8 Developments (Part 1 of the Go Green! series)
Once upon a time, building with a mind for energy efficiency and conscientiousness for the environment was something only the residential market could afford to worry about. But anymore, that has switched. The rewards for green construction are much greater today thanks in part to LEED standards.
The U.S. Green Building Council incentivized builders to go green with a program that awards points based on environment-friendly practices and materials used on a project. With so much focus on green building, especially in the commercial market, the opportunities are growing. Here are some advances in green commercial building that you can adopt to boost your LEED credits, make your commercial clients happy, and do something good for the environment.
Walls covered with plant life are a good idea both inside and outside. Exterior “biowalls” provide extra insulation and protection from sun rays, which decreases heating and cooling costs. They decrease runoff from rain and can be watered with reclaimed water or greywater. Green walls on the outside of the commercial building are great for the environment because they produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide purifying the air.
Some designers have taken the biowall indoors where they purify the air and boost the spirits of employees. This focus on the environment and on the happiness of employees has rewards of its own far beyond LEED credits.
A newer concept for good environmental design is passive solar design. A solar focused design uses the sun to collect, store, and redistribute heat in the winter and cast-off solar heat in the summer. They also account for a big portion of the lighting in the building. Plants and trees are used to decrease the impact of the sun for hot summers.
Designers use solar in design by placing the building to take advantage of the placement of the sun, wind, humidity, and climate patterns throughout the year. They also use windows, walls, and floors that maximize the advantage. For instance, floor with a high thermal mass (meaning it maintains temperature well) like tile is a good choice for a commercial building that uses the sunlight to heat and light.
Reclaimed Water and Greywater
Water conservation goes to the next level with complete plumbing systems that use water and reuse water in smart ways. Reclaimed water is waste water that has been cleaned of solids and treated for harmful bacteria. It isn’t safe to drink but it does a great job for flushing toilets, or irrigating the landscaping. This does require two sets of plumbing, which can have a higher upfront and maintenance cost, but the return is fantastic.
Greywater systems are smaller scale but can also make a big difference. One popular system is collection of rainwater to use for irrigation and toilets. Another system uses waste sink water in the bathroom to supply the toilets. These systems cost much less than a whole building reclaimed system, but still offer some of the benefits that come with water conservation.
Show the benefits of green building to your commercial clients while you are still in the planning phases. New cloud-based software lets you project usage and try different scenarios so you can see the impact one or the other type of green system might add to a building. It makes it easier to decide which green projects will give your clients the most bang for the buck.
Decrease Energy Consumption
The single most energy consuming part of a commercial building is the HVAC system. Most HVAC systems are forced air, which is pretty inefficient. Radiant heat is a much better way to effectively heat the building. Increased insulation will keep temperatures comfortable in any season and make the heating and cooling of the building less wasteful. While you’re at it, invest in recycled insulation (made of newspaper, hemp, or used denim) and get double the impact.
A favorite in the residential market that is finding its way into the commercial market is in-floor heating. It warms the room from the floor up with either hot water or electricity. They work very well under most flooring surfaces but are even more efficient under a high-thermal mass material like tile.
Electrochromic glass changes from clear to opaque and can even darken so commercial buildings can control and use sunlight to heat/cool and light the building. These windows use a tiny amount of electricity to cause a chemical reaction that changes the amount of light the glass lets through. The reaction is reversible and repeatable.
Upgraded Solar Panels
The newest development in solar panels is called photovoltaics. This panel generates electricity when exposed to light. It creates the commercial building’s own power grid. Most commercial builders opt to feed the energy into the existing city power system to eliminate the need for a building to have a way to store the energy created.
Photovoltaics can replace windows and skylights and are far less obvious than traditional solar panels. In the future, entire buildings might be covered with the panels!
Natural building materials are one step in the right direction for making sustainable materials. But a new technology called mycoform is a whole new ballgame. This fungus spore can be “fed” agricultural waste and produce a material that when heat treated, makes a sturdy building material.
Still in the experimental phase, mycoform materials have great promise because they are made with little energy and no toxic chemicals.
With so many excellent options available, or soon-to-be available, green products and methods are making environmentally aware commercial building easier and more affordable than ever.
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Join us tomorrow for the next installment in our Go Green! series.