Making Sense of Sustainable Building

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

The concept of sustainability in architecture is an ancient idea.  Roman architect Vitruvius wrote the Ten Books on Architecture, the earliest reference book on building science.  Over 2000 years old, his writings cover a variety of topics but include many concepts encompassed by sustainability today.  In fact, prior to building technologies such as air conditioning and electric lighting, most buildings throughout history would generally be considered sustainable by modern standards.

But what exactly is a sustainable building?  In contemporary terms, sustainability (or green building) encompasses a wide range of concepts, all with the main objective of reducing a structure’s impact on the environment.  Typical strategies include locating the building appropriately on the site, reducing water use and energy consumption, and utilizing safe, local and easily renewed construction materials.

In recent years, sustainability has evolved to include voluntary measures like product certifications and building rating systems, as well as mandatory requirements that are now found in both state and local building codes.  Whether voluntary or mandatory, most sustainability measures carry an increased upfront cost but are offset by substantial long-term savings on energy costs and other financial incentives.  Navigating that cost vs. benefit analysis on a typical building project can be a confusing and time-consuming endeavor.

The good news is that sustainability is a grassroots movement at heart.  It starts with simple things like recycling waste, limiting our use of water both indoors and out, and unplugging small appliances and electronics when not in use.  The even better news is that these easy sustainability measures save money as well!

If you are considering a building project and want to get the biggest return on your sustainability dollar, hire an experienced professional.  They can guide you through the decision-making process when comparing various certifications, rating systems and incentives, while identifying what measures will be most effective and appropriate for your project.  Ultimately, efficiency and economy are the goals of sustainability, and saving money while saving the environment is something we can all feel good about.

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Filed under SUSTAINABLE DESIGN, Uncategorized

Savings by Design – Incentivized Green Building

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

Savings by Design

The concept of sustainability in architecture has been around for quite a long time. Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of ‘organic architecture’ advocated the use of local materials, providing adequate ventilation, and breaking down the interior-exterior barrier by maximizing daylighting and views. Even the US Green Building Council, and its LEED green building rating system, has been around for well over a decade. Sustainability remains a hot topic in the industry, and in California sustainability measures have even been mandated by the Code with the recent adoption of the California Green Building Code.

Another sustainability program unique to California is the Savings by Design program. This is a statewide energy efficiency program, tailored to non-residential projects, that is funded by the Public Purpose Program surcharges to gas and electric bills. The nice thing about Savings by Design is that it is an incentive program – both Owners and Design Teams may receive monetary incentives (yes…in the form of a check!) for their participation in the program, based on the type of energy efficiency approach employed, as well as the amount of energy savings that are realized.

Much like the Energy Performance credits in LEED, Savings by Design has two main approaches – either a whole-building energy model, or a systems/prescriptive approach. The incentives available with the whole-building approach are greater, but so too will be the design costs to the owner, and likely also the construction costs. The whole building approach needs to be implemented in the very earliest stages of design to be feasible, and makes sense for larger, more complicated projects. The systems approach is appropriate for smaller buildings, and may be incorporated later in the project, where the specification of higher efficiency building systems and envelope assemblies may satisfy the program’s requirements.

The Savings by Design program employs full time energy efficiency specialists to assist Owners and Design Teams throughout the process. For more information on the Savings by Design program, check out their website. Here you will find FAQs, program brochures and applications, as well as links, resources, and past award-winning projects that have utilized the program.

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