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Building green restaurants

What are the building blocks of a green building? Here's a breakdown of its basic components, along with some of the cutting-edge materials, technologies and practices that restaurants are putting into them.

Roofing

Like most restaurant owners, Nigel and Julia Widdowson of Bangall, New York, work hard to keep a roof over their heads. Unlike most, their roof is covered with dirt.

When they remodeled a Hudson Valley steakhouse into the Red Devon, the Widdowsons aimed to be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. A key feature is a 400 square-foot "green roof," meant to reduce both runoff and cooling bills. On top of a waterproof membrane are layered a root barrier, crushed rock and 10 inches of potting soil, where Julia plants wildflowers.

Other sections of the roof are covered with galvanized recycled steel, which reflects 90 percent of the sun's energy. It also drains 117,000 gallons of rainwater a year into a front-yard pond, which waters landscaping and an herb garden. The roof also sports solar electric and hot water panels.

"This restaurant was meant to be a showcase of green building features, which worked well with a menu that featured local and organic food," says architect Damon Straub of Long Island City, New York, who designed the Red Devon.

While most restaurateurs focus on what goes on inside their four walls, a growing number pay attention to the walls themselves, along with floors, finishes, windows, furnishings and parking lots. Technologies are maturing so fast, they say, that including enough features to qualify for LEED certification—the Good Housekeeping Seal of green building—can add as little as 5 percent to the cost of construction.

"It's a lot easier than everyone thinks to get into green construction," says Michael Berger, a partner in Elevation Burger of Arlington, Virginia, which has applied for LEED certification for six of its eight stores. He projects the extra outlays will pay themselves back in two years, through lower utility bills.

Walls

Atop a 10,620-foot peak in Snowmass, Colorado, project manager Chris Kiley of Aspen Skiing Co. needed heavy-duty insulation to hold down heating bills. Standard fiberglass batting would leave too many nooks and crannies unfilled. Instead, he assembled the walls of Sam's Smokehouse from structurally insulated panels, which combine insulation and wallboard into a single sandwich. The walls are rated at R-49, more than twice the tightness of the average home. Says Kiley, "We calculate the building overall is 30 percent more energy-efficient than comparable restaurants."

Another way to control inside temperatures is to keep the sun from hitting an outside wall. In Northampton, Massachusetts, what looks like siding on a joint KFC/Taco Bell store is actually a solar heating and cooling system. The product, dubbed SolarWall, is an array of black metal ducts, 2 inches in diameter.

"It's a collector of heat," explains architect John Albrecht of Chicago firm Nelson, who worked on the design. "In summertime, the hot air is exhausted out through vents. In wintertime, they close the vents, and the heated air helps preheat the restaurant."

Trim and furnishings

Walk into Founding Farmers in D.C., and you walk into a barn. The entrance is made of weathered beams and siding salvaged from a West Virginia farm while the heart-of-pine flooring was sawed from support beams from a North Carolina textile mill.

Salvaged materials are the ultimate in recycling, says the restaurant's architect, Peter Hapstak, principal at CORE of Washington, D.C. "We look for this kind of architectural archeology."

In Minneapolis, where Kim Bartmann converted a warehouse into the Red Stag Supperclub, she's furnished it with scavenged materials. A marble bar top and reupholstered banquettes came free from a local Marriott, while discarded doors from a condominium were cut into tables.

Floors

Hardwood flooring can be green, if it comes from a sustainably managed forest, certified under the standards of the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council. Many green builders prefer flooring from fast-growing plants like cork and bamboo. Another alternative is tiles fabricated from industrial scraps, like ground-up stone, glass or plastic.

In Solano Beach, California, Claire's on Cedros goes a step further with a hydronic floor. A 5-inch-thick concrete slab is honeycombed with hot water pipes, fired by a high-efficiency boiler. It's a bit like walking over a radiator, except that instead of heating the air directly, the pipes warm the concrete, which radiates heat throughout the day.

"It's a slow-response system," says San Diego architect Jean-Louis Coquereau. "If we know we have a cold week coming, we set the timer for early in the morning." With other features, he says, the building saves $1,500 a month on energy bills.

Windows

A single picture window serves several functions at Sam's Smokehouse. First and foremost, it offers mountaintop vistas. But each window is a complex composite, with two panes of glass enclosing a gas-filled void. So snugly do the windows insulate that some can be opened for ventilation, when the room gets too hot. They're sturdy enough to stand up to 80 mile-per-hour winds.

At the Northampton KFC/Taco Bell, natural lighting comes through the roof. Solar tubes channel it from skylights down to the ceiling, through duct-like cylinders that snake through the attic. Built-in sensors dim the overhead lights by day, saving electricity, and turn them up as the daylight fades.

Parking lots

Impervious covers like asphalt and concrete block rainwater from the soil while leaching toxic chemicals into sewers and streams. At Claire's on Cedros, co-owner Terrie Boley chose pervious concrete, which drains water into the earth below. As a bonus, the pebbly material sets faster than regular concrete and requires no steel bars to reinforce it.

