Alan Heikkinen

It’s no surprise that a Bay Area contractor would have an environmental bent, but Branagh, Inc.’s commitment extends to its social conscience. It builds affordable housing and relies on the best practices in environmental building, starting at the “napkin stage.” Most of the builder’s projects are either LEED certified or Green Point Rated, the rating system of local organization Build It Green. Estimator and sustainability coordinator Alan Heikkinen is a key part of the company’s green building efforts. Here he talks to gb&d about why healthier products are better for at-risk populations.

Our brand is our experience with sustainable projects. Branagh has been involved in sustainable processes since 2001, before LEED had programs for residential buildings. A facility like Rising Oaks really lends itself to sustainability, because, for one thing, we’re always looking at ways of building products that will last for a long time. Rising Oaks is being built for young adults transitioning from the foster care system, and we take into consideration their backgrounds—they may be working through personal or emotional problems—and we do things like use solid-core doors instead of hollow-core doors, stronger hinges, and cabinets that are built out of plywood instead of particleboard. We’re looking for a healthy environment and products that will last.

Up Close and Personal

What was your first job? 
I was a bag boy at a grocery store.

If you weren’t in construction, what would you be doing?
Mentoring and teaching people with addictions.

What inspires you?
Seeing people’s lives changed for the better.

Describe yourself in three words.
Caring, curious, motivated.

What is your hidden talent?
I sing in a choir and a chambers group and would do more in community choruses if I had the time.

We’re creating an environment for a portion of society that needs assistance. And by creating a healthier living environment, we can help people. For instance, if you have residents who are ADHD or are mildly autistic, living in a house filled with toxic materials can trigger anything from allergies to emotional problems. We try to use more inert materials in the buildings, … more hard surface area and less carpeting. The carpeting we do use meets the Green Label Plus standard from the Carpet and Rug Institute, meaning it has very low emissions of volatile organic compounds. We also look for materials that have no added urea-formaldehyde.

Our team designs and operates the buildings to maintain healthy air quality for the occupants. The maintenance staff is encouraged to use non-toxic cleaning products, and many of the management companies have property-wide no-smoking policies. In Rising Oaks, we’ll use natural linoleum flooring, and we’ll use many of the same kinds of products we used in Fourth Street Apartments—products like Icynene, a high-quality foam insulation that is HFC- and PBDE-free. We also use formaldehyde-free doors, and custom countertops made from a formaldehyde-free particleboard.

The Fourth Street Apartments has a living roof system designed by Design Ecology, and we used native plants. That means aiming for 90 percent of the installed plants to be drought tolerant. One of our subcontractors, Concord Iron Works, did the structural steel for the Fourth Street Apartments. They were very proactive in making sure the steel supplied for our buildings had some of the highest recycled content available.

There are a lot of parts and players involved in a successful green building project. We have pre-planning meetings at the design phase, and we work to educate the designers, engineers, subcontractors, suppliers, as well as our own team at Branagh. We strongly believe in LEED and GPR [Green Point Rating], and we set goals early and assess the costs of every decision. We insist that our subcontractors use recycled materials, look for ways to reduce waste, and improve energy efficiency from day one. This is a real team effort.