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Four Green Building Lessons Learned


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Seventeen-plus years since “green building” became a household word, we are still learning how to make our built environment environmentally-friendly and healthy. With more than 5.77 billion square feet in 165 countries around the world qualifying as green building, many people are living and working in these spaces, gaining first-hand knowledge of how these buildings work. Lessons learned in green building include misconceptions about the cost, design strategies that work, advancements in technology, and performance measuring.

Lesson 1: Green Building Doesn’t Have to Cost More

Most construction companies and design professionals seem to think that green building will cost extra. It is often approached as an alternate that can be slapped on at the end of the design phase, if there is money left in the budget. According to a report from the World Green Building Council looking at design and construction costs from 2000-2012, the premium for LEED and BREEAM certified green buildings was 0 to 12.5 per cent. Project costs are driven by many different factors, not all of them related to the greenness of the building.

Project costs are driven by many different factors, not all of them related to the greenness of the building. 

For example, a building in Santiago, Chile achieved LEED Silver with no additional construction costs (compared to a similar office building built recently in the same area). It was actually able to sell all of its 54 office units before construction was even complete. An integrated design approach to design and construction actually helped reduce costs, as the team was able to work together to reach a common goal.

Lesson 2: Integrated Design Is a Necessity

Design professionals know that building systems overlap and affect the performance of other systems. For example, more window area on the building envelope requires more heating and cooling, and more lighting or process electrical loads require more cooling to offset the generated heat. In most projects, design consultants have some communication with each other, but efficiencies are not actively sought out.

With an emphasis on energy efficiency, many green projects require the design team to work especially close, as decisions in one area of the building can have wide-reaching effects. This integrated design strategy brings all members of the design team together early on; that means the owners, building users, and the contractors all work together in order to develop the needed strategies to reach the green building goals of the project. This can require more time and money be spent on the design process, but it saves time, and possibly money, during construction and in energy costs after occupancy.

Lesson 3: Technology Is Always Evolving

New technology in all building systems allows green buildings to achieve greater efficiencies with less cost. Nowhere is this effect greater than in the field of solar energy generation. Photovoltaic technology has increased the efficiency of power generation by up to 12 per cent in just the last four years. It can be hard to determine when to step into the market, knowing that next year the same technology will be cheaper or that newer technology will be available. Tax credits and refunds can help offset the costs of these systems, making them a good investment for all involved.

Nowhere is this effect greater than in the field of solar energy generation. 

Lesson 4: Green Building Certification Is Not the End Of The Story

With today’s knowledge and equipment, it is fairly easy to design a high-performance building, but more difficult to make that building perform to the design specifications. Commissioning is a great way to ensure that systems are running according to the intention of the original design. It is a form of functional testing that compares actual performance to the design criteria, and makes adjustments to meet the design specifications. 

Even just a few months after moving in, the occupants may make changes to settings, or they may be using equipment that changes how the building systems perform. This is why continuous monitoring and adjustments are needed. It can be beneficial to compare actual measurements of efficiency to the original design or even previous periods of time in order to determine if the design goals are being met. If they are not, then adjustments to settings or changes in occupant behavior may be needed.

Building designers, owners, and contractors will continue to learn more about designing and building high-performance buildings. Real-time measuring and monitoring of building systems will continue to drive new technology and influence how we live and work in green buildings. The hardest thing to change may be the behavior of the inhabitants, as old habits, such as adjusting the thermostat when we are uncomfortable, die hard.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks you may enjoy: 

Where is Green Building Headed?

The Future of Green Building

Is Green Building Worth It?

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