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You Can't Afford NOT to Build Green

{mosimage}Building or adding on? You can’t afford NOT to build green

If you think cost is the reason you can’t build a new church green, architect Deborah Snow has a quick response: “You can’t afford not to.”

Snow, a principal in McCreary/Snow in Columbia, and Allen Taylor, a principal in the Columbia office of LS3P, met with Green Theology in October to discuss how churches might approach green building. Both are certified LEED architects.

(Green Theology is a group convened by the S.C. United Methodist Advocate earlier this year to cut though the maze of new technologies available today to help United Methodist churches in particular reduce their energy budgets. It has become an interfaith group and continues to meet periodically at the conference center. All United Methodist churches are invited to send a participant.)

While most people automatically see dollar signs when they hear “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), LEED offers a way to measure costs and effectiveness over years to come. It is a way to see how well a building is doing its job. A Green Theology participant, the Rev. Wiley Cooper, cut to the chase as the architects talked about LEED as a tool and a verification process: “So it’s an actual inspection process?”

Indeed, it is. The architect – or perhaps the licensed project manager or mechanical engineer – is there to say, “Don’t use that kind of caulking material – it will put chemicals into the building,” said Taylor who chaired the S.C. chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in 2007. And for people who spend 90 percent of their time indoors, such checklist items are invaluable.

How much waste is recycled is recorded and waste that goes to the landfill also is recorded. Use of recycled materials, such as carpet and ceiling tiles, are listed. A LEED project gives points for a sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere (30 pts.), indoor environmental quality (19 pts.) and innovations in operations. “Think of it as research data,” Snow suggested.

But LEED is a guide, not a police force. Many builders may use it as a checklist for what’s practical and ignore things they think they can’t afford. There are similar guides, too, by other names.

Building green costs 1 to 2 percent more, according to Keith Sanders, also a LEED certified architect and 2006 chair of the S.C. chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. “The system forces you to look at a wide range that you might consider otherwise,” Snow said.

However, the real issue is how much you will save by going green; not how much you will spend building:

The architects produced these average figures for the life of the a building:

    • Spent on building – 5-7 percent;

    • Spent on energy and maintenance – 30 percent; and

    • Spent on people – salaries/benefits, programs, etc. – 65 percent.

Thus spending up to two percent more at the time of construction can greatly reduce the amount spent on energy and maintenance (normally 30 percent of the costs of doing business) and the health of the workers, they say.

The West Quad residence hall built green five years ago at the University of South Carolina, for example, is using 45 percent less energy and 20 percent less water than a slightly larger dorm, also built recently the old way, said Dr. Bruce Coull, dean emeritus of USC’s Environmental Studies and a member of Green Theology.

For churches that seldom get torn down and last longer than other kinds of building, the lifetime savings of the building grow exponentially.

The Rev. Tom Norrell and Cooper are considering developing some guidelines to present to the conference that could provide these savings for S.C. church construction. Sanders agreed to work with them on the development.

After the meeting, member Ron Cannon of St. Luke UMC, Hartsville, said, “My sense is that if we had those guidelines when we started planning our building addition, we would likely have designed in elements that would have more greatly enhanced the efficiency over the lifecycle of the building.”

Unlike government construction, churches don’t have to use a bid process, but can look for better efficiencies; thus there can be a different architectural approach. A charrette  would be Snow’s choice method of design for churches: collaborative sessions where there is graphic brain-storming with designers. The congregation would bring ideas, photos of the neighborhood surroundings, photos of the site and clippings from magazines. “It costs so much less to look at opportunities on paper,” Snow said. Such a group might want to select an energy cost-savings target or a CO2 target.

Taylor said he had accepted architects’ “2030 Challenge, the fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations shall be increased to carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel greenhouse gas-emitting energy to operate).

Then the builder is selected, perhaps, in part, because of a specialty in the design consensus.

A mechanical engineer is critical, the architects said, to developing the energy model, one that includes the building’s envelope, orientation and mechanical system(s).

Green building means going beyond the minimal code compliance, Taylor said. The number one item is the proper solar orientation based on the East/West axis – considering the energy impact on potential windows on the East or West, while getting the optimum daylight.

Regardless of thoughts of going green, churches can’t just use the guy who does a little job or two on the side or an unlicensed person drawing plans because they are public “assembly buildings,” Snow said. It becomes a liability issue; the architect or engineer must be legally qualified to deal with public safety.

And, in case you are interested, it is possible to have existing buildings LEED-certified, Snow said. At Wofford’s fall convocation, Dr. Christine Ervin noted the Empire State building’s $4.3 million annual energy savings after a $20-million energy retrofit.

Conservation measures at the Empire State building, CNN said, include:

Filling the existing windows with an energy saving gas and adding an additional plastic pane; upgrading the building’s cooling system; using computerized “smart” energy management technology that can adjust temperatures floor by floor; provide tenants with detailed energy use in their space and shutting off lights in unused areas.

Buildings use 40% of the total energy in the United States and European Union. (The United Methodist Conference of South Carolina has 1,023 churches in use.)

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