Building Green

Tropical Imaging studio breaks environmental ground.
By Kathy Borsuk

It’s never been done before in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

iStock_000003347432LargeIn spite of the eco-conscious “green” movement that is sweeping the globe, Tropical Imaging’s new studio will be the first “green build” in the TCI. It’s an exciting new project that could break a path for others to follow. And best of all in these eco-nomically perilous times, Tropical Imaging owner Andy Mann expects the decision will save his company money in the long-run, besides creating a healthy workplace environment and doing his part to keep the world clean and green for his children.

Tropical Imaging is a very successful locally owned and operated studio, established in 1997. With a staff of eight, for over a decade they have grown slowly, step by step, from a simple underwater photography business to a leading storytelling company with full multimedia capability and skills more commonly seen in top U.S. studios rather than “the islands.” We at Times Publications greatly admire the work they do for our annual Destination Turks & Caicos Islands, the beautiful, coffee table-style book that you can find in your hotel room and take home as a souvenir.

A brainstorm in green

Andy, the Tropical Imaging staff and their equipment have outgrown a couple of office spaces over the years, and as they threatened to burst out of their current site, Andy started to think about trading monthly rent bills for a company-owned studio, tailor-made for their needs. As a former scuba-diving instructor who first came to the Turks & Caicos in 1995, he has always had a keen appreciation for nature. At the same time, he wanted to have some way to control the record-breaking utility bills of 2008. Fate or coincidence then played its role with a chance discovery of the Greenbuild International Expo in Boston in October 2008. Andy, always extremely forward-thinking in running the business, was so impressed with the ideas presented at the show that he decided to transplant them to the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Why is this so important? Andy explains, “The commercial and residential building sector accounts for 39% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the U.S. per year, more than any other sector. Most of these emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels to provide heating, cooling and lighting, and to power appliances and electrical equipment. By transforming the built environment to be more energy-efficient and climate-friendly, the building sector can play a major role in reducing the threat of climate change.”

The impact of climate change on the Turks & Caicos Islands is particularly dire. With most of the country just slightly above sea level, ocean rising due to global warming will immediately affect TCI’s coast, especially its award-winning beaches and pricey real estate. An increase in the intensity and likelihood of tropical storms hurts both the resident population and visitors, as clearly evidenced by the hurricanes of 2008. As well, high-end tourists are becoming increasingly selective in choosing destinations and service providers that display “green credentials.”

Getting started

Andy’s first step was to secure a parcel of land in the newly developing east end of Leeward Highway, halfway between the roundabout heading into Grace Bay and the Leeward Development entrance. The site itself is simply “bush,” with nearby areas already slated for development, and not endangering any protected natural reserve or wetland. It was also right on Leeward Highway, making access a breeze.

Andy worked with architect Ron Shaw, Tim Sprakes from Construction Advisory Services and Chris Nesbitt and Steve Thompson from Projetech to create a blueprint for a small studio building, adapting the windfall of ideas he acquired from the Greenbuild convention, and, in particular, the RJ Walter Homes Home of the Future in California which, along with the worldwide “green community,” are eager to share knowledge. Andy explains, “It really was a team effort to make this work. Each ‘green’ element had to be evaluated to make sure it would work and make sense in TCI. It really was a partnership. You should see all the emails we have back and forth on this!”

Planning a green build

When designing a space to be an eco-friendly green build, there are three aspects to the equation:  firstly, reducing energy consumption inside and outside the building; secondly, designing to minimize energy losses and gains; and finally, employing renewable sources of energy to help power the building. With the availability of green building products greatly expanding, prices dropping and technology moving forward in leaps and bounds, there has never been a better time to build green.

