Eco-friendly elements impacting Cayman construction

An architect’s rendition of how the new Aura development at Grand Harbour will look.

As lush and verdant as it already is, Cayman is steadily becoming greener.

Several recent and pending projects point to an increased effort towards and demand for ecologically friendly elements to be incorporated into new homes and apartments.

Solar panels and low-energy LED lights have become fairly common home features on the island, but some newer developments are including such energy-saving elements as increased insulation, recycled materials, sustainable woods, battery storage of solar-generated electricity and geothermal cooling. One development is promoting itself as a self-sustained community.

Matthew Wight, managing director of Cayman developer NCB Group, said new projects have to take eco-friendly elements into consideration. It’s what customers want, he said.

“Consumers are starting to drive this,” Wight said. “Gone are the days we used to be able to sell properties by saying they had solid wood cabinets and granite countertops. The knowledge of the end users has become so advanced.”

These days, he said, homebuyers are demanding such things as countertops made from recycled concrete and cabinets made from woods that come from sustainably managed forests. They are also often concerned with reducing their carbon footprint.

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“We’ve integrated renewable energy into every one of our projects in the last six years,” Wight said. Those include Solara, Cypress Pointe and the grid-independent Cayman Technology Centre. The company is behind the Aura development near Hurley’s supermarket, the new Kailani, Grand Cayman Hilton hotel across the street from Kirk Market and a cooperative venture with Dart Enterprises on the OLEA development.

Both the Kailani and OLEA projects recently earned five-star awards at the USA & Americas International Property Awards for Best New Hotel Construction and Design, and Best Sustainable Residential Development, respectively. The properties feature a number of eco-friendly elements, including water recycling, rainwater capture, electric-car charging stations and low-energy-use appliances.

OLEA is expected to have the largest solar array in Cayman, the company said. Wight said the alternative electricity source is an expected part of NCB’s projects.

“We offer solar panels as a standard,” he said. “It’s not an upgrade.”

Green additions expected

Realtor Kim Lund, of the Lund Team, said solar power is not yet an expected part of new construction, but energy efficiency is.

“Pretty much every development is incorporating some energy efficiencies, from insulation to high efficiency air conditioning,” Lund said. “Not all of them are slapping solar panels on their roofs.”

James Whittaker, co-founder and CEO of GreenTech Group, a company focussed on alternative energy, is, however, in the business of installing those very panels. He is also the president of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, a non-profit that promotes sustainable practices.

The use of high-efficiency appliances and alternate energy sources will eventually become mainstream, Whittaker predicted.

“When you’re purchasing a home or condo, you’re going to be able to purchase a home that has a low electric bill or no electric bill,” he said.

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That’s the case for residents at Lighthouse Point in West Bay. The first building on the site, with condominiums overhead and a dive shop and restaurant on the ground floor, was Cayman’s first to be certified as LEED platinum.

Developer Jay Easterbrook promotes that structure, which not only uses solar power, but also has a wind turbine, as Cayman’s first eco-development. He’s now building a second complex next door that also features such elements, including eco-friendly floor and bath tiles, the use of white organic paint and a wastewater treatment plant.

“There’s so many great technologies out there and we try to use what we can,” Easterbook said. “We’re trying to get people to see the future and what we need to do.”

Jay Easterbrook is building a second eco-friendly apartment complex at Lighthouse point. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

Battery power

One of those technologies, recently introduced to the island, is the use of storage batteries that absorb the excess energy produced by solar cells during the day. The home can then draw on the batteries during the night and overcast days.

Demand for homes with such features appears to be high. According to the Lighthouse Point project’s website, all but three of the yet-to-be-completed condominiums are sold.

Developer Ryan Ostendorf said energy efficiency is one factor that has drawn buyers to the Periwinkle development north of Grand Harbour.

“I don’t know why more people don’t (build this way),” said Ostendorf, project manager for the Arch and Godfrey development. “The cost is not prohibitive. This is how we’ll develop going forward.”

Ryan Ostendorf is project manager for the Periwinkle development at Grand Harbour. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Ostendorf said Periwinkle is the first, and so far only, LEED gold-certified community in Cayman.

“Every home will have solar panels,” said Ostendorf, who owns one of the 24 units in the first phase of the development. The homes also have extra insulation, hurricane-rated impact windows, low-flow plumbing, high-efficiency air conditioning and sustainable materials such as the ‘gray’ floor tiles in the homes which are made with recycled components.

Ostendorf said many customers are more focussed on the long-term economic advantages green building provides than in the environmental impact. But that often changes as they settle in.

“At the onset, I think people look at it for a cost savings,” he said. “Later you say, ‘What else can I do?’ I think in our minds we want to do better. I see more people taking stuff over to the recycling centre at Hurley’s.”

‘Green washing’ concerns

Catherine Childs, educational programmes manager for the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, said she’s heartened to see the demand for such developments.

“It makes me feel encouraged that developers think that’s a selling point,” Childs said of sustainable features. “It means a lot.”

She cautioned, however, that there are more important elements than just the buildings themselves.

“There’s this term called ‘green washing,’” she said, which she thinks applies to some of Cayman’s developments. Eco-factors should not just be focussed on the buildings, but on the impact of the development on the surrounding environment, she added. Having an energy-efficient building sitting on land where mangrove was clear cut to make room for the project is not necessarily sustainable.

Two proposed developments, the Orchard and a resort at Barefoot Beach, have emphasised fitting their designs into the existing landscape.

The Orchard, which is marketing itself as an eco-village, will have its own garden and greenhouse, along with a composting system, where residents can grow some of their own food. It is promoting a ridesharing system, as well as daily shuttle service to George Town, to enable residents to avoid having to own a car. There are also plans for a Montessori school on site.

Dart, perhaps the largest builder on the island, often touts its attention to sustainability. Three of its properties, including the Kimpton Seafire resort, are LEED certified.

In a statement, Dart said it is an “advocate of recycling and one of the largest local producers of solar energy”.

Its buildings, the statement said use such things as geothermal energy, rainwater harvesting and turtle-friendly lighting.

In East End, NCB has been contracted to build the $10 million eco-resort on 10 acres of Dart-owned property on Barefoot Beach. In its planning application, NCB said the resorts 81 solar-powered units would be built to blend into the landscape. Plans call for such elements as “high-tech super-insulated modular wall panels … [and] rainwater harvesting and sewage recycling”.

This and other projects are just a hint of what is to come, say the companies behind them. Estimates are that a LEED-certified structure costs only 7% more than a standard building, and those costs are recovered in the first few years by energy savings.

Lighthouse Point’s Easterbrook says the move toward green only makes sense.

“The technology is getting cheaper and cheaper,” he said. “People should be taking advantage of it.”

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