Keep It Simple

Sustainability has become a mainstream part of conversation. With the current state of the U.S. economy and the Obama administration touting efficiency, owners everywhere are looking at their buildings as an opportunity to improve theirbottom lines. In fact, it seems that green building is the only facet of the design and construction industries that remains strong. So what is green when it comes to our buildings? After six years of involvement in the green-building industry, I’ve learned that green doesn’t have to include easily identifiable materials and technologies, such as bamboo flooring and vegetated roofs. It doesn’t require a costly third-party certification either. Being green really can be quite simple. Whether you’re building new or retrofitting an existing building, keep the following tenets in mind: There’s no “I” in team. It’s important to bring a team together early and often. Regular meetings should begin before the project starts and continue throughout. These meetings should include the owner, property manager, architect, engineers, general contractor, subs and any other stakeholders. By working together, team members will identify efficiencies and cost savings, such as ways to recover and reuse heat and water, which can impact first costs and operating costs down the line. Do it right the first time. I think it’s incredibly important to maintain constant supervision of a construction project. It’s essential to ensure team members are not cutting corners or deviating from the agreed-upon plan without getting approval from the entire team. I’ve heard of too many projects where a cheaper or untried material was substituted only to be torn out and replaced soon after. More cost, more materials and more waste are not green. Think durability. Every manufacturer has a green product these days. To minimize confusion, there are many third-party product certifications available that label products for low emissions, recycled content and other attributes. However, durability often takes a backseat to these hyped green characteristics. If a metal roof system will last 40 years or more and another roof type will last 15 years, you’re minimizing cost, materials and waste by choosing metal. Measure and tweak systems. Once a building is operating, it’s not OK to walk away and never think about it again. The performance of our buildings drastically changes once people occupy them and turn on task lighting, fiddle with the thermostat, run the microwave, etc. A team should be in place within the building to monitor its energy use and identify systems that are using more energy than necessary. For example, a California office building equipped its underground parking-garage fans with sensors that monitor carbon-monoxide levels. The fans only turn on when CO levels reach a certain point. The payback for the sensors was almost immediate because of the energy saved once the fans weren’t running 24-7. An efficient building that is performing according to its green design criteria looks great in every project-team member’s portfolio. Like any construction project, there are many more systems and strategies that should be researched and discussed within a project team when going green. The team must think about designing and constructing intelligently for the geographic location, orienting the building on the site to take advantage of passive-solar strategies, minimizing water use, constructing a tight envelope to reduce heating and cooling loads, etc. However, none of these things has to be too complicated or costly. Start simply, stay engaged and any building can reap the rewards of going green. By Christina Koch, LEED AP, vice chair of the Metal Construction Association’s Sustainability Council, consultant and writer. Tags: , ,

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