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Building with Sustainable Green Materials

June 23, 2011

As the construction industry recovers from the Great Recession, and more builders resume operations, many will discover a changed world.

As the construction industry recovers from the Great Recession, and more builders resume operations, many will discover a changed world.

That’s because while time may have slowed for builders in recent years, governmental, regulatory and professional entities have been busily honing and adopting a new range of green building codes and standards that are changing their industry.

As more of these codes and standards continue to make their way toward adoption, builders are compelled to pay closer attention to all the details that come into play during a building’s entire life cycle—including where and how a building is built, how many resources it consumes, how it affects the environment, and what materials go into its construction.

Often these new standards and practices for sustainable construction require builders to take into account many factors that were largely off the radar prior to the new focus on sustainability.

For example, in years past, few if any builders considered whether the materials used in their projects were recyclable—and if materials in fact were recyclable, how easily and responsibly those materials could be reclaimed and reused.

And construction waste, while a factor in terms of cost, was seldom viewed in terms of its environmental impact.

But that was the past. Many builders now recognize that the future is green, and an increased number of agencies now require green construction.  And most builders and developers also realize that sustainable construction is the responsible next step in preserving and improving our common environment.

Many of those who have embraced green construction practices have found that sustainability can generate greenback dollars, as well. Adherence to sustainability standards can benefit developers through energy savings, materials costs and water savings realized over the life of the buildings. Some groups have also suggested better rent from high performing buildings.

How To Get LEED Credits For Steel

Similar requirements exist in most all of the green codes or standards

Materials & Resources Credit 4: Recycled Content intends to increase demand for building products that incorporate recycled content materials, thereby reducing impacts resulting from extraction and processing of virgin materials. As discussed and demonstrated below, steel building products contribute positively toward points under Credits 4.1 and 4.2. The following is required by LEED-NC

Version 2.2: Credit 4.1 (1 point) “Use materials with recycled content such that the sum of post-consumer recycled content plus one-half of the pre-consumer content constitutes at least 10% (based on cost) of the total value of the materials in the project.”

Credit 4.2 (1 point) “Use materials with recycled content such that the sum of post-consumer recycled content plus one-half of the pre-consumer content constitutes at least 20% of the total value of the materials in the project.”

Source: Steel Recycling Institute

For all of these reasons, it makes eminent sense to take a close look at sustainability, starting with the most basic element of construction—the materials themselves—to see how they fit into the new green paradigm.

During that process, more builders are discovering that cold-formed steel (CFS) can play a major role in helping them satisfy sustainability requirements.

Steel itself is recognized in all major green building standards and rating programs, including the National Green Building Standard (ICC-700) for residential buildings, ASHRAE Standard 189.1 for commercial construction, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program that covers all types of buildings.

The LEED Green Building Rating System, as promulgated by the U.S. Green Building Council, aims to improve occupant well-being, environmental performance and economic returns of buildings using established and innovative practices, standards and technologies. Steel's recycled content makes it a desirable construction material in looking to achieve LEED credits. Designers and builders have long recognized and lauded steel for its strength, durability, and functionality. Increasingly, however, architects are recognizing steel’s important environmental attributes— especially its recycled content and high reclamation rate. The LEED rating system only promotes the use of materials with high levels of recycled content. The equally important reclamation rate of the materials is not currently considered.

This is because steel is one of the most recycled materials—and the only material with an automatic minimum default value for recycled content in the LEED program. Moreover, steel is easily recycled right back into other steel products at the end of its useful life–and recyclable just like its first generation.

Panelized CFS construction cuts the amount of waste produced at a building site. CFS-based sites generate only a small amount of recyclable steel material, compared to the much larger amount of landfill-bound waste generated by wood-based projects.

Future of green building with CFS

Many high performance buildings have been constructed with CFS framing to take advantage of its consistent recycled content and the fact that it can be recycled over and over again – making future demolition and reuse more appealing.

The steel industry began moving forward with sustainability issues well before it became the in thing to do.  The mills recognized the financial benefits of being green and reduced the energy use per ton of steel produced by approximately 1/3 between the early 1990s and today.  Similar reductions have been made in emissions. 

The steel industry has been developing and testing improved systems and products for high performing buildings from an energy efficiency standpoint since the 1990s as well.  Today’s product lines include innovative systems that provide thermal breaks and longer flow paths to limit heat losses and gains.  These include systems with the steel embedded into foam sheathing panels and large openings in floor systems that allow ducts to be easily moved from the unconditioned attic to the floor and ceiling assemblies in buildings, eliminating or minimizing the duct losses that are one of the last major hurdles to high performance in buildings.

These initiatives coupled with dramatic improvements by optimizing the use of steel during design have yielded excellent energy savings which is great for the environment and a projects bottom line. 

All said and done cold-formed steel projects can ensure for a building that is durable, meeting the test of time and available for generations to come.

Maribeth Rizzuto is Director of Education and Sustainable Construction, Steel Framing Alliance

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