of Aquatherm Climatherm, designed specifically for HVAC applications, was used for the building’s four heating lines (two for supply and two for return). They run off two Lochinvar Silent Knight boilers located in the second-floor mechanical room and two Slant/Fin baseboard heaters at the front of the building.
The boilers were integrated with the PEX radiant floor system used under concrete flooring in the hospitality room. A Daikin AC air-to-air variable heat pump system was also employed on the project but was not integrated.
In keeping with the reuse theme, much of the original copper domestic hot water supply and return piping was retained since it was intact, but Monroe used Aquatherm Greenpipe (designed for potable water systems) for all the domestic cold water supply and return lines. The lines supply Kohler fixtures, which were installed throughout the building.
A third PP-R piping option, Aquatherm Lilac, which is designed for reclaimed/recycled water applications, was used. Lilac (named and colored in order to differentiate it from potable water piping) was run from the basement mechanical room to the second- and third-floor toilets (two toilets to a branch) and to and from the graywater recycling system, which feeds the building’s five water closets and the sanitary drain. Lilac was also used for the drain line of the building’s backflow system. Finally, an AcornVac Vacuum Plumbing and Drainage System and a Brac graywater reclamation system (for rainwater) were also deployed.
“The graywater is important, but probably all of it working together is what makes something like this functional,” says Jacobs, who estimates the project will result in a 50% savings in the use of potable water. “It’s not just one thing. You have several different things coming together and working together.”
Jacobs emphasizes the use of the low-flow plumbing fixtures plays directly into the harmonization of different applications in the project.
“They definitely have their place,” he says. “If we didn’t have low-flow fixtures, it wouldn’t matter how much graywater we caught, we’d still be behind.”
Jacobs notes the building’s graywater system is believed to be the first one approved in the city of Cincinnati.
“With the overall design, the goal was to use as little city water as possible,” Jacobs says.
The green theme also ended up speeding up the project’s timeline. Mark Vincent, Monroe’s plumbing supervisor and a 30-year industry veteran, estimates each of the stacks running from the basement tank room to the third floor (one in the front and one in the rear of the building) took about an hour to install. Installing the same runs of copper would have taken at least two hours apiece, he notes.
On the entire job, Vincent estimates Aquatherm was installed in about half the time it would have taken for copper and there were no leaks (hundreds of fusion connections were made). Vincent adds using a fusion welding iron in a tight crawlspace installation was easier than using a welding torch.
The entire mechanical system has been instrumental in the building owners applying for LEED Gold status.
“In the near future our energy savings will be displayed on monitors throughout the building down to the individual circuit level,” notes Housh IV.
On The Cutting EdgeThe building also boasts a biomass heater (Abundant Energy Works) that burns at 4,000 degrees F. The personal power plant acts like an industrial-sized pellet burner, burning anything that can be pelletized, including sawdust, trash and paper, and it is hooked into the heating and domestic hot water system and a 15kW generator. It burns so completely that it exhausts only water vapor.
Monroe built a chute that runs from the garage to the burner in order to easily feed skids of pelletized biomass into the unit and expects to be able to power the building and even sell electricity back to the grid at times.
Additionally, a thermal solar storage system is in place - a Rheem solar thermal hot water heating system located on the third-floor roof that is connected to an insulated water storage tank in the basement. PEDCO, a Cincinnati engineering and architecture design firm, provided a chilled beam display and a simulated geothermal system.
The Only Game In TownAsked about skeptics of all things green, Housh III says he doesn’t pay attention to such talk.
“We’ve always made our projects energy-efficient and now that’s the only game in town,” Housh III says. “Energy savings and upgrades and making things more efficient is what it’s all about.”
While Monroe has invested more than $1.5 million in the project, Housh IV says the actual investment is a moving target.
“The partners have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we don’t have financial partners, we have product partners,” Housh IV notes. “They saw it as an opportunity to get the product in front of people and we helped them achieve that.”
Entities such as the U.S. Green Building Council have held meetings at GreenSource, while a number of groups and individuals have toured it.
“The feedback we’ve been getting is that GreenSource Cincinnati is truly one of a kind in the U.S.” Housh IV adds. “Cincinnati has become the epicenter of green in the Midwest as the result of ours and other business leaders’ efforts.”