Key Benefits of Embracing Green Construction

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We are now well into a boom in green construction. Still, it is hard to imagine that, only two decades ago, green construction was still in its infancy. In 2000, there were only 24 LEED-certified projects.

Wide Adoption of Green Construction

Today, there are more than 1,000 times that many in North America alone. Worldwide, more than 41,000 commercial and institutional projects are LEED-certified and another 50,000+ are seeking the coveted certification. Some of the largest structures on the continent are LEED-certified, including stadiums serving major league baseball teams like the San Francisco Giants, Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals.

Top Ten Ranking - On January 31, 2018, the U.S. Green Building Council released its "Top Ten States" with the most LEED-certified gross square footage per capita. Interestingly, on a per capita basis, Illinois ranked third, trailing only Massachusetts and New York.

Meanwhile, the Canada Green Building Council is raising awareness among property owners and managers. In fact, the Council provides promotional materials to businesses that are in one of the three stages in the process: registered, certification review and certified.

Increasingly, commercial clients will insist on LEED-certified new construction, retrofitting and remodeling. The Council asserts that, "LEED buildings cost less to operate, reduce energy and water bills by as much as 40 percent, and increase employee productivity and overall satisfaction."

Zero energy movement - The ultimate in green construction is the zero energy (ZE) structure. All the power for a ZE building comes from on-site renewable sources and/or off-site projects constructed specifically for the project. According to the New Buildings Institute (NBI), 67 zero energy structures have already been certified.

Building Design & Construction reports a year-over-year increase of almost 50 percent in U.S. and Canadian commercial ZE construction in 2017. There are now hundreds of such projects in the pipeline. In fact, NBI reports 415 emerging net-zero projects

Factors Driving Green Construction

There are three key factors driving demand for more sustainable commercial construction:

  • Client requirements
  • Market forces
  • Government regulation

Client requirements - More clients seek LEED certification, and sustainability provisions increasingly appear in corporate mission statements. In fact, many companies now consider a coveted LEED Platinum, Gold or Silver rating to be a part of their branding strategy. Although net-zero construction remains the exception rather than the rule, the overall trend toward more sustainable construction techniques and products will only expand in 2018 and beyond.

Market forces - In the United States, buildings account for approximately 40 percent of all energy consumed. Selecting renewable energy solutions saves money, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves LEED certifications. Rising utility rates drive interest in everything from better-insulated structures to cool roofs.

Government regulation - Newer, more stringent government regulations increasingly require green design and construction. At the very least, local government initiatives encourage corporate citizens to embrace sustainability as never before.

With these key factors driving demand for green construction, contractors that disregard the movement do so at their own peril.

Trends in Green Construction

From solar installations to mass timber construction, commercial construction is going green on an unprecedented level. Consider these developments:

Renewable energy - Dramatic price drops in solar panel costs, coupled with federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation bonuses, drive direct investment in commercial solar installations both onsite and off-site.

Mass timber construction - Some commercial buildings seven to 10 stories tall or higher now feature mass timber, or hybrid steel and mass timber construction. Mass timber structures may even have better fire ratings than steel buildings, and they accumulate significant LEED points.

Cool roofs - New construction featuring cool or green roofs saves clients money while countering the urban heat island effect. A Ryerson University study specifically focused on the urban heat island in Toronto. Among other things, the study considered the impact of the urban microclimate on pedestrian health. In so-called "high-rise" areas, buildings covered more than half (54.8 percent) of the surface area, thus emphasizing the importance of cool roofs. Researchers ran computer simulations to assess UHI mitigation techniques.

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Recycled waste - Modern contractors increasingly focus on recycling of waste generated during construction. Furthermore, construction focuses attention on environmental costs incurred throughout a building's lifecycle.  Designers now consider the economic and environmental costs associated with renovation and demolition. Increasingly, every effort is made to recycle building waste to divert it from landfills. For example, crushed concrete may be used as an aggregate in road and parking lot construction.

In Houston, a very focused need to recycle waste emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Area landfills were put under pressure by the massive amount of building waste resulting from the storm.

Embracing Green Construction

The earlier a construction company gets involved in the design process, the better. As architects, contractors and stakeholders increasingly collaborate on sustainable projects, green contractors will have an advantage. When the client seeks LEED certification, contractors with "green" reputations will typically have the edge. 

How can construction companies capitalize on the surging interest in green construction? Contractors should commit to:

  • The use of energy-saving LED lights for temporary lighting during construction
  • Waste management and recycling best practices
  • Promoting renewable energy systems like solar, wind and geothermal
  • Seeking cool roof options, like white TPO, PVC and EPDM single-ply membranes

Since it is the contractor who typically orders materials for the project, a comprehensive understanding of the most cost-effective and sustainable options is an advantage. Chain of ownership is critical to LEED certification. So is the selection of materials with low VOX emissions. Order the wrong materials, and the desired LEED certification may be jeopardized.

Insure for Green Construction

One caveat, contractors that use more recently developed green products should make sure that there is a provision for the use of such materials in their liability policies. In this way, they have coverage if unexpected issues arise with these more recently developed products.

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Posted by Jim Lamelza

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