Sustainable Facilities – The Standard of the Future

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sustainable facilitiesMuch like the term “fast track” that was popular several years ago, the terms “sustainable” and “energy efficiency” should be part of every building design. You don’t hear the term “fast track” anymore. It was a new concept of speeding up design and construction to deliver a facility faster, but now it is standard operating procedure. Everyone wants their project fast-tracked. I want the same thing to happen for sustainable design.

by Keith  Pehl, President, Optima Engineering

Sustainable design is a responsible business practice. That’s why it is important for energy efficiency and sustainability to become the accepted standard in commercial construction. Not only will sustainable design help protect our environment and preserve our limited natural resources, it will also save businesses money in the long run. And, the more people know about sustainable design, the more likely they are to embrace the concept for their facility.

The ultimate goal of sustainable design is to create net zero-energy buildings that produce as much energy as is consumed. The benefits include reduced energy usage, improved indoor air quality, greater water conservation, and optimized operational and maintenance practices.

Much like the term “fast track” that was popular several years ago, the terms “sustainable” and “energy efficiency” should be part of every building design. You don’t hear the term “fast track” anymore. It was a new concept of speeding up design and construction to deliver a facility faster, but now it is standard operating procedure. Everyone wants their project fast-tracked. I want the same thing to happen for sustainable design.

While both economically and environmentally beneficial, implementing sustainable design techniques can be challenging, so they require the coordination of everyone involved.

My company, Optima Engineering, recently worked on large department store, and we had to account for the impact of lighting on air conditioning and heating equipment. We reduced the total lighting wattage by more than 50 percent, which extended the lamp life and reduced maintenance needs – both sustainable features. The department store’s mechanical engineer installed 80 tons less air conditioning equipment because of the decreased heat emitted from the lighting system during summer months. This lowered the cost both with the initial construction as well as lowering ongoing cost by reducing the energy required to run the building.

However, the mechanical engineer did not account for the reduced heat produced by the lamps during winter, so the first time the heating system was used, the building could not get warm. To fix the problem, they installed electric duct heaters to give the heating system a boost on cold days. The solution still uses less energy overall, and it was a good lesson about how much heat lighting systems can provide for commercial buildings.

We learned another lesson with our own office, which is certified LEED Platinum. We had an energy model that was 30 percent below the industry baseline, but our energy usage doubled the model when we first moved into our building. After refining the lighting and mechanical controls, we were able to drop below 30 percent of the baseline. The lesson showed that energy modeling does work, but it highlighted the importance of commissioning and constantly monitoring energy usage to keep complex building systems working at peak efficiency.

One of the easiest ways to create sustainable facilities is to incorporate great design practices without adding to the owner’s budget. The crucial element is good planning. Since it can be difficult to identify sustainable solutions, it’s important to seek out experienced professionals who are familiar with multiple types of facilities and understand the different design techniques required for successful projects.

In my business, it is important to lead by example. Our 16,000-square-foot LEED Platinum office space is within a LEED Silver-certified building with rooftop solar thermal and solar photovoltaic systems. We provide tours of our office and our roof at least three times a week. We offer seminars several times a month to educate our clients and the public about renewable energy, energy efficiency and other aspects of sustainable design.

Convincing facility owners to choose sustainable design is not always easy. That’s why it is also important to teach people about the total cost of building ownership. We have to start thinking more long-term. Sustainable design practices are almost always less expensive when you look at the total cost of ownership rather than the initial capital cost.

If planned properly, the costs of building sustainable facilities are comparable to “non-green” buildings. And, sustainable buildings bring the added benefits of reducing environmental impacts and providing a healthy working environment.

© 2010, Keith Pehl. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Keith Pehl (1 Articles)

Keith Pehl is president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Optima Engineering, P.A., a multidisciplinary, professional engineering firm specializing in mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, lighting, sustainable design, commissioning and energy audit services. Pehl is a LEED-accredited professional and a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Visit www.optimapa.com.