December 22, 2008
Green buildings and LEED® have become popular buzzwords in the design and construction industry. The dramatic increase in fuel and energy prices coupled with the discussion surrounding climate change have pushed the environment into the public consciousness in a way that we have never seen before. Even those who are not concerned with their environmental impact are now interested in energy use and how it affects their bottom line.
It is important that as design professionals we recognize the impact that the built environment has on our natural environment and take seriously the role that our work plays in that interaction. The way in which we design our buildings and developments can either propagate the environmental problem or be part of the solution. The LEED® program has done a great deal to transform the industry in a very positive way and is a great tool in achieving and recognizing green buildings. Its important to educate our clients about the LEED® program, but also recognize that it is not appropriate or necessary for all projects. However, many of the best practices that the LEED® program recognize are easy to implement and can be beneficial for any project. Regardless of LEED® certification, the following best practices can often be easily implemented into projects:
- Construction activity pollution prevention - Pollution such as sediment from construction sites can severely impact the environment and it is irresponsible to not address this with site planning and construction best management practices.
- Maximize open space in site development - Development is rapidly consuming our open space and creative planning can often make better use of the land and leave valuable open space undeveloped.
- Quality control in Stormwater design - Stormwater is the number one source of pollutants in freshwater in urban areas. Care should always be taken to use natural and manufactured systems to remove pollutants from stormwater before it leaves the site.
- Light pollution reduction - Artificial light from buildings and sites limit our views of the night sky and can have negative effects on local wildlife. Care should be taken to direct light down where it is needed rather that into the sky and onto surrounding property.
- Water use reduction of 20 percent over code requirements - Fresh water is a finite resource and should be conserved rather than wasted. A tremendous amount of energy goes into treating wastewater and bringing fresh water to drinking water standards. Any conservation of water is also a conservation of energy. By simply specifying low flow fixtures we can achieve these reductions.
- Fundamental refrigerant management (no cfc) - CFC-based refrigerants contribute to ozone layer depletion and can easily be substituted with other refrigerants.
- Optimize energy performance of at least 20 percent over code requirements - Building energy use is the number one contributor to green house gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. Energy costs will continue to rise and energy efficiency measures have rapid paybacks with savings in energy use. Optimizing strategies range from proper insulation and envelope sealing to high efficiency HVAC units.
- Recycled content in materials of at least 10 percent - Building construction contributes over 30 percent of raw material use and 30 percent of municipal solid waste. Using recycled materials reduces raw material use and the amount of material that must go to landfills.
- Indoor air quality - Americans spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors and indoor air is often 2-5 times more polluted than outside air. By implementing proper ventilation strategies and specifying low emitting materials we can improve indoor air quality with minimal cost impact.
- Implement day lighting strategies - In addition to energy savings from reduced electrical loads due to lighting, day lighting has been shown to improve learning in schools, speed healing in hospitals and increase worker productivity. Proper attention to building orientation and floor plans can yield tremendous results in day lighting spaces.
Bob Faulhaber is one of three principals with AEI, Architects Engineers and Planners. He serves as vice-president responsible for firm management, planning and business development. A registered professional engineer, Bob serves as principal in charge of AEI’s civil engineering projects including commercial site development, infrastructure improvements and residential subdivision design. As a civil engineer Bob incorporates Low Impact Development design strategies into all of his site and subdivision designs and focuses on working with the natural features of a site rather than against it.