By Keith Lesser, AIA, LEED
What would happen if every building in this country was adapted with high-performance design components? The United States would no longer be dependent on foreign oil.
With all the focus on improving energy efficiencies in automobiles and manufacturing, the tremendous cost and environmental impact associated with heating, cooling and lighting commercial and residential structures often is overlooked. Yet according to the US Green Building Council, this country’s buildings account for 39 percent of all energy consumption, 68 percent of all electrical consumption, 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent of raw material usage and 30 percent of all waste.
The time has come to change that, and it appears that the commercial real estate industry and public sector are jumping on board. Almost all new public RFPs we receive, as well as a growing number of our private sector projects, have “green” components.
It is important to note at the outset that a property does not have to be LEED certified to be a high-performance building. Many owners and developers are deterred by the costs associated with the LEED process. The term “high performance” refers to designing a building above the minimum criteria of the energy code. In essence, the incorporation of responsible technologies results in lower heating and cooling costs and less energy consumption.
For example, IS&L just designed a medical office building in Phoenixville, Pa., that is not fully green but is high performance. It features high-efficiency HVAC systems and controls. It also features a highly insulated building envelope — including windows, walls and roof — within a standard building format. The resulting positive outcome has prompted the property’s developer, Med Development of Kansas City, to commit to incorporating this format in all of its future projects.
Lighting represents another major component in high-performance design. Room daylight sensors can shut window-proximate light fixtures off on sunny days and turn them on in overcast or rainy weather. Similarly, motion sensors in restroom areas automatically turn lights off when bathrooms are unoccupied. Both measures significantly reduce a building’s draw on the power grid. Additionally, less lighting also produces less heat, which lowers cooling requirements and the associated costs.
BUILD VS. RENOVATE
When it comes to incorporating high-performance design elements, it is important to remember that every building is unique. Part of an architect’s role is to analyze each property on its own merits and construction methods before developing a plan to phase in energy-efficient options and systems.
New construction projects like the one in Phoenixville enable the designer to start from the inside out. This enables the consideration of basic climatic design – like solar orientation to provide the best sun exposure for winter heat gain and the best shading for summer cooling.
It obviously is more challenging to renovate an occupied building for energy efficiency. However, it is being done in increasing numbers. Roof replacement – which has little impact on building occupants – is a great time to add more insulation. It is also easy to re-clad a building and improve its “tightness” without disturbing tenants. Shading elements can be installed over windows to lessen the heat impact of the summer sun. While replacing mechanical equipment generally is more invasive, with the right plan it can be done successfully as well.
IS&L is about to start the second phase of a renovation & addition for a Hampshire Companies property at 140 Centennial Ave. in Piscataway. The project involves an addition to the 1970s-era flex property. The original structure is not insulated and, therefore, costly to operate. As part of the project, the building was stripped to the steel frame and completely re-clad with an insulated skin & low-E insulated glass – with tenants in place.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Energy costs will continue to rise, and the bottom line solution to lowering bills is to use less of it. Buildings that employ high-performance design components not only are more environmentally friendly but are among the best positioned to attract and retain tenants.
Energy surcharges that used to be $1.25 to 1.50 per square foot at a traditional office building are now approaching $2 per square foot and more and are projected to increase by 15% per year. Over the course of a 10-year lease, this is a big-ticket item. Energy-efficient buildings can reduce this notably.
New green technologies, materials and products are constantly hitting the market to accommodate increasing demand. This industry will continue to evolve as energy audits and energy-efficient retrofits become an even higher priority for businesses.
Ideally, the visibly increased efforts by developers and property owners to make their buildings more energy efficient eventually will be supported at some level by law makers with tax incentives for high-performance installations. This could create a huge number of jobs for the development and manufacture of high-efficiency products. In turn, this would provide a much-needed economic boost while helping to lower this country’s energy consumption and dependency.
Keith H. Lesser, AIA, LEED, has more than 23 years of practical, diversified experience in both design and building technologies. He is a partner with Ives, Schier & Lesser Architecture Studio in Fair Lawn, N.J.