During the past century, the lifestyle of the average American has gotten much bigger. Economic growth and technological development have resulted in population explosions, sprawling urban development, bigger cars and larger homes. People have moved farther from their places of work, creating a commuter culture where workers often spend hours each day in their cars.

In the green-building industry, it has become increasingly recognized that bigger is not necessarily better. Florence Lofts, a mixed-use development in Sebastopol, Calif., offers an example of a more compact, sustainable lifestyle. It provides a unique commercial and residential space where tenants can live and work while keeping an eye toward water and energy conservation.


“People ask why we’re doing green now,” says Steve Sheldon, partner at Sebastopolbased IBIS Builds, the developer of Florence Lofts. “As an architect trained in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I’ve been doing it for many years. At that time, energy was the main focus in creating buildings that were in harmony with the environment. Passive solar design and solar hot-water heating; everything had an emphasis on energy.”

Times may have changed, but Sheldon has continued to keep his focus on energy and resource conservation. This focus permeates the design and overall philosophy of Florence Lofts, which is in the final documentation stages for a Gold rating under LEED for New Construction from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council. The project consists of a 42,000-square-foot (3902-m2)commercial building and 12 live/ work units. Each 2 1/2-story live/work unit comprises about 1,520 square feet (141 m2). “The ground floor is designed as the workspace, so it occupies about 2/5 of the total square footage of each unit,” Sheldon says. “Upstairs are the living spaces, which are designed with well-appointed kitchens and open spaces.”

The site of the development was an important part of the equation. Florence Lofts is located near an urban core, minimizing loft owners’ transportation needs. “We look for urban-type projects because we feel that sustainability is very closely tied to density,” Sheldon says. “Being a live/work project, this project is calling on people to change their lifestyles and actually live in a different, more compact way.”



Along with minimizing lifestyle impacts by maximizing urban density, Florence Lofts has a number of other, more tangible green aspects in its design. For example, water conservation is a cornerstone of the project. Recent droughts in Northern California prompted Sheldon to install a graywater recycling system in the development.

“We recirculate all water from bathing, laundry and hand sinks,” Sheldon explains. “It is plumbed out into a storage tank and the graywater is used to do all our on-site landscape irrigation. There are moisture sensors in the landscape beds and when they demand water, it is pumped from the storage tank through a particulate filter and then to underground drip-irrigation lines located 9 inches [229 mm] from the surface. We calculate we will be recycling between 150,000 and 170,000 gallons [567812 to 643520 L] per year to do our landscape irrigation.”


Along with conserving water, the graywater system also saves money. “The graywater system decreases the building’s water use, which in turn decreases sewer usage,” Sheldon says. “We have worked out a formula with the city that allows for lower sewer and water bills for the occupants.”

The graywater system was a tough sell at the county level, however. “That was the hardest part of the whole project,” Sheldon recalls. “There had never been anything like that proposed on a commercial scale in our county. We had to demonstrate its viability right from the beginning. However, we did have support from the city and other places that really wanted to see it happen.”

Permeable concrete pavement mitigates storm-water runoff on the site. “Our goal was to make the entire site permeable,” Sheldon says. “All the parking lot areas are paved with 6 inches [152 mm] of pervious concrete material that combines with a 10-inch [254-mm] layer of drain rock to form a 16-inch [406-mm] layer of retention. We’re trying to capture as much storm water as we can to allow it to permeate back into the ground and into the aquifers below the ground.”

When extreme rain storms or several days of rain exceed the detention capacity, water flows to the south end of the site where a long, concrete bioremediation tank is filled with about 3 1/2 feet (1.1 m) of gravel and planted with specific water plants. Runoff from the site goes into the tank and roots from the plants filter out toxins before the water goes into the city’s storm-drain system and out to the ocean via the local river.


