Building for Tomorrow

Energy plays more of a role in building and design than ever before, and it has just as much to do with health and the environment as it does with operations and the bottom line. We have entered an era in which a building’s energy productivity looms ever larger as a factor in business and global competition.



The global industrial sector accounts for 27 percent of the total projected increase (57 percent) in the world’s liquid energy demand between 2004 and 2030, as IMT noted last week based on the recently released Energy Information Administration (EIA) “International Energy Outlook 2007″ report. Only the transportation sector surpasses industry’s projected demand.

The rapid rise of energy costs over the past few years “support the widespread conclusion that we’re entering an era in which energy productivity … will loom ever larger as a factor in the bottom line and global competition,” as Plant Services Editor-in-Chief Paul Studebaker recently pointed out, summing up the business aspect of the energy dilemma.

In fact, energy is playing more of a role in operations, building and design than it has ever before.

Now that the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system has become widely known and accepted, increasingly more builders’ clients do not need much prodding to undertake the basic testing, or commissioning, of building systems to ensure that equipment has been installed properly and is therefore functioning optimally, Nancy B. Solomon of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently pointed out in GreenSource magazine.

In Plant ServicesMay 2007 issue, Studebaker cited three major energy villains in the plant — electrical (aka, “The Zapper”), boiler (“The Steamer”) and compressor/pump/fan systems (“The Leakster”) — and offered ways to “be the hero at your plant and rid your world” of these energy wasters.

Of course, energy has just as much to do with the environment and health as it does operations and the bottom line.

Unknowingly, the architecture and building community is responsible for almost half (48 percent) of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to data from the EIA. Globally the percentage is even greater.

As such, the green building movement is gaining strength and, without doubt, will increasingly play a larger role in design and building.

“The recent strength and growth of green building is due in large part to its voluntary nature, which provides builders and developers the flexibility that is essential for incorporating the principles of sustainable design,” Ray Tonjes, a custom builder from Austin, Texas, and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Green Building Subcommittee chair, recently testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council:

Buildings consume 70 percent of the electricity load in the U.S.;

The average LEED-certified building uses 32 percent less electricity and saves 350 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually;

Buildings account for 38 percent of CO2 emissions in the U.S. alone;

As populations and economies grow significantly over the coming decades, approximately 15 million new buildings are projected to be constructed by 2015 to meet demand;

Buildings have a lifespan of 50-100 years during which they continually consume energy and produce CO2 emissions; and

Over the next 25 years, CO2 emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector, with emissions from commercial buildings projected to grow fastest — 1.8 percent a year through 2030.

The%20DSA%20was%20built%20with%20green%20in%20mind.jpg
The Detroit School of Arts (DSA) was designed and built with energy efficiency in mind; recycled-content materials, low-emitting materials and products manufactured nearby were preferred; and almost 60 percent of the construction waste was diverted from landfills.
Credit: BuildingGreen.com

To help design buildings for a sustainable future, the AIA spearheads the 2030 Challenge to reduce the carbon output of all new construction 10 percent every five years so that by 2030 all new building are completely carbon neutral.

Sustainable design is not a style so much as it is an approach “in which the various inputs and outputs of the building are considered and optimized for the long-term health and well being of people and the environment around them,” Solomon wrote, going on to note:

To accomplish this, many factors need to be considered simultaneously and early in the design process so that the most eco-efficient patterns become intrinsic characteristics of the initial concept. Once these qualities have been woven — or integrated — into the preliminary design, they offer the architect elements that can be articulated if desired, much the same way an architect can decide to express or conceal the building structure.

Sustainability is for existing buildings, too.

For instance, major global banking institutions have committed $1 billion to finance the “green” upgrades of municipal buildings in worldwide cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Berlin and Tokyo, The Associated Press recently reported (via ARCHITECT Online).

“The makeovers will include replacing heating, cooling and lighting systems with energy-efficient networks; making roofs white or reflective to deflect more of the sun’s heat; sealing windows and installing new models that let more light in; and setting up sensors to control more efficient use of lights and air conditioning,” AP explained.

Why all the change? In New York City, for one, the consumption of energy needed to operate buildings generates 79 percent of the city’s total carbon count.

Moreover, households use nearly one-fifth the total energy consumed in the U.S. every year, and of that energy, 50 percent to 70 percent is spent on heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to Industrial Distribution this month, distributors serving the energy market and the government are especially optimistic about 2007. In fact, many expect sales to increase more than 10 percent this year and believe that housing and remodeling will bounce back.

“We see opportunity in residential construction,” Gary Gettle, president and CEO of Carlson Systems, told Industrial Distribution. “We feel strongly it’s going to come back. The [backlog] of housing inventories is coming down. We feel strongly about our opportunities in commercial construction… .”

What can homeowners, builders and business operators do to conserve energy?

Modest investments in energy-saving and other climate-friendly technologies can yield buildings and communities that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthier places to live and work. You can start by being informed. The DOE online provides information, developments, trends and practical energy-saving tips.

Resources

United States Dept. of Energy

Building Design Leaders Collaborating on Carbon-Neutral Buildings by 2030
Goal to Meet Specific Energy Reduction Targets

U.S. Green Building Council, May 7, 2007

Builders lead the way in green building
National Association of Home Builders, May 15, 2007

The three major energy villains keeping your plant from realizing savings
by Paul Studebaker
Plant Services, May 2007

The Hidden Life of Green
by Nancy Solomon
GreenSource (McGraw-Hill Construction), April 2007

Skyscrapers go green under Clinton plan
by Sara Kugler
The Associated Press (via ARCHITECT Online), May 16, 2007

Energy sector powers Big 50 sales
by Jack Keough
Industrial Distribution, June 1, 2007

White Paper: Detroit School of Arts (DSA)
BuildingGreen.com

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  • Tom Kelly, PE
    June 5, 2007

    I take issue with all the hype on building green or energy efficient. It may be true that there has been some improvement in some to the building practices, materials and fixtures in homes to get an Energy Star rating, but a genuine effort to define and enforce green/energy efficiency just has not happened.

    For example, stick framing with conventional insulation should be phased out in favor of isolated concrete forms, R19 vs R56, respectively; vented crawl spaces should be phased out in favor of plenum HVAC for both efficiency and comfort (you get heated floors for free); exterior materials that are maintenace free, such as brick or stucco vs a painted material), etc.

    With rising material and energy costs, doing the right thing up front for an additional 5-10 percent will reap 10′s of thousands of dollars over the 50-100 year life of the home.

    Until codes change, don’t hold your breath.


  • Dan Leggett
    June 5, 2007

    Tom makes a good point about codes. A building that meets code can be an energy seive, unless you have a particularly detail-oriented builder. I’ve experenced this with a recent addition/renovation. Also, I read a recent article in Fine Homebuilding magazine that said, in part, inovative buildings that don’t fit neatly in the code require much more effort to get approved. This discourages improvement.


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