According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), building-related construction and demolition (C&D) debris totals approximately 136 million tons per year, accounting for nearly 60 percent of total nonindustrial waste generation in the United States Approximately 43 percent of C&D debris is generated from residential sources and 57 percent from nonresidential sources. From these statistics alone, it’s obvious to see that the built environment has a dramatic impact on our environment.
Many builders are becoming aware of construction’s influence on our surroundings, and they’re choosing to utilize green building strategies to lessen the effect on the environment. The resulting green buildings are typically submitted for certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™, which is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings.
Interest in LEED certification has exploded recently, and it’s estimated that during the course of 2006, more than 1,000 LEED projects were registered around the country representing over 100 million square feet of projects. Mechanical contractors would be wise to learn more about their role in green construction, as the trend is gaining momentum and may soon become the accepted way in which every building is constructed.
LEARNING TO BE GREENGreen construction methods can be integrated into buildings at any stage, from design and construction, to renovation and demolition. However, the most significant benefits can be obtained if the design and construction team takes an integrated approach from the earliest stages of a building project.
An integrated approach from early-on is most beneficial, because a green building embodies best practice methods in a host