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Green buildings bloom around the US

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Scraps from old wine corks, recycled tires, salvaged pickle barrels, and other byproducts normally sent to the trash heap are just a few of the elements wrapped into the new Chicago Center for Green Technology. The building, which once sat on an illegal dump site with 70-foot-high piles of rubble, had been scheduled for demolition before its transformation into the "greenest" building in the Midwest.

Even the architect of the building, which was designed as a showcase, acknowledges that some features aren't likely to see much use in mainstream designs. After all, how many building owners will spend an extra $1,800 to use genetically altered canola oil simply to avoid the pollution risk of hydraulic oil. But Chicago architect Douglas Farr feels that green building is finally catching on.

"Over the last 10 years, it's evolved from people not knowing what green architecture was, to where we were pariahs at cocktail parties, 'those greenies.' Now people seek us out," says Mr. Farr, a leader in green design.

Environmental aspects added about 20 percent to the cost of the $5.4 million facelift of the 50-year-old building, according to David Reynolds, deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Environment. Using renewable materials like cork scraps and recycled tires for the floor won't have any payback, nor will the salvaged pickle barrels used to build a trellis.

But about $30,000 in annual utility costs will be saved by using things like special thermal windows that can actually be opened to reduce heating and cooling costs. Sensors turn on lights only when and where the skylights don't let in enough light. "Rooms like bathrooms have motion detectors; the lights turn on when you walk in," Mr. Reynolds says.

Heating and cooling costs are kept down by using geothermal heat, in which pipes carry liquids through deep wells beneath the parking lot to heat or cool it to the temperature of the earth, about 50 degrees. Even the parking lot is environmentally correct, using pine tar instead of petroleum materials, giving it a lighter color that doesn't heat up as much as normal asphalt.


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