Green Building Without the Bells and Whistles
Facility managers, maintenance staff, accountants, and other building owners and operators are being drawn into the reemerging “green” industry to help solve some of their health and cash-flow issues. This is a good step for building and occupant health, for as a building becomes more efficient, it uses less fuel, has more cash flow and, ultimately, expels fewer pollutants into the surrounding community. Furthermore, the maintenance, cleaning, pest extermination, and construction divisions in the building, whether in-house or subcontracted, need to green their practices and materials so that they bring fewer pollutants into the building.
So, in brief, green buildings use less energy, water, and chemicals, save money, and make people in the building healthier.
Our firm, Steven Winter Associates, Inc. (SWA), has been working with all types of buildings over the past 35 years to identify more efficient building components that are fully proven in the field. This article will not try to sell the “glossy” technologies: no solar panels, no green roofs, no ground-source heat pumps, and no bamboo floors. Although these technologies promise substantial savings in facilities, buildings will still have significant waste that needs to be addressed, efficiency and conservation measures that have been overlooked, and long-term building system replacements that need to be addressed. Once this planning is complete, alternative technologies can become part of the mix.
Conservation and Efficiency
Conserving means to do with less—turn the heat down, wear a sweater, turn lights down or off, or reduce the temperature of hot water. All of these infer that they will be accomplished within code requirements so that people are not “freezing in the dark”; but some of the “doing without” parts of conservation are really what your parents called “not wasting,” and as such, they contribute to efficiency, or getting the same level of service by using less. Here are some examples of maintenance, management, purchasing, and occupant education items that are free (or cheap) and will reduce costs for all types of facilities, both in terms of efficiency and conservation:
Quantifying energy and water usage. Your accountants are watching the total dollars spent for energy but not for the consumption of all fuel and resources (gas, oil, electricity, water, sewer, garbage, recycling) per building, per square foot. Different buildings have varying uses of resources, but SWA typically finds that buildings of the same type owned by the same entities have differences in resource consumption as large as 3:1 (and we've even seen 7:1). If two buildings with similar functions differ in heating energy by a factor of three per square foot and by six per square foot in water, you have a problem on your hands. The largest users can profit from a detailed energy and resource audit performed by a qualified audit engineering firm, and then these practices can be copied across all similar buildings.
Incandescent lights (typical lightbulbs) and lighting controls. It is so economical to change all of your standard bulbs to screw-in or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) that no facility should ever own a standard bulb again. We know, you hate fluorescents, but you are remembering cheap lights from the 1980s and not the state-of the art, soft-white CFLs. We install them everywhere, and no one complains. In a cooperative apartment building last month, we replaced the 100-watt high-hat (can) floodlight over the mailboxes and at the elevator (two, total) with state-of-the art CFLs that look exactly the same, and waited for occupant response. One month later, no complaints and, including the cost of the two bulbs, electricity savings for these bulbs in year one will be more than $200.
If your electricity costs 11.4¢ per kilowatt hour (kwh), every watt that burns 24/7 will cost you $1.00 per year. The average kwh in the United States today costs 9.5¢, which means many consumers pay more than 11.4¢, so that 75-watt bulb that you replace with a 25-watt CFL gives equal or better light, yet costs $50 less per year if it's on 24/7, and $25 less if it's on 12 hours per day. Even if the bulb is on only 2 hours per day, you save more than the $4 cost of the CFL in one year. And, because CFLs tend to last at least 10 times longer than traditional bulbs, you won't have to replace CFLs six times a year (like standard bulbs), even if they are on 24/7 (this also saves the labor costs of changing bulbs).
More expensive, however, than inefficient lights are those that are not needed at all, such as outdoor lights during the day and those in infrequently occupied areas where people forget to turn them off and they stay on for days. Your refrigerator light goes off when you close the door (yes, kids, that's what our research shows), so why don't all of your equipment, garbage, recycling, locker room, public bath, and related rooms have motion sensors that turn lights off when no one is there? Further, your outdoor lights that are on a timer do not know when the seasons change; moreover, if there is a power failure for a few hours, the timer turns lights on when it's bright and off when it's dark. An outdoor light sensor can appropriately control all of your exterior lighting throughout the year, with significant savings.
Water. In many buildings, the water bill exceeds the electric and gas bills, and most of that excess is caused by waste. Toilets should all use 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), and urinals should be below 1 gpf (in fact, waterless urinals have been successful across the country). The toilet industry has been changed dramatically by a joint American-Canadian Maximum Performance Testing protocol that tests toilets for their ability to flush “material” down; get the latest reports on this at http://www.cwwa.ca/freepub_e.asp. Meanwhile, showerheads should be set at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), and bath sinks should be below 1 gpm. Of course, leaks are rampant throughout all buildings, so checking the water meter at 3 a.m. should quantify your leaks.
Building controls. Your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as many other systems in your buildings, are controlled by a box (or a series of boxes) that the old building manager used to know how to control (but the book is lost). If you randomly push the buttons three times a day, everything works. However, controls are supposed to control things, and you and your staff need to know how all of the boxes work in your building and what they control. SWA's three-pronged (though not patented) approach to this conundrum is: (1) procure the instructions; (2) read the instructions; and (3) follow the instructions.
Learning the basics, and not-so-basics, of your building controls can help reduce areas of discomfort throughout the structure (either too cold or too hot), and can reduce hot water temperatures. Most buildings don't need water above 120oF by code, and 137oF water burns human skin. Adjusted properly, this particular safety control saves a lot of energy and water, as people aren't adding lots of cold water to cool the hot water that you paid to overheat.
Sealing holes. Allowing untreated air to move from floor to floor, room to room, and inside to outside can be one of the largest energy costs in your building. It can create problems such as high heating and cooling bills, discomfort of occupants, mold, condensation, and odor transmission. Maintenance staff should be sealing holes in rooms as part of painting, turnover, or rehab of the space; management should walk around their buildings, acting as if it is not their building, to see the open doors, windows, and other giant holes in action. In the words of Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
To sum up, managing your resources is the first step to beginning a comprehensive program for greening, efficiency, comfort, health, durability and, dare we say, profit. First, though, find the waste. If nothing else, your mother would be proud.
F.L. Andrew Padian runs the Multifamily Buildings Division for Steven Winter Associates, Inc., a nationally recognized consulting firm and leader in sustainable building practices. He has performed detailed energy analysis on thousands of buildings across the country, providing recommendations for energy and water efficiency, comfort, durability, and health and safety for both new and existing buildings.