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ARCHITECTURE: The Integration of Art and Science

Creating a Sustainable Design on a Limited Project Budget

Posted by: Brian Stone - 6/7/16 10:15 AM

Topics: Sustainable Design

For many years now, one of the most bandied about terms in the design and construction industries has been sustainability.  From design professionals to specialty contractors to product vendors to recently adopted building codes to third party certification agencies to public and private clients, the word sustainability has been on the tip of everyone’s tongues.  But what does it all mean?  If you ask ten different people from these categories, you will inevitably get ten different answers.  This is because “sustainability” is a wide open topic that can be addressed in a multitude of ways.  To truly realize a sustainable design on any given project, a variety of approaches and sustainable design initiatives must be considered. At Kenneth Boroson Architects, before choosing a sustainable design direction, specific emphasis is given to assess the client’s overall goals such as willingness to fund increased first costs to achieve greater sustainability over time.  Providing the client with options so they understand the life cycle cost consequences of how the building will be operated and maintained is essential in determining the most effective sustainable solution for each unique project.

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Our office has a great deal of experience in designing projects to meet various sustainable design equivalencies.  As part of the construction initiative undertaken by the City of New Haven school system for the past several years, our office has been designing facilities that are equivalent to LEED Silver Certification (or above). We have also designed school addition and alteration projects to similar standards throughout the state as part of adhering to the State of Connecticut High Performance Building Code.  The intent of this code is to produce LEED ready projects, but without incurring the added costs of obtaining the actual certification.  By not applying for these certifications even though projects are being designed to meet these standards, a  great deal of money is saved by the client in certification fees, while also realizing the operational benefits of energy and resource efficient facilities.  Designing a project to these standards also opens up the possibility of obtaining rebates from public utilities that can help the owner offset some of their construction costs that might have been spent on building elements that are more expensive to purchase but less expensive to operate.

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Every project has a unique set of variables.  What could be viable for one project, could be impractical for another.  As architects, our job is to initiate a discussion with our clients about the sustainable design direction that makes sense for their project while also managing and understanding their expectations regarding the return on investment period for any increased first costs necessary for achieving a sustainable design.  After establishing the desired payback period for higher first cost sustainability measures, realistic goals must be set that will guide the direction and development of the design.  For instance, while centralized utilities for a high rise multi-family building might make sense from a sustainable design standpoint and first cost standpoint, individually metered separate systems for each dwelling unit might make more sense from an operational standpoint for a client.  Perhaps individual furnaces in each tenant space of a multi-tenant commercial building appear to be viable when it comes to associating utility bills to individual tenants, but roof top air handlers will simplify infrastructure construction and reduce initial costs to the developer.  For other projects, the most feasible sustainable practices might be heavy use of locally sourced materials with low VOCs and high recycled content.  Our office is fully versed when it comes to addressing these complex issues for a myriad of projects.  There is no one size fits all answer for these questions.  That is why our in-house team of six registered architects, three LEED accredited professionals, and two LEED Green Associates is ready, willing, and able to guide our clients through this labyrinthine process.  Our goal is, and always has been, to point our clients in the direction that is most suitable for their project.

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As a member of the USGBC, Kenneth Boroson Architects is, and always has been, committed to helping our clients achieve sustainable design in a way that matches their budget and specific project constraints.  As a firm that has won awards for our commitment to green and energy conscious design and building, we take sustainable design seriously.  We work with our clients to determine how they need to balance their available first cost budget, required return on investment period, and their desired sustainability goals.  Every project is unique and our experience covers the entire spectrum of design goal and budget relationships.  In addition to our past portfolio, we currently have one project under construction designed to Connecticut High Performance Standards (Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Childhood School), one project under construction designed to achieve Energy Star Multifamily High Rise Certification (Summer Place), and one project out to bid designed to achieve Energy Star Multifamily High Rise Certification (Park 215).  All of these current projects, along with our past projects, have imparted lessons upon us that we can apply to future projects.

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An inevitable topic of discussion when reviewing sustainable design options is the project budget, with both the initial cost and life cycle cost being important considerations.  If initial construction cost was not an issue, then every project would achieve Net Zero Energy Design (the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site). While this is a laudable goal, the reality is that each project can only go so far when it comes to sustainable design when considering the available funding for construction.  Not every project can have photovoltaic panel or wind turbine arrays that will generate 100% of the facility’s electrical power needs or geothermal heat pump systems that will condition every cubic foot of air within a facility or greywater systems that will reuse every drop of water possible for irrigation, heat reclamation, or flushing toilets.  After evaluating a variety of potential sustainable design strategies, many projects will need to prioritize their funds for a tight building envelope prior to adding specialty systems in order to balance first costs and return on investment.  A well-insulated and air sealed building with high efficiency mechanical systems and lighting can realistically anticipate lower annual energy costs that a comparably sized building that did not pursue sustainable design strategies  Project budgets, along with site specific conditions and the mandated goals of the given project, govern which sustainable design strategies are potentially feasible and can be considered to be within the realm of possibility for the project.