Live-work project incorporates extensive environmental innovations

Sometimes old ideas are the best, especially if they are reintroduced at a time when long commutes to work no longer make economic sense and when most people are concerned about issues such as global warming and protecting the environment.

Florence Lofts is a live-work project that cuts stress, gasoline bills and is green.

Twelve units, each with 620 square feet of office space and 900 square feet of living quarters, have been built on a 1.3-acre parcel at 7385 Healdsburg Ave. at the corner of Florence Avenue in Sebastopol. Offices and retail space are located on the ground floor and residences are on the upper level. There is also a 4,000-square-foot commercial building on the premises.

“Casual observers looking at the simple design of these stucco buildings, outwardly adorned with only rust-colored iron trellises soon to be covered with climbing vines, would not know that they conceal some of the most innovative energy-saving conservation systems available, while utilizing an extensive array of sustainable building materials,” said architect Steven Sheldon, who developed the project with partners Joseph Marshall and Robert Nissenbaum.

“We brought together in one place many of today’s leading-edge technologies and advances in environmental protection for eco-sensitive professionals wishing to live and work in a forward-looking green community.”

For example, the roof is covered with photovoltaic film mounted on metal panels that produces nearly all of the electricity. An ultra-high-capacity gray water recycling system, the first of its kind in the county, is capable of processing 150,000 gallons of water a year for irrigation. Permeable paving material allows rainwater to drain through to the soil.

The commercial building has a radiant cooling system with a tank that holds 5,000 gallons of chilled water that is stored at night and re-circulated during the day. This same system can also channel heated water to warm the building in cooler weather.

The complex absorbs radiant heat by being oriented to maximize solar gain in winter, and the south elevations are shaded during the summer to keep interior spaces cool. All space is day lit, and appliances are Energy Star rated.

The walls of the building are framed with light-gauge steel with a high recycled content, and the second floor and roof structure are built with certified wood from sustainably managed forests.

Countertops are made of Paper Stone, a dense, recycled paper product embedded with non-petroleum resins that look and feel like the real thing. Fiberglass window frames have been deployed, and all lights are CFLs. The boilers in each unit are 98 percent efficient, using all the energy produced to provide instant hot water.

“Sebastopol had the first permanent gray water recycling system permitted through Sonoma County. While many other cities place emphasis on drought resistant plants, with all of the recycled water processed through our systems, we did not need to use them only, and broadened our palate of flowering and fragrant varieties to beautify the grounds and add a sweet savor to the air throughout the year,” Mr. Sheldon said. “Consequently, public sewer and water usage is way down, and so are utility bills. We are currently working on plans to use recycled water for toilet flushing.”

Outside of the buildings a large courtyard between the units has water flows and slopes that direct rain that cannot be re-absorbed back into a catch basin. South of the Florence Lofts site, a bio-mediation tank filled with gravel and special plants filters runoff water before it goes into the Laguna and the Russian River.

“We like to think that we thought of everything, but we are equally certain that there is more we can do to improve on the model that we have established. This is just the beginning. We hope other developers will join us in taking the lead in building similar live-work communities that are easy on the environment,” Mr. Sheldon added.