10 Green Building Megatrends for 2014

The green-building industry has evolved quickly over the past decade, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. So where is green building headed in 2014? According to Jerry Yudelson—who this week published his annual list of 10 green megatrends to look for in the coming year—the biggest trend to anticipate is continued growth of high-performance building in markets ranging from residential building to commercial, government, nonprofit, and educational facilities. “Green building is the tsunami of the future that will inundate the entire real estate industry,” Yudelson says.

Here’s his full list of trends positioned to define the green-building industry over the next year:
1. Green building in North America will continue strong growth in 2014.
2. More focus will be given to energy efficiency in buildings of all kinds, which will result in a larger role for building automation systems that improve efficiency using cloud-based systems.
3. Zero-net-energy buildings will continue to grow in popularity. “We know that green building has hit the mainstream,” Yudelson says. “To distinguish themselves, many building owners and developers are taking the logical next step: getting to zero net energy on an annual basis. Why? The most widespread reason is that more people than ever believe it’s the right thing to do.”
4. LEED will attract more competitors than ever before, Yudelson says. “It’s likely that LEED’s cost and complexity will open up the market to other competitors,” he says, pointing out that the Obama Administration has already put the Green Globes rating system on par with LEED for federal projects.
5. The green building industry’s focus will continue to shift from new building projects to greening existing buildings.
6. More and more, green building projects will be designed and managed by cloud-based technologies. In fact, Yudelson has christened 2014 “The Year of the Cloud.”
7. Performance disclosure for green buildings will continue to grow in importance, he says, noting that 30 major cities enacted disclosure requirements in 2013.
8. Product disclosure declarations and “red lists” of chemicals of concern “will become increasingly contentious,” Yudelson warns.
9. Solar power will continue to expand, fueled in part by continued growth of third-party financing offerings.
10. “Awareness of the coming crisis in fresh water supply, both globally and in the U.S., will increase, as global climate change affects rainfall and water supply systems worldwide,” Yudelson says.

The Big Bucks Behind Green Building

Green-building advocates have long touted the financial benefits of building green, but often data has focused mainly on the benefits of green infrastructure on neighborhoods, with little information available on the benefits to private property and commercial property owners and their tenants. That is, until now.

A new report released this month by the National Resources Defense Council titled “The Green Edge: How Commercial Property Investment in Green Infrastructure Creates Value” offers a detailed look at the specific financial benefits to be gleaned by private property owners based on a variety of green features; it also provides case studies for how much money a midsized office building, midrise apartment building, and a retail center could expect to save over a 40-year period.

The report lists out the benefits of various green amenities, including:

  • Green rooftops, which according to one study allow apartment buildings to command a 16% rental premium; green roofs can also save hundreds of thousands of dollars in roof repairs and replacement costs compared to conventional roofs. The report’s authors point to the Target Center Arena in Minneapolis, which used a green roof to cut its annual energy costs by $300,000.
  • Landscaping with rain gardens and bioswales; according to the researchers’ findings, office buildings offering well-designed landscaping average rental rates 7% higher than their lesser-landscaped peers.
  • Tree cover; not only can trees take energy costs down by providing natural shading in summer and blocking wind in winter, but also retail customers have shown they will pay 8% to 12% more for products purchased in shopping centers that have mature tree canopies.

In the study’s simulation of what a midrise apartment building’s owner might hope to save, it estimates a total of $1,740,000 saved over 40 years, thanks to a combination of energy savings, avoided costs, tax credits, increased rental income, increased property value, and stormwater fee reduction.
The medium-size office building’s owner was estimated to be $1,863,000 richer at the end of 40 years thanks to green features; and the retail center was estimated to save its owner $1,238,200 as well as accrue $22,963,800 in increased retail sales.

And the benefits of green building extend far past the environmental and financial, the report states, to include increased mental health and worker productivity and even reduced crime. To see the full report, click here.

Coming Soon: LEED Dynamic Plaque

As we move into 2014, keep your eyes peeled for the new LEED Dynamic Plaque, which will be debuting in January for a limited number of participants, and then open to a wider audience by mid-2014.

The idea behind the new feature is that the more information building managers, owners, and occupants have, the better they will be able to manage their resource use. Rather than an actual physical plaque, the new feature is a web-based real-time feedback mechanism that reports up-to-date information on how a building is performing. Using measured data from five performance categories—energy, water, waste, transportation, and human experience—the LEED Dynamic Plaque will calculate a building’s overall performance score as well as scores for the sub-categories that comprise the certified score, explains Gretchen Sweeney, USGBC’s director and deputy to the senior vice president of LEED.

The information that feeds a building’s calculated score is collected in multiple ways. Basic components—such as square footage, occupants, etc.—is gathered during the certification process. Then, once a building is up and running, a building manager can either manually enter information from energy bills, meter readings, etc., or if a building has a building management program, that can be synched up so that the Dynamic Plaque is updated automatically. (USGBC is currently working with building product manufacturers to provide even more integration between building systems and the Dynamic Plaque.) Building occupants will also be able to log into the system to enter transportation information, further refining a building’s score.

The program will offer different views of scoring data for different audiences, including owners, occupants, and the public.

Does the Dynamic Plaque sound like something that will be helpful to you in your projects? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Building Back Green

800px-Greensburg_kansas_tornadoWhen an F5 tornado struck Greensburg, Kan., in May 2007, claiming 11 lives and wiping out 95% of the city’s buildings, the community responded in a courageous way: it looked forward.

Given the extent to which Greensburg would need to rebuild, the community realized that in the midst of the tragedy, they were also facing an opportunity. “The fact that our name was Greensburg was part of it, but more than that we decided that we should build back in a prudent, reasonable manner for future generations,” says Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson. “That started a discussion on how we could be sustainable.”