"It's fascinating to watch when it rains," says Boley. "There's no pooling of water. It's just damp. You see more pooling in the planter beds than on the asphalt. It's got a nice look to it, too, almost like a gravel parking lot, but nothing moves."

Construction waste

Green buildings don't just use recycled materials. They recycle their leftovers. Elevation Burger sets up two dumpsters on each construction site; one for scraps like trimmings from steel panels and wood, galvanized metal studs and excess drywall. When it's full, the general contractor drops it off at a recycling plant and saves the receipt for future LEED certification. Berger estimates the chain recycles 50 percent of its construction waste.

At Aspen Skiing Co., it's costly to truck debris down a mountain road. Instead, the company takes apart existing structures, saves some fixtures and grinds up the rest to use as fill. At its Sundeck Restaurant, it recycled 86 percent of the old building and saved $42,000 in landfill fees.


Taking the LEED
New environmental standards better suit foodservice

Ten years ago, in the golden age of McMansions, the U.S. Green Building Council wanted to jump-start a movement the other way: towards buildings that sipped energy and natural resources instead of chugging them. They debuted a set of green building standards called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Today, 6,000 commercial buildings have been LEED-certified, and another 27,000 are working towards it. But only 62 of those buildings are restaurants, says Nick Shaffer, manager of commercial real estate for USGBC, "We've had restaurants trickle in here and there, but we've never seen a significant uptick."

Shaffer acknowledges that many of LEED's existing commercial standards fit office buildings better than restaurants. So when he was developing a new set of standards, dubbed LEED for Retail, he approached foodservice for help. He tested them on a pilot project, a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Gurnee Mills, Illinois, which became the first restaurant to achieve LEED's highest level.

Recognizing the difference between a new building and a renovated one, LEED for Retail offers two sets of standards, New Construction and Commercial Interiors. Either way, a project can earn up to 100 points in six major areas: siting, energy and water efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality and overall design.

It's up to each restaurant how it earns those points, but it needs at least 40 for basic certification. Higher scores get Silver and Gold ratings, with 80 points scoring Platinum.

USGBC plans to launch LEED for Retail this fall. It faces competition. In December 2008, the Green Restaurant Association, which labels 720 stores as Certified Green Restaurants, began offering Sustainabuild certification. Says executive director Michael Oshman, "This system is geared towards the realities of this industry, whether it's a completely new building or gutting an old sandwich shop in a strip mall." He expects to certify the first buildings by the end of this year.

What are the building blocks of a green building? Here's a breakdown of its basic components, along with some of the cutting-edge materials, technologies and practices that restaurants are putting into them.

Roofing

Like most restaurant owners, Nigel and Julia Widdowson of Bangall, New York, work hard to keep a roof over their heads. Unlike most, their roof is covered with dirt.

When they remodeled a Hudson Valley steakhouse into the Red Devon, the Widdowsons aimed to be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. A key feature is a 400 square-foot "green roof," meant to reduce both runoff and cooling bills. On top of a waterproof membrane are layered a root barrier, crushed rock and 10 inches of potting soil, where Julia plants wildflowers.

Other sections of the roof are covered with galvanized recycled steel, which reflects 90 percent of the sun's energy. It also drains 117,000 gallons of rainwater a year into a front-yard pond, which waters landscaping and an herb garden. The roof also sports solar electric and hot water panels.

"This restaurant was meant to be a showcase of green building features, which worked well with a menu that featured local and organic food," says architect Damon Straub of Long Island City, New York, who designed the Red Devon.

While most restaurateurs focus on what goes on inside their four walls, a growing number pay attention to the walls themselves, along with floors, finishes, windows, furnishings and parking lots. Technologies are maturing so fast, they say, that including enough features to qualify for LEED certification—the Good Housekeeping Seal of green building—can add as little as 5 percent to the cost of construction.

"It's a lot easier than everyone thinks to get into green construction," says Michael Berger, a partner in Elevation Burger of Arlington, Virginia, which has applied for LEED certification for six of its eight stores. He projects the extra outlays will pay themselves back in two years, through lower utility bills.

Walls

Atop a 10,620-foot peak in Snowmass, Colorado, project manager Chris Kiley of Aspen Skiing Co. needed heavy-duty insulation to hold down heating bills. Standard fiberglass batting would leave too many nooks and crannies unfilled. Instead, he assembled the walls of Sam's Smokehouse from structurally insulated panels, which combine insulation and wallboard into a single sandwich. The walls are rated at R-49, more than twice the tightness of the average home. Says Kiley, "We calculate the building overall is 30 percent more energy-efficient than comparable restaurants."

Another way to control inside temperatures is to keep the sun from hitting an outside wall. In Northampton, Massachusetts, what looks like siding on a joint KFC/Taco Bell store is actually a solar heating and cooling system. The product, dubbed SolarWall, is an array of black metal ducts, 2 inches in diameter.

