THE RISKS AND REWARDS OF SUSTAINABLE DESIGN AND LEED CERTIFICATION
Next to cost, sustainability is a growing concern of many Texas municipalities when building fire stations. Not only do governments want to reduce their energy and water utility costs, but they also want to be seen as leaders in constructing more environmentally friendly buildings.
This is indeed a worthy motivation, and Brown Reynolds Watford Architects, Inc. is committed to helping our clients make environmentally responsible choices. We evaluate environmental performance from a “whole building” perspective and define a standard for what constitutes a “green” building. Whether or not a client chooses to pursue the U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, BRW provides the same technical and interpretive assistance to develop the project’s full potential, allowing for innovative systems to count towards certification.
Sustainable design, however, isn’t without risk. Because so much of the technology being used is relatively untested (with only a handful of years, as opposed to decades of success behind it), it’s impossible to know for sure if the sustainably harvested wood, high-tech concrete, or cutting-edge HVAC system will deliver the same results their less “green” but more time-tested counterparts do. Very often, the “green” alternative is initially more expensive than the traditional approach, and many clients are unwilling to invest, not knowing whether it will pay off in the long run.
As more and more companies produce sustainable oriented products, however, their cost is reducing and becoming more commonplace. Low VOC paint with fewer odors, for instance, is very available at only a small premium over conventional paint, but greatly improves the indoor air quality.
In order to manage the risks of newly developed “green” products and higher initial costs, BRW sticks, first and foremost, to the basics. When we are designing a project, regardless of whether the client is seeking LEED certification, we have three steps to achieving the most efficient product:
- First, build the most thermally insulated building you can. Insulation is relatively inexpensive and this will cut heating and cooling costs dramatically.
- Second, install the most efficient mechanical system you can afford. Next to insulation, there is no doubt that investing in energy efficiency mechanical systems pays dividends almost immediately.
- Third, collect rain water for reuse in irrigation systems and washing vehicles. Collection systems can simply use rain barrels or be designed with more expensive tanks, pumps, water processing and automation systems. This has shown to provide significant “bang for the bucks” when it comes to sustainable options.
- Only then look at more cutting-edge renewable energy and sustainable systems, like geothermal, photo-voltaic panels and wind turbines.
Admittedly, much of the technology behind today’s green building methods and products is untested. But so, at one time, was electricity. We can be sure that not every attempt at incorporating electricity was a success, but the early adopters’ enthusiasm and willingness to make an investment in an emerging technology paid off in the long run (as proven by the fact that you are reading this).
For better or worse, however, sustainable design isn’t a fad. It is an overdue acknowledgement that our planet can only provide a finite quantity of resources, and we as builders, designers, and building owners must do our best to conserve those resources.
An old Greek proverb says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
We may not know the shade of every tree we are planting today. But we can be sure our grandchildren will appreciate that we’ve planted them.
For a more in-depth discussion specific to your situation, please drop Gary DeVries and Ray Holliday a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
POSTED BY: GARY DEVRIES