Florence Lofts’ roofs are covered with a photovoltaic film, laminated to a standing-seam metal roof. Sheldon anticipates the PV system will be able to provide for all the electrical needs of the development, acknowledging that it depends on the individual usages of the tenants. and keep it within Florence Lofts. “There are sub meters on each of the units, so if one of the occupants uses less electricity than he or she produces, that electricity can go over to one of the commercial uses,” Sheldon explains. “We reconcile the electrical use on a quarterly basis and people that have used less electricity than they produced get a rebate in the form of lower homeowner’s fees.

The concrete slabs on the first and seconds act as a heat sink and can be night-flushed to keep them cool in the summer months.
IBIS BUILDS The concrete slabs on the first and seconds act as a heat sink and can be night-flushed to keep them cool in the summer months.

Along with keeping the site’s generated power within Florence Lofts, this also increases the financial advantage for the development and its tenants because the local utility doesn’t pay for energy surplus. “We’re trying to use all the electricity we produce on the site,” Sheldon continues.

The buildings are heated with radiant heating; radiant tubing goes through concrete slabs on the first and second floors. The live/work units also have a south/southwest orientation and the living rooms all face the same direction, making use of passive solar design. “The units have been designed to maximize winter heat gain and they’re shaded so they don’t get the heat gain during the summer,” Sheldon says.


The concrete slabs on the first and second floors act as a heat sink and can be night-flushed to keep them cool in the summer months. In the commercial building, the same water used for radiant heating also is used to cool the building. “We have a 5,000-gallon [18927-L] water-storage tank, and when we need cooling at night, water is pumped from this tank to spray nozzles on the roof,” Sheldon explains. “The water is cooled by exposure to the night sky and recirculated into the tank. We then circulate the cooled water through the same system that the warm water circulates through in the winter.”

With all the technical innovation and environmental sensitivity the project has to offer, Sheldon’s main goal is to spark a re-examination of true sustainable living. “We want to get people to make decisions and consider things rather than just substituting this green product for that not-green product,” he says. “I think those kinds of decisions are going to be very important and maybe the things that make the biggest difference down the road.”


• Architect/developer / IBIS Builds, Sebastopol, Calif., www.ibisbuilds.com

• General contractor / Mike Barnard Construction, Bodega Bay, Calif., (707) 875-9650

• Landscape architect / Integrated Design, Albion, Calif., (707) 937-1235

• Mechanical engineer / Larkin & Associates, Sebastopol, www.larkinme.com

• Electrical engineer / Bruce Wishard, Santa Rosa, Calif., (707) 526-0606

• Energy consulting / Sol_Data Energy Consulting, Santa Rosa, www.soldata.com

• Energy analysis / Green Building Studio, Santa Rosa, www.greenbuildingstudio.com

• Environmental engineer / Heather Shepherd, Sebastopol, (707) 853-9977

• Geotechnical engineers / Giblin Associates, Santa Rosa, (707) 528-3078

• Commissioning agent / Winzler and Kelly Consulting Engineers, Santa Rosa, www.w-and-k.com


• Metal roof / Custom-Bilt Metals Inc., Chino, Calif., www.custombiltmetals.com

• Photovoltaic panels / Uni-Solar from United Solar Ovonic, Auburn Hills, Mich., www.uni-solar.com

• Insulation / Ultra Touch Natural Fiber Cotton Insulation from Bonded Logic Inc., Chandler, Ariz., www.bondedlogic.com

• Countertops / PaperStone, Hoquiam, Wash., www.paperstoneproducts.com

• Interior wall paint / Green Planet Paints, Patagonia, Ariz., www.greenplanetpaints.com

• Cabinets / Europly Plywood from Columbia Forest Products, Portland, Ore., www.columbiaforestproducts.com

• Dimming compact-fluorescent lights / Leucos USA Inc., Edison, N.J., www.leucos.com

• Dual-flush toilets / Caroma USA Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, www.caromausa.com

In the commercial building, the same water used for radiant heating also is used to cool the building.
IBIS BUILDS In the commercial building, the same water used for radiant heating also is used to cool the building.