EarthCraft™ Leaves No Building Behind

Green building guidelines help restore and refit historical buildings for sustainable operation


From 2010 to 2017, Savannah was the fastest growing metropolitan area in Georgia, growing 11.1 percent while the state average was 7.4 percent. The growth in Savannah brings new utilities and additional infrastructure, as well as new places for people to live, from high-end custom homes to affordable housing. However, Savannah has an abundance of existing structures that could be utilized, because, after all, the greenest building is the one that’s already built. Downtown Savannah has multiple historic districts amongst its 22 park-like squares, making it one of the largest historic landmark districts in the country, and, just down the road, stands a historic icon for The Waters Avenue Corridor on East Anderson: the 100-plus year old Romana Riley Elementary School.

The school closed in 1990, but the W.H. Gross Construction Company of Kingsland, GA purchased the property and is renovating the existing school and annex buildings as well as adding an additional 32-unit building. These dwelling units and the development will be certified under Earth- Craft™ guidelines for Multifamily Construction, Adaptive Reuse and Communities. For nearly two decades, the EarthCraft™ green building programs have helped ensure that buildings and communities in the Southeastern U.S. meet strict criteria for saving energy and water, ensuring high indoor air quality, and protecting our land and natural resources. In partnership with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and Southface Energy Institute, the programs are designed to specifically address energy and water use in the challenging southeastern climate. To achieve any EarthCraft™ certification, an independent third-party verification is performed by a qualified EarthCraft™ Technical Advisor, confirming the development meets all program requirements.

I am the qualified EarthCraft™ Technical Advisor with Imery Ratings. Our role is to advise W.H. Gross on how to meet community and multifamily guidelines as well as to improve the existing school buildings by adhering to the EarthCraft™ Adaptive Reuse Priority Criteria. We help guide the design team early in the design process, performing preliminary energy modeling, design reviews and assisting in developing a design that will meet or even exceed the ECMF guidelines. We then work closely with the construction team during the pre-drywall stage, verifying proper air sealing, insulation, and quality installed ductwork, in addition to checking the exterior shell of the building for moisture intrusion and other durability issues. Imery Ratings has helped certify over 1,000 multi-family dwelling units and hundreds of single family homes in Georgia, and has worked on several building rehabs, but this will be our first time working with W.H. Gross.

Owner Bill Gross and his company are no strangers to green construction. Their work on The Village at Winding Road in St. Marys, GA received the EarthCraft™ Multifamily Project Team of the Year award for exceeding EarthCraft™ standards for design and construction. Gross has also made efforts to help the city of St. Marys reduce its water engineering calculations to represent impacts of low-flow fixtures. This reduces the burden on municipal water and sewer and hopefully reduces infiltration of seawater into the Floridian Aquifer. This will allow the coastal areas to grow while minimizing the environmental impact. This project encompasses this mindset by installing Water- Sense™ fixtures in the existing building and lowflow fixtures in the new building.

The existing buildings will also be subject to rigid air sealing of dwelling units, along with additional insulation measures, increased efficiency HVAC equipment, improved ventilation and automatic lighting controls for common spaces. Aspects of the new construction project that W.H. Gross will be instituting beyond program minimums include the use of a pre-cut framing system, which will greatly reduce on-site waste as well as overall waste in the building process. EarthCraft™ Communities require residents and property management to undergo training and education about concepts and installations that make their building “green”. This way, the efforts of the design team, build team and verification team are not lost on the occupants by informing them of proper operation and maintenance procedures.

The concepts of sustainability, energy efficiency, and greening the planet are to be inclusive and not exclusive. Status or class should not exclude a person from obtaining a comfortable, durable, efficient and healthy home. No existing building should be forgotten and left to rot when it is fully possible to preserve its historical look and significance while enabling it to perform like a brand new building. The Savannah Community and Waters Avenue Corridor are excited about bringing these old school buildings back to life alongside a brand new EarthCraft™ Building, creating a senior housing development that will keep the namesake as the Romana Riley Lofts.

Jeremy Field is the Building Science Manager for Imery Ratings and has 2 decades of experience in the construction industry. He can be reached at