Formerly Faddish, 'Green' Is Standard

by Jennifer Ellis  on Monday, Jul. 23, 2012 12:00 am  

Keith Wingfield, owner of River Rock Builders of Little Rock, said that ensuring that duct work is sealed properly increases an HVAC system's energy efficiency. (Photo by Jason Burt)

Energy-efficient building techniques that were once considered faddish or experimental have become standard as builders and owners in Arkansas and beyond have realized the long-term savings to be had.  

Nationwide, 92 percent of companies said that operational savings influenced their decisions to undertake energy-efficiency projects, according to a recent study by McGraw Hill Construction.

In Arkansas, the desire to improve energy efficiency is showing up in the use of an integrated design approach, building to certifiable standards without necessarily getting the certificate, employing ongoing energy services, retrofitting existing buildings and in the demand for high-performance homes.

"If you start smart ... a green building doesn't have to cost more," said Mary Laurie, sustainable initiatives director at Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway. "But it takes an integrated team."

Having architects, engineers, contractors and interior designers work together from the start of a project results in a variety of ways to save that don't have additional upfront costs and can vastly improve the energy efficiency of a building. One example: the orientation or siting of a building.

Choosing to elongate a building, orient it in an east-west direction on the property and put most of the glass on the north and south sides, where it doesn't get direct sunlight, uses a method of design called passive solar. This not only takes advantage of natural light, but uses solar energy to retain heat in the winter and reflect it back in the summer, said Clint Whitley, a certified architect and the sustainability coordinator at Cromwell Architects Engineers Inc. of Little Rock.

Even an interior designer's choice of a light paint color to reflect light can help decrease the lighting load on a building and make a difference in the energy required for ventilation because lights throw off heat.

"Sustainability is all about teamwork," Whitley said. "Small decisions on the front end can have huge repercussions throughout the building."

Certifiable but No Certificate
Green building may once have been considered a fad, but with energy efficiency the goal, industry leaders agree that sustainable building practices are here to stay whether they come with a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certificate or not.

"It's at the heart of the way we build buildings. We choose sustainable elements whether or not the project is seeking certification," said Bill Hannah, CEO of Nabholz Construction Services of Conway.

As interest in energy efficiency continues to grow, owners are considering life-cycle cost breakdowns and asking for the upgrades they know will save them money in the long run, even though they may cost more upfront.

But, Laurie said, she asks herself, How many people are going to be willing to pay the extra money it takes to get a LEED, Green Globe or one of the many other certifications when they could instead put that money into additional sustainable elements in their building?



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