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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Senator Jeanne Shaheen talks with Tom Sullivan of Sullivan Construction Monday, June 6, 2011, at their headquarters in Bedford.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Senator Jeanne Shaheen talks with Tom Sullivan of Sullivan Construction Monday, June 6, 2011, at their headquarters in Bedford. Sullivan was showing Shaheen the insulated attic, particularly the spray foam, that contributes to the high energy efficiency of the building.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shaheen tours efficiently renovated Bedford building, touts proposal for economy

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is going to great lengths – and great heights – to demonstrate why her Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011 ought to pass.

On a tour led by Sullivan Construction President Tom Sullivan, Shaheen climbed into the attic of Sullivan Construction’s South River Road building in Bedford, to check out the energy-efficient innovations the company has implemented to certify it as one of two buildings in New Hampshire with a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) rating.

“This building is 3 years old – it was renovated three years ago – but the original building, the house next door, was built in the 1880s,” Sullivan explained at the beginning of the tour. “This piece here (the main building visible from South River Road) was about a vintage 1970, which was totally energy inefficient. Our exterior walls were 2-by-4 walls, not very well insulated, so we had to address all those types of things.”

By revamping everything in the 1970 unit from bottom to top, Sullivan Construction was the first in the state to secure the Platinum LEED rating – the supreme sustainability score that the U.S. Green Building Council awards – in April 2010.

“What’s somewhat unique about that (rating) is not only the energy savings, but a lot of the different types of products that we use throughout the building – the flooring, the ceiling,” Sullivan said.

The floors, composed of cork and bamboo materials, are made of rapidly renewable products that are also durable, Sullivan told Shaheen.

“What we were trying to do was create something that people could kind of come touch and feel,” Sullivan said. “People hear about LEED, but they don’t really know what it is. So we have here all different types of products you’ll see as you go through.”

From low-flow toilets in the restrooms, to an 11-zone energy recovery system that allows Sullivan Construction to satisfy a variety of temperature tastes, Sullivan said the energy-efficient improvements to his facility benefit the employees, as well as the environment.

“It’s very easy to regulate, easy to follow,” Sullivan told Shaheen standing in the company attic. “For every two offices, there’s thermostats that are easy to control. We have 11 zones as I mentioned, and what this system does is, it mixes the air we’re exhausting out of the building, with the air we bring in, so it’s tempering it. If we’re heating or cooling, depending on the season, the air we’re utilizing is from inside the building.

“It allows us to have less HVAC equipment and what’s a little bit unique about this building is these are all electrically driven. Most people would be fearful of that because of the cost of the electricity, but again, what we did with public service companies and the incentives and rebates they offered for us to do this, it was well worth it.”

But the road to a Platinum LEED rating still did not come easily – or inexpensively – Sullivan explained.

“Getting value for the improvements that we put into the building (was a challenge) because there were really no comps that appraisers could use that would give us the value for the extra energy efficient types of things,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s getting a little bit better now because there are more comps available and different things, but it’s still challenging. We really had to work hard through that.”

That’s where Shaheen hopes her Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011 will make the difference.

The two-fold goal of the act is to “increase the use of energy-efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors of our economy, while also fostering job creation,” by using “low-cost tools to reduce barriers for private sector energy users and drive adoption of off-the-shelf efficiency technologies that will save businesses and consumers money, make America more energy independent, and reduce emissions.”

“One of the things the legislation would do is set up a revolving loan program and expand the DOE loan guarantee program to hopefully make more funding available to businesses,” Shaheen said. “It also sets up a program that’s based on what the New Hampshire Electric Co-Op has been doing through their SmartSTART Program, which would allow co-ops around the country to make microloans to customers and then pay those back through their utility bills.”

On her tour, Shaheen called the immediate success of Sullivan Construction’s energy efficiency “fascinating.”

“I think (Sullivan Construction’s building is) indicative of what can be done with some additional cost, but as you heard, a lot of what was done has already paid for itself,” Shaheen said.

Sullivan said his company realized the costs of energy-efficient improvements in about two years.

“Most people want to be energy-efficient,” Shaheen said. “They see that there are savings there.”

Shaheen also emphasized that the beautiful aesthetics of the Sullivan Construction building were not compromised by sustainable energy efforts.

“You can see that so much of it is in the systems here, the HVAC and the lighting, and if you look at the materials,” Shaheen said. “I talk to people who say, ‘Well, some of the energy-efficient materials are not as pretty,’ but I think this tour belies that concern. It really is a great model for what can be done and hopefully what our legislation can do to give many more businesses the opportunities to make these kinds of changes in their buildings, which will save energy.”

Sullivan said energy- efficiency tactics actually contribute largely to the work environment’s positive feel.

“It is much better because we have so much better control over our work areas,” Sullivan said. “The building itself is more efficient. There’s all kinds of studies that have been done on productivity and things like that – that you get the benefits – less sick days for employees because you have a good working environment. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and if we can have good, quality indoor air in our environment, both at home and at work, then it’s just better for us.”

Who wouldn’t prefer a little more natural sunlight over the fluorescent bulbs of cubicle life? Sullivan Construction’s long, gaping windows and skylights do just that, letting the outdoor light, in.

“All of our offices are located around the perimeter (of the building), so there’s more natural light that people take advantage of,” Sullivan said. “We try to utilize all those types of things.”

And while Shaheen works on passing her Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011, Sullivan says he continues to enjoy showing others what they stand to gain with energy efficient buildings.

“The benefits have been much, much greater than I would’ve anticipated,” Sullivan said. “There’s lots of things. We were able to meet with different folks and we give a lot of tours. We do a lot of educating as part of our mission, too, we’ve had schools and chambers of commerce and all kinds of different groups and associations that have come through, and so it’s helped us in business greatly. We’ve also done some government buildings because of our experience doing this type of thing as well, which is really helpful to us.”

“It’s just steps and getting people going and trying to do some different things,” he said. “I feel like since we’ve done this, there’s been a lot more traction with people, as well in the market today.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or