Green building growth is inevitable

ORLANDO, FLA. Contractors have to pursue the green building market because their customers both owners and general contractors "are all over this," consultant and Purdue University Professor Kirk Alter told contractors attending the Network '05 convention Sept. 7-10 here. Buildings consume 36% of total energy use, 65% of U.S. electrical consumption, 30% of our raw materials, 12% of our potable water

ORLANDO, FLA. — Contractors have to pursue the green building market because their customers — both owners and general contractors — "are all over this," consultant and Purdue University Professor Kirk Alter told contractors attending the Network '05 convention Sept. 7-10 here.

Buildings consume 36% of total energy use, 65% of U.S. electrical consumption, 30% of our raw materials, 12% of our potable water and create 30% of our waste output, Alter said.

Those huge environmental impacts can be reduced via green or sustainable construction. Building owners and tenants have embedded corporate expenses tied up in recruiting and training, and then in productivity and retention once the employees are hired, Alter noted.

"Does environmental quality affect those?" Alter said. "Yes. Tenants leave because of air conditioning and elevators."

If a mechanical contractor can reduce energy costs by 20%, that reduces the owner's costs by 36 cents/sq. ft./year. If worker productivity is improved 1%, the savings are $1.30/sq. ft./year.

Mechanical contractors can sell to both those advantages. They can save on facility management cost, capital expenditures, and operation and maintenance; the asset valuation is higher, so the building is worth more. That's why green condos are hot, Alter said.

They have a higher resale value.

Many contractors are wary of green buildings, Alter acknowledged. They worry about installing less equipment that may be more efficient or installing less piping for waterless urinals. They might be afraid that labor will object. Some just don't like change.

Mechanical contractors, however, are in a great position to promote themselves as leaders in the green building market.

The standard for green building is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. The USGBC certifies buildings according to a LEED point system, ranging from the minimum level, certified, to the highest environmental quality possible, platinum.

Some owners will build to the green standards — such as the Stanford University Global Ecology Center — but won't submit to the rigorous LEED certification process, Alter noted. All LEED projects are "sustainable" design, but not all sustainable design buildings are LEED certified.

Most LEED users are federal, state and local government entities, and nonprofits. All General Services Administration projects must meet LEED standards; so must the military, the U.S. State and Energy Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. Nine states have adopted LEED, including California, New York and New Jersey. Numerous municipalities and universities use the standards, as do Ford, Honda, Toyota, Boeing and IBM. LEED-registered projects by building type show that 22% are multi-use, 17% commercial office buildings and 9% higher education, with other occupancies in the low-to mid-single digits. Local governments own 25% of the registered projects, nonprofits own 19% and state governments own 12%. When it comes to certification, the fix is not in, Alter said. The project has to apply, and everything will be measured. There are seven prerequisites before a building can apply. They are sediment and erosion control, minimum energy performance, fundamental commissioning, CFC reduction in HVAC equipment, storage of recyclables, minimum IAQ performance and control of environmental tobacco smoke. Meeting ASHRAE Standard 90.1- 2004, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, is the minimum. Mechanical contractors can score LEED rating points by reducing the amount of water needed for a building. One point is awarded if the municipal water supply is reduced by 50% with the use of, for example, waterless urinals and composting toilets. One point is awarded if 100% of the wastewater is treated onsite to tertiary standards.

On the air side, points are awarded for strategies such as carbon dioxide monitoring, controllability of systems and enhanced thermal comfort. As many as three points are awarded for use of renewable energy and from two to 10 points are earned for optimizing energy performance of the building.

Contractors can start by having at least one professional on staff who earns the LEED certification and by educating its people to demystify green building, Alter said. Green building will continue to become more important in the years to come, he said.

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