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7 Sustainable Practices Overtaking San Francisco's Construction Industry

San Francisco has been at the forefront of sustainable technologies and design. California’s Title 24 has among the strictest energy efficiency standards for new construction and an overall culture of sustainability and energy efficiency have helped the San Francisco Bay Area develop more sustainable buildings.


During a recent Bisnow event on sustainability, panelists told a 150-person crowd about various ways construction is already using sustainable practices.

Here are some of the top sustainable construction trends.

Land Recycling And Reuse


Redevelopment of land is hot, according to Center for Creative Land Recycling executive director Sarah Sieloff. There is a lot of demand not only in San Francisco, but also in surrounding communities, and people are becoming more willing to take on properties with environmental liabilities. Land that requires remediation and cleanup provides a level of regulatory certainty even if digging and hauling comes at a higher cost.

Sieloff said her organization is working to provide education and open discussions to help alleviate some of the fear and economic uncertainty that often comes from land reuse.

Purple Pipe Installation


A new mandate in San Francisco will require new products over 250K gross SF to install a minimum of graywater recycling and install purple pipes for toilet flushing and irrigation demand, according to Aquacell product manager Mark Meredith. He said this mandate will result in significant water savings across a spectrum of commercial projects. A lot of municipalities, counties and areas in the Greater Bay Area are starting to pick up on water recycling.

Boston Properties director of engineering Danny Murtagh said several of his firm’s projects are using high-efficiency toilets and faucets. Boston Properties has implemented stormwater capture for reuse for irrigation and toilet flushing.

Murtagh said he is very pro-gray and pro-black water recycling. Water recycling in California is a great way to conserve water and could allow a 70% or higher reduction in day-to-day water use, he said.

“This is a technology we need to embrace in all commercial developments and even residential developments moving forward,” Murtagh said.

Graywater recycling can be particularly effective in residential where there is a lot of graywater being created through water usage via showers, kitchens, sinks and laundry.

Underfloor Air Distribution


Another way Boston Properties is using sustainable technologies is through underfloor air distribution. Salesforce Tower will have the firm’s first UFAD system throughout, and Murtagh expects it to be very effective in San Francisco.

With temperatures in Downtown San Francisco often in the mid-50s to mid-60s, the UFAD system will be able to take advantage of the free cooling from the outside air. UFAD systems provide passive air flow from the floor up. Murtagh said this technology will be a game-changer for office building construction.

“UFAD is certainly at the top of my list as technologies we can deploy to make our building's environment much more efficient moving forward,” Murtagh said.

Exposed Concrete


Clark Pacific director of corporate development Roy Griffith said most of his firm's products are concrete-based. His energy efficiency methods are more passive and use exposed concrete, which allows for the storage of warmth during the day and release at night. He said active surfaces can be added to the concrete for healthy building systems.



Griffith said a lot of the work his firm has done relates to how buildings are affected by the environment. His firm has been incorporating more ways to create resilient buildings to allow for immediate occupancy during and after a seismic event. His firm just finished a building in Roseville, Calif., built to withstand a 500-year seismic event with less than 5% damage to the interior and can be immediately accessible.

Smart Software


Yardi vice president Matt Eggers said his firm is deploying more software to help building systems, like HVAC and pumps, run more efficiently. He said this software can save building owners up to $150K in electricity and gas each year. It also is less invasive for tenants and requires less capital cost.



Glass also plays a vital role in the success of an office building, according to Boston Properties’ Murtagh. He said if you look at the buildings in downtown San Francisco, just about all of them are glass-walled. These buildings can be inefficient by losing energy through the glass, but Murtagh said smart glass and high-efficiency glass allows developers to still be able to use the building material as part of their sustainable buildings.