In December 2007, the Greensburg City Council passed a resolution that all municipal buildings would aim for LEED Platinum status. And that resolution set a tone for the rest of the community as well, Dixson says, that encouraged the community to consider rebuilding their homes and businesses to as high a level of sustainability as they could afford.

To help with the community-wide effort, Greensburg brought in Boulder, Colo.-based National Renewable Energy Lab, which offered homeowners advice, cost analysis, and feedback on potential floor plans. The community also established their own local non-profit, Greensburg Green Town, to get information to homeowners about what sustainable options were available.

Today in Greensburg, Dixson reports that there are about eight LEED Platinum-certified buildings, and many others that are built to LEED Platinum standards but have not been through the certification process. While he readily acknowledges that building to the higher standards comes with an increased upfront cost, the anticipated payback period is as little as 8 years for some buildings and no more than 15 years on the buildings with the longest return times.

But according to Dixson, the biggest lesson for other communities, builders, and architects, is that once people have access to the information they need on high-performance building, they are empowered to build to as high a level of sustainability as possible for themA, because they better understand the cost-savings that will come over the life of the building.

“You build as green as you can with the green you have available. When we do that, all of our communities around the country will be able to make a difference in our consumption,” Dixson says. “This is not about us right now. It’s about future generations.”

Passive House Efficiency at a Market Rate Price

Passive House has long been hailed as the high end in high-performance building: capable of remarkable efficiency, but only available at a premium. But what if you could achieve the efficiency of Passive House at a price so low that the slight uptick in the owners’ mortgage payment was eclipsed every month by what they were saving in energy costs?

Not only has Roanoke, Va.-based Structures Design/Build achieved exactly that, but also the firm is doing it on a large production scale.

“This is not magic. This is not voodoo. This is real,” says Adam Cohen, the company’s co-owner, who says that the same tool that has allowed his firm to achieve such high efficiency goals is the same tool that has enabled it to cut back on costs.

“Passive House’s methodology is not prescriptive. It’s just a performance metric that you have to meet, and they give you tools to meet those goals. As a designer and builder the world is completely open to my creativity,” Cohen says.

Cohen has now been building low-energy buildings for 30 years and acts as vice chair of the Technical Committee of the U.S. Passive House Institute. However, when he first started building to Passive House standards, he used the Passive House Planning Package—a 30-page Excel spreadsheet that calculates the impact of individual elements on the building’s overall performance—not only to maximize efficiency but also to optimize for cost.

“I took all my cost codes for the previous 10 years and targeted which of the codes would change in a Passive House,” he says. It turned out to be no more than eight or 10. “I prioritized them and asked which cost codes had the potential to save the most.” From there, Cohen was able to start developing new building systems, such as a thermal-bridge free wall system, that allowed him to cut both costs and improve performance. “We were able to cut, cut, cut,” he says, adding that he recently developed a new ventilator that allows him to cut another $4K to $5K off the price of a home.

Now that he has a honed system, the builder is now working on a panelized system that other builders can use to achieve high performance at a low cost. He anticipates it will be available mid-2014. “We’re trying to move what we’ve learned into the mainstream.”

Protecting Indoor Air Quality, Part 3

Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series on indoor air quality. Follow the links here for Part 1 and Part 2.

In both residential and commercial building, an important step in protecting indoor air quality is properly sequencing material installations to avoid the “sink effect,” say experts at UL Environment, an environmental services consulting firm specializing in building materials. “Installing wet products after the installation of porous materials can cause substances which are emitted from the wet products to be absorbed — and subsequently be emitted — from those porous materials,” UL wrote to The Knowledge Builder in an email last week. This can also cause future problems with mold and other moisture retention issues.

Properly storing materials throughout the construction process is another important part of preventing mold and moisture problems.

The same practices that help protect indoor air quality in residential projects — such as utilizing appropriate air- and moisture-barriers and specing low-emitting products and finishes — apply to commercial projects as well; however, commercial projects also come with some special considerations. For example, plans should include local exhaust for copier rooms and custodial spaces. Also, pressure relations—both between indoors and out as well as between interior rooms and floors—become more important in larger buildings.

To ensure that indoor air quality is protected throughout the life of the building, it is important to train facility management personnel and the building’s owners on green maintenance and selecting low-emitting products and methods for upkeep.

What steps have you taken to protect the indoor air quality in your commercial projects? We would love to hear your experiences in the comments section below.

Protecting Indoor Air Quality, Part 2

Given the risks associated with breathing in polluted air, it’s little wonder that industry observers have noted that indoor air quality is a growing concern.

For builders aiming to ensure their homes are healthy, the experts at UL Environment Inc.—an environmental services consulting firm specializing in building materials—recommend evaluating the design of the building envelop to ensure the air- and moisture-barriers are appropriate for the moisture level of the home’s climate.

Pressure relations between the home’s interior and the exterior should also be considered to avoid sucking air in through unplanned pathways, such as around windows and up through floors, where it may pick up unwanted particles; and to avoid pushing damp air into cold exterior walls.

Inside the home, UL recommends using a heat energy recovery ventilator to ensure tightly enclosed homes get enough outdoor air to residents.

Products and finishes can also release toxic particles into the air; to prevent that, UL’s experts recommend specifying building products and finishes that have been certified for low chemical emissions. They advise paying special attention to materials used in cabinetry and coatings, since these often produce particularly high emissions.

Additionally, be sure to install a filter in the HVAC system to help avoid circulating particulates (the product’s MERV rating can help you choose the most appropriate filter for a given building).

What steps have you found to be effective for improving indoor air quality? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments sections below.

Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series on indoor air quality.  Click here for Part 1, and look for Part 3 later this week for tips on how to improve air quality in commercial buildings.