To help reduce energy consumption, the team started with the obvious — low energy appliances and low energy light fittings — and moved up to using a state-of-the-art air conditioning system from local air conditioning company Aircool. Besides being designed to run at high efficiency, it also employs sensors to detect when people are and are not occupying various zones and raising or lowering temperatures accordingly, even shutting off automatically at the end of the day. While a substantial investment at the onset, Andy says one long-run benefit is in future cash flow, as monthly power bills will be greatly diminished. Another way of reducing consumption, and thus the “carbon footprint,” are placing special solar tubes in the roof to enhance all-natural lighting for the second floor.

To maximize energy conservation, in effect a building is “wrapped” to prevent loss of cool air (or hot air in northern climates). This, Andy explains, involves insulating the roof and walls and installing highly rated UV windows which reflect sunlight.

Only when energy consumption and conservation are managed does it make sense to consider “green” power. On the advice of several green-build experts, Andy has planned a hybrid system combining solar panels and wind generation to take advantage of the abundant sunshine and constant trade winds that have been a source of energy to the Islands for many generations. He selected the “I-pod” of wind turbines, the Skystream wind generator, a small, quiet unit set on a three-hinged pole to be easily dismantled in case of a storm. With three turbines and a small bank of solar panels on the land behind the site, he figured he could diminish the need to draw on PPC fossil-fuel generated power.

Some of the other eco-friendly modifications aren’t new to TCI residents:  the use of cisterns to capture rainwater, recycling “gray” water for irrigation, preserving as much natural bush as possible to minimize the use of imported plants that need fertilizing and pest control, and positioning the building to minimize east and west exposures. Others are more unique, including using bamboo flooring (a renewable material) at the entranceway, and adding a “power point” outside to plug in and charge his anticipated future electric van. Andy also plans to implement proper construction waste management and hopes that someday public transportation will be readily available in the TCI, making it more energy-efficient to commute.

Getting the OK

Prior to submitting his plans to the TCI Department of Planning for approval, Andy introduced the idea to Wesley Clerveaux, director of the TCI Department of Environment and Coastal Resources and Clyde Robinson, director of planning; both said to be quite keen on the concepts. At press time, however, parts of the plans had been initially turned down because no regulations were in place regarding the use of wind turbines for energy generation. Reports are that such regulations are being considered, as interest in and the need for sustainable energy resources continues to grow.

iStock_000004376911MediumTropical Imaging intends for the studio project to be Green Globes certified. Green Globes is an environmental assessment, education and rating system that is promoted in the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative. In comparison with national U.S. building stock, the average “green” certified building uses 24% less electricity and saves significant CO2 emissions annually. The program helps budding green builders every step of the way, providing an ongoing assessment protocol with related software tools and best practices guidance for construction and operation.

Meanwhile, Andy says he will forge ahead, as the energy savings still make sense. He will keep options open in hope that the wind turbines can be added later. Construction is  due to start in July and expected to be completed by the end of the year. This visionary dreams of a Turks & Caicos Islands someday employing only green power and electric vehicles, as a means of both protecting the planet and setting itself apart from other tourist destinations.

Tropical Imaging plans to document all aspects of the construction, planning and certification of the building, hoping to gain media exposure for the green build initiative and the Turks & Caicos Islands as a whole. Tropical Imaging continues to look for support from parties that are interested in helping them make the project a success.

For more information on Tropical Imaging’s green build, visit their blog at:

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Aug 16, 2009 21:40

The CA Building Standards Commissioners are to be congratulated for their leadership.

It is always more work to set up a new system than to fit into an existing one.

It would be easier to stand aside as legal buildings continue to waste resources and pollute the environment.

But, in the face of deeply entrenched, powerful opposition, the commission is rising to the challenge of revising all California’s codes to allow/ require better building systems.

Besides its emergency approval of the new graywater standards yesterday, the BSC is also revising California’s Green Building Standards.

This is a historic shift towards considering all factors; not just occupant safety– but also off site and future impacts–in developing building codes that truly protect our health and welfare.

Maya Shoemaker

First hand accounts from the building standards commission hearing, in depth analyses:

Greywater how-to- resources for homeowners, renters, landscapers, and contractors:

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