BY SUZAN EREM
Special to Contractor's
OAK BROOK, ILL. — About 100 plumbing contractors and inspectors attended a green building seminar May 9 here to find out whether the green initiative is just another fad or a real market for innovative plumbing and mechanical contractors. The event, sponsored by the Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Authority of Northern Illinois, focused on two green projects in the Chicago area: Loyola University's Information Commons and the Elgin Academy.
Loyola is seeking Silver level certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program for its facility. The university is finding that as some costs go down, design and engineering costs expand with every innovation.
"Candidly, we knew there was going to be an incremental cost in committing to Silver LEED," Loyola Vice President Wayne Magdziarz told PAMCANI members. "But we didn't think it would be to this magnitude."
Magdziarz estimated a premium of 25% to 30% for the green aspects of the $25 million construction.
In addition, a protest by some students who feared losing valuable green space and their lakefront view was unexpected. Magdziarz said he was eventually able to convince them of the merits of the project.
Project architect Devon Patterson of Solomon Cordwell Buenze said the challenges are worth it.
"It took a lot of educating of the city and educating Loyola," he said. "It's been a painful process, but I think it'll be one of the premier buildings in the city of Chicago."
On the plus side, the energy savings are higher for the project than originally anticipated, Magdziarz said.
"We expected a 36, 37% energy savings," he said. "That number has grown to closer to 49 and 50%, so we're looking at a payback period of about 15 to17 years on our initial investment. [That] is a blink of an eye in the life of a university environment. That's really what put us over the edge to commit to a sustainability effort."
PAMCANI members also heard from John Cooper, the president of Elgin Academy, a private school in the midst of a green building project in the suburb northwest of Chicago. He confirmed that a long-term payback isn't unusual for an educational institution.
"Ours is going to come in at about 6 to 8%," he explained of Elgin's premium for going green. "When you're a school and you expect to be around forever — to use that building for 100, 200 years — then the payback ratios change for you."
Jim Allen, water conservation manager of Sloan Valve Co. and a board member of the Plumbing Contractors of America, presented the following statistics: 70% of the earth's surface is covered with water; 3% of the water on earth is fresh water but only 1% is available for human consumption; and while the U.S. population has nearly doubled since 1950, water usage has nearly tripled in that time.
Despite the full-color, high-tech presentations and persuasive testimony from building owners and architects, some PAMCANI members expressed skepticism in their questions. One contractor, for example, asked Illinois Chief Plumbing Inspector Ted Buecker how the industry could hope to stay ahead of the curve when the state takes two years to make a code change.
New technology can go through a much faster approval process, Buecker said, and the state has progressed on some code changes, such as those for recapturing rainwater. Permits for experimental projects are available, he added, but the liability falls on the contractor if those projects aren't successful.
A number of contractors and inspectors commented on Allen's presentation about new technology, most notably waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets and the technology used to run complex energy systems in large buildings. PAMCANI members repeatedly brought up the critical need for skilled and properly trained journeymen to oversee green-oriented products to ensure proper operation.
"All those energy savings go right down the drain if those systems are not maintained by a licensed professional," said plumbing contractor Bob Abbott of Abbott Industries in Bensenville, Ill. Maintenance was a concern of another contractor as well.
"Untrained maintenance guys may just turn the computer off and you're not saving anything," said PAMCANI board member Paul Buddy of Paul F. Buddy Plumbing and Heating and Cannonball Mechanical, both in Aurora, Ill.