Ahead of the Eco-Friendly Building Curve
Evergreen Environments Installs Eye-Catching Green Roof Systems Across Northeast
John Kruzshak founded Evergreen Environments in 1982—decades ahead of the current green movement—as a small atrium construction business focused on interiorscapes.
Yet, in the past 36 years, the Newtown, Connecticut-based company has transformed into a leading installer of green roofs in the Northeast. Evergreen Environments has completed more than 150 green roof projects for corporate and high-end residences alike.
Kruzshak says the company has always been environmentally conscious and focused on sustainability. By the early ‘90s, the Eastern Connecticut State University graduate updated his Evergreen Environments business plan to include a new service: transforming rooftops into green spaces.
“It just seemed like a no-brainer,” Kruzshak says. “We took a common-sense approach to sustainability and started thinking about the spaces nobody thinks about.” As the demand for more environmentally conscious construction has climbed the past few decades, Evergreen Environments has carved out a nice niche for itself simply by installing a green roof properly and according to spec.
“General contractors like us because a high percentage of our jobs are completed with zero items on the punch list,” Kruzshak notes. “While we try to meet that goal on every job, it is, of course, very difficult to achieve. However, the bulk of our jobs are completed on schedule and with no problems.”
Transforming Forgotten Places into Public Spaces
Evergreen Environments thrives on transforming spaces—many of which are forgotten or neglected—into living roofs. The ability to create living, breathing, eco-friendly habitats can ultimately save the client money through lower energy bills while creating functional outdoor spaces. The company uses decades of expertise to complete projects in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
Evergreen Environments provides turnkey operations and often has jobs completed in mere days. The company’s extensive experience provides clients with peace of mind because Evergreen assumes control of all aspects of a project—from acquiring materials and hoisting freight to rigorous safety protocols and workability inspections. Project Manager Tom Gilbertie joined Evergreen Environments about four years ago, after spending a couple of decades helping to run his family’s organic herb, vegetable and edibles commercial farm in Connecticut. He says he enjoys working with Evergreen Environments because every day and every job is different.
For example, he says installing the rooftop meadow at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was especially satisfying as the space has become its own attraction.
“You walk around the pathway atop the roof and you have no idea you’re on a roof,” Gilbertie says. “It’s become a public space.”
Evergreen Environments converts some spaces into walkways using pavers, while other spaces are shaped into living roofs replete with native flora that spur local insects to pollinate the area, which helps to ensure a lasting environment. The company often installs planters, living walls and decks to provide clients with new outdoor spaces to work in or for social gatherings. And all new installation comes with one to two years of maintenance provided by Evergreen Environments.
And maintenance is key, according to Gilbertie. He says real concerns with green roofs are similar to those for any lawn or yard. Birds and squirrels do what they do, and trees and saplings need to be pruned and cultivated for optimum sustainability. Most green roofs have a standard warranty and potential shelf life of about 20 years, assuming proper care is maintained.
“If you give it some TLC, if you keep up with weeding, fertilizing and pruning, it will grow into its own ecosystem and provide a viable rooftop for well beyond the warranty,” Gilbertie says. He admits that many green roofs are neglected and fail to fully serve the purpose they were designed for within about three to five years after installation. Still, demand for sustainable construction and renovation projects shows little sign of abating anytime soon.
Green Building Benefits Bottom Line
Recently, Evergreen Environments installed a green roof for the University of Connecticut, which adopted a new sustainability design and construction policy in 2016. The large state school’s updated strategy calls for responsible growth and environmental stewardship through more efficient buildings that lower utility costs and provide healthier environments. Under the new plan, the university expects its number of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings to “increase significantly.” “University of Connecticut is a national leader among colleges and universities when it comes to incorporating these features into campus building and infrastructure projects,” says Richard Miller, Director of the Office of Environmental Policy at the school. “The primary benefits are surface water quality improvements versus conventional drainage systems, including benefits from reducing the volume and velocity of runoff.” Miller says the energy efficiency benefits are more difficult to quantify.
Evergreen Environments’ green roofs and living walls keep buildings cooler. Advantages include increased oxygen levels—which benefit the health of occupants—and lower energy costs. Gilbertie estimates a green roof could cut electricity costs by 15 percent to 25 percent due to less need for air conditioning during the summer months. He adds that his company is doing a lot of work on high-rise apartment complexes because builders see the value green roofs provide for the bottom line. “There is an interest from an environmental standpoint and business standpoint alike,” Gilbertie says. “As developers strive for diversity in design, they also want to remain cutting-edge, and green roofs provide both.”
Dodge Data & Analytics, which tracks the commercial construction industry, reported in 2016 that “the global commitment to green building is transforming the built environment.”
In its “World Green Building Trends” report, the firm said data from a survey of more than 1,000 participants in 69 countries shows “green building continues to double every three years.”
Desire for Green Spaces
Evergreen Environments has completed various projects for clients with vested interests in maintaining their green spaces in perpetuity.
Signature projects include the installation of about 58,000 square feet of modular green roofing at the Mother Clara Hale bus depot in Harlem, and turning 2,000 square feet of unused rooftop into a peaceful greenspace for students and faculty of Quinnipiac University’s law school in North Haven, Connecticut.
In Manhattan, Evergreen Environments installed vertical living walls at 1 Hotel Central Park on Sixth Avenue near Central Park and converted 22,000 square feet of roof at the Heschel School into a nature trail with trees and shrubs, and added a hydrotech system to ensure proper irrigation and drainage.
Evergreen Environments also remade 26,000 square feet of roof at the Lake Whitney Water Treatment Plant in New Haven, Connecticut, into a meadow using native species of grass and perennials. This design keeps the building cool while helping to provide better water flow into the plant from the lake. The green roof is the largest in Connecticut, and the rebuilt facility was cited by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as one of the top 10 green projects in 2007, according to Zahner, an architectural metalwork firm that developed a custom facade and roof system for the project.
The team at Evergreen Environments also received an AIA Honor Award in 2016 for its conversion of the LeFrak Center at Lakeside.
One Million Square Feet and Counting…
From its start in atrium construction nearly four decades ago to today’s mastery in green rooftop systems, the company’s scope of work has obviously evolved. To date, Evergreen Environments has installed more than 1 million square feet of green roofs across the region, stretching from Boston to upstate New York to the middle of New Jersey.
Under Kruzshak’s leadership, the team of 10-12 employees will continue to create cost-effective, energy-efficient, eye-catching environments throughout the Northeast. “Our jobs are so varied, and we often have a great [scenic] view,” Kruzshak says. “We work in places most people don’t even see.”