New Construction and Green Building Design
Walter Simpson, AASHE Senior Fellow and retired 26 year University at Buffalo Energy Officer and director of UB Green, is working with AASHE and the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment to develop climate action planning resources. You may read Walter's previous articles here.
Over the years I gave many lectures to architecture students at the University at Buffalo. Via slide shows, I took them on a tour of our two campuses, readily pointing out design flaws in many campus buildings and explaining how we retrofit them for energy efficiency. At some point during these lectures – after learning about a great many design flaws and energy retrofits -- insightful students would raise their hands and ask, “Well, instead of doing all this retrofitting, wouldn’t it make more sense to design buildings right in the first place?!”
And I would answer, “Exactly!”
I’d add, “UB’s buildings are an object lesson. Please don’t replicate the mistakes of the past. Instead, go out in the world and design buildings right. Prioritize life cycle analysis and construct the most energy efficient sustainable buildings you can.”
New buildings can and should be designed to minimize adverse environmental impacts. Yet we hear horror stories about “green buildings” – even those with LEED Silver or Gold plaques – being energy waste disaster zones. There are flaws in LEED, and the LEED green building rating system can be misused. Designing a super efficient genuinely green building is not a slam dunk.
Maneuvering through the new building design process and surviving the inevitable project budget crises (where important sustainable design elements are often “value engineered” out) can be like stumbling through a mine field. Small wonder real green design is hard to find. Moreover, in a world of existing buildings, constructing yet another building is environmentally questionable from the get go. Even the greenest new buildings have sizeable environmental footprints. Since the vast majority of new campus buildings will continue to rely on fossil fuels, these buildings will directly and indirectly produce carbon emissions and thus increase the carbon footprint of your school. That’s a problem for any college or university striving for carbon neutrality or large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
So while new construction can be exciting, sexy, and rife with dreams and possibility, the first rule of green design is this:the greenest building is the one not built.
Thus, campus green design advocates should first focus on avoiding new construction. But how to do that – especially if it appears that new campus space is needed? The primary strategy is “adaptive reuse” and its done by meeting the proposed new building’s program needs by reconfiguring and better utilizing existing space. This may work because inefficient space utilization (including inefficient classroom scheduling) is the norm on many campuses.
What if your school is committed to an enrollment growth scenario? Try scheduling classes earlier or later in the day, on weekends, or better utilizing summer months when many campuses are open for business – guzzling energy and spewing carbon -- but are almost student and faculty-free.
Here are basic green design strategies:
- Build small if at all
- Optimize site selection in order to preserve green space and minimize transportation impacts
- Orient building to take maximum advantage of sunlight and micro-climate
- Use energy as efficiently as possible
- Maximize the use of renewable energy
- Use water as efficiently as possible
- Minimize waste water and run-off
- Minimize impact of materials by using green products
- Design for a healthy indoor environment
These general strategies give rise to numerous specific strategies which should not be considered in isolation from the design process itself. That process needs to be highly collaborative and properly guided by a design consultant with a proven track record in super-efficient green buildings that are not budget busters. The process should begin with green design charrette with all stakeholders in order to establish strong green/low-carbon and LEED goals for the new building.
LEED (not “Leeds”) stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is comprised of a series of green building rating systems – including LEED for New Construction -- established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Through the use of various recommended green building strategies, LEED points are earned – leading to a LEED certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum rating.
Sadly, many green building projects have lost their way when the LEED checklist is cherry-picked to find the cheapest, easiest ways to rack up enough points to achieve a LEED rating. Please don’t do this! If your school commits to genuine sustainable design, the LEED points will follow.
But even a conscientious approach to LEED will not guarantee your school an energy efficient, low-carbon building. To achieve that critically important goal, you need to aim for a LEED Gold or Platinum with a maximum number of LEED energy efficiency and renewable energy credits. Here are the LEED points to concentrate on:
Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
- EA Credit 1 – Optimize Energy Performance (maximize these points; up to 10 are possible – go for 8 to 10!)
- EA Credit 2 – On-Site Renewable Energy (maximize these points; go for all 3!)
- EA Credit 6 – Green Power
Additionally, pay careful attention to building site selection so that the new building is primary served by public transit, bicycling, and walking.
Beware if your college or university is planning to build a new laboratory building because these are generally more energy intensive and wasteful than the norm and thus have the largest carbon footprints. See Labs21 for guidelines for green design of energy efficient laboratory buildings. Labs21 builds on the LEED, adding prerequisites and credits pertaining to health and safety, fume hood energy use, and plug loads. Labs21 provides a series of extremely helpful technical bulletins and best practice guides.
Of course, LEED and Labs21 aren’t the only shows in town. Another option – though best done in tandem with these other programs – is Architecture 2030 which asks participants to accept these standards:
- All new buildings, developments, and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type
- At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type
- The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings shall be increased to:
o 60% in 2010
o 70% in 2015
o 80% in 2020
o 90% in 2025
o Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate)
Architecture 2030 provides average energy consumption performance data in KBTU/Sq.Ft./Yr by building type so that the 50%. 60%, 70%, etc. reduction targets are more precisely understood.
Green building design is an extensive topic that I cannot do justice to in just a short column. Please see green design section of AASHE’s Climate Action Planning Guide Wiki for more discussion on this topic including an explanation of potential Achilles Heels of green design -- namely, ventilation, lighting, and windows.
While there are many excellent green building design handbooks and guides, I’ll use my author’s prerogative to mention one I was involved creating, the UB High Performance Building Guidelines which contains hundreds of green design strategies as well as a helpful explanation of the green design process.
My contract with AASHE has wound down and this 15th climate action planning blog will be my last for now. I had hoped to write one last post on the “Commuting Conundrum” but for that discussion I will refer you to the commuting section of the wiki.
As always, I hope readers have found these blogs helpful.
Good luck climateers!
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