The latest in cutting-edge technology often creeps into the discussion when the subjects of green building design and operation arise. While systems and processes have seen remarkable progress in the past 10 years, going green doesn’t demand state-of-the-art advances or sophisticated features. In fact, some of the more successful sustainable concepts are grounded in tried-and-true practices and cost very little (if properly planned).
Green design is integrative. Whether you’re considering new construction or a retrofit, your best outcome will result from identifying and embedding sustainable objectives early in the process. Passive design strategies can be cost efficient and often require nothing more than smart design and common sense.
In Houston, Green Bank’s 20,000-square-foot headquarters was placed in an urban area where a utility easement at the back of the property led designers to create a four-story building with shallow floor plates. To take advantage of passive strategies, the designers oriented the long face of the building to the south and added shading devices to control glare and heat gain. Minimal windows were placed on the east side, and the west side had no windows at all. More windows on the north face allowed daylight penetration. As a result, natural light reaches 85 percent of the employee-occupied spaces, which helped contribute to a 22-percent energy savings for the LEED Gold building.
Night flushing and passive ventilation are great ways to conserve natural resources in some climates. By allowing cool air to enter the building at night and lower the temperature inside, the space can stay cooler during the day. Providing a way for hot air to escape through vents at the top of the space or through operable windows during the day also helps to save energy on space conditioning. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Portland Chapter’s Center for Architecture employed night flushing and natural ventilation – as well as other passive and off-the-shelf strategies – to earn LEED Platinum.
A third-party consultant can offer a fresh perspective to help you leverage passive strategies and make the most of your resources, which can free up funds for wish-list items. Valencia Community College in Orlando, FL, wanted to install solar panels on its new Building 11, but there were no government or utility incentives to help fund the system. Working with the team in the early phases, strategies were identified for shading and other passive elements coupled with efficient active systems leading to enough savings in the budget that the college was able to incorporate a 70 kilowatt photovoltaic array on the roof.
The idea of harvesting rainwater is not new. There are many ways to collect rainwater and use it wisely, and a cistern or bioswale might just as easily fit into a facility renovation as a new project.
Green Bank included an underground rainwater cistern that provides 100 percent of the landscape’s irrigation. Three new buildings in the Houston area will combine rainwater and graywater harvesting, in which the faucet and drinking fountain discharge is recycled back into the building for flushing toilets and urinals, while some of it becomes ground-level irrigation. The company had to create a leech field for its septic system and obtained a variance to place this field on the green roof.
Each site is different. Look at how you can do more with an upgrade you’re already performing. If you’re building a new parking facility, consider adding a rainwater cistern underground. Rather than replace landscaping during a remodel, celebrate stormwater collection with a visible bioswale. Plant materials can capture water runoff, filter it, and send it to irrigation.
Simple Change, Powerful Impact
The 200 Market Building in Portland, OR, saved 1.6 million gallons of water per year by simply installing low-flow toilet and urinal fixtures and aerators on faucets. The owner of this commercial office building reduced his utility bills by $16,000 in less than 1 year for his $37,000 investment.
Create a green wall by growing vines and plants up the side of a building to offer shading properties and reduce carbon dioxide from nearby streets. This feature can also provide a visual respite in an urban landscape. Consider planting a vegetable garden on a portion of your property and donating the produce to a community organization.
Occasionally, renovations in the past five decades covered sustainable features. When undertaking a renovation, investigate the building’s original conditions. You might reveal a light well to bring natural daylight into the space or leave a brick wall or old timber beams exposed after a retrofit to cut down on finish materials.
One of the easiest ways to enhance your building’s green quotient is through informed decisions with respect to materials. Concrete, steel, and wood can be specified for the most locally available products to lessen environmental impacts from transportation, and recycled-content materials cut down on raw resource extraction and manufacturing emissions. For example, Green Bank specified East Texas cypress for wood ceilings, Hill Country stone for walls, and translucent space divider panels made from recycled soda bottle plastics.
Mixing It Up
Combining sound, off-the-shelf approaches with leading technology can offer superior results. Energy and daylight modeling and computational fluid dynamics analyses can help optimize passive designs according to climatic conditions, sun angles, and wind patterns. Monitoring systems that dim electric lights when ample daylight is available or sensors that reduce heating or cooling or open outdoor vents based on temperature and humidity help save energy. Many local utilities will help pay for building audits, analyses, and some retrofit design services and equipment. Government grants and tax credits can also help offset costs. Call your utility and look for energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives at www.dsireusa.org.
Amanda Tullos, AIA, LEED AP, is a senior consultant at Green Building Services Inc. Amanda works from the firm’s Houston office and can be reached at (281) 253-2133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.