"It's a collector of heat," explains architect John Albrecht of Chicago firm Nelson, who worked on the design. "In summertime, the hot air is exhausted out through vents. In wintertime, they close the vents, and the heated air helps preheat the restaurant."

Trim and furnishings

Walk into Founding Farmers in D.C., and you walk into a barn. The entrance is made of weathered beams and siding salvaged from a West Virginia farm while the heart-of-pine flooring was sawed from support beams from a North Carolina textile mill.

Salvaged materials are the ultimate in recycling, says the restaurant's architect, Peter Hapstak, principal at CORE of Washington, D.C. "We look for this kind of architectural archeology."

In Minneapolis, where Kim Bartmann converted a warehouse into the Red Stag Supperclub, she's furnished it with scavenged materials. A marble bar top and reupholstered banquettes came free from a local Marriott, while discarded doors from a condominium were cut into tables.

Floors

Hardwood flooring can be green, if it comes from a sustainably managed forest, certified under the standards of the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council. Many green builders prefer flooring from fast-growing plants like cork and bamboo. Another alternative is tiles fabricated from industrial scraps, like ground-up stone, glass or plastic.

In Solano Beach, California, Claire's on Cedros goes a step further with a hydronic floor. A 5-inch-thick concrete slab is honeycombed with hot water pipes, fired by a high-efficiency boiler. It's a bit like walking over a radiator, except that instead of heating the air directly, the pipes warm the concrete, which radiates heat throughout the day.

"It's a slow-response system," says San Diego architect Jean-Louis Coquereau. "If we know we have a cold week coming, we set the timer for early in the morning." With other features, he says, the building saves $1,500 a month on energy bills.

Windows

A single picture window serves several functions at Sam's Smokehouse. First and foremost, it offers mountaintop vistas. But each window is a complex composite, with two panes of glass enclosing a gas-filled void. So snugly do the windows insulate that some can be opened for ventilation, when the room gets too hot. They're sturdy enough to stand up to 80 mile-per-hour winds.

At the Northampton KFC/Taco Bell, natural lighting comes through the roof. Solar tubes channel it from skylights down to the ceiling, through duct-like cylinders that snake through the attic. Built-in sensors dim the overhead lights by day, saving electricity, and turn them up as the daylight fades.

Parking lots

Impervious covers like asphalt and concrete block rainwater from the soil while leaching toxic chemicals into sewers and streams. At Claire's on Cedros, co-owner Terrie Boley chose pervious concrete, which drains water into the earth below. As a bonus, the pebbly material sets faster than regular concrete and requires no steel bars to reinforce it.

"It's fascinating to watch when it rains," says Boley. "There's no pooling of water. It's just damp. You see more pooling in the planter beds than on the asphalt. It's got a nice look to it, too, almost like a gravel parking lot, but nothing moves."

Construction waste

Green buildings don't just use recycled materials. They recycle their leftovers. Elevation Burger sets up two dumpsters on each construction site; one for scraps like trimmings from steel panels and wood, galvanized metal studs and excess drywall. When it's full, the general contractor drops it off at a recycling plant and saves the receipt for future LEED certification. Berger estimates the chain recycles 50 percent of its construction waste.

At Aspen Skiing Co., it's costly to truck debris down a mountain road. Instead, the company takes apart existing structures, saves some fixtures and grinds up the rest to use as fill. At its Sundeck Restaurant, it recycled 86 percent of the old building and saved $42,000 in landfill fees.

Taking the LEED

New environmental standards better suit foodservice

Ten years ago, in the golden age of McMansions, the U.S. Green Building Council wanted to jump-start a movement the other way: towards buildings that sipped energy and natural resources instead of chugging them. They debuted a set of green building standards called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Today, 6,000 commercial buildings have been LEED-certified, and another 27,000 are working towards it. But only 62 of those buildings are restaurants, says Nick Shaffer, manager of commercial real estate for USGBC, "We've had restaurants trickle in here and there, but we've never seen a significant uptick."

Shaffer acknowledges that many of LEED's existing commercial standards fit office buildings better than restaurants. So when he was developing a new set of standards, dubbed LEED for Retail, he approached foodservice for help. He tested them on a pilot project, a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Gurnee Mills, Illinois, which became the first restaurant to achieve LEED's highest level.

Recognizing the difference between a new building and a renovated one, LEED for Retail offers two sets of standards, New Construction and Commercial Interiors. Either way, a project can earn up to 100 points in six major areas: siting, energy and water efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality and overall design.

It's up to each restaurant how it earns those points, but it needs at least 40 for basic certification. Higher scores get Silver and Gold ratings, with 80 points scoring Platinum.

USGBC plans to launch LEED for Retail this fall. It faces competition. In December 2008, the Green Restaurant Association, which labels 720 stores as Certified Green Restaurants, began offering Sustainabuild certification. Says executive director Michael Oshman, "This system is geared towards the realities of this industry, whether it's a completely new building or gutting an old sandwich shop in a strip mall." He expects to certify the first buildings by the end of this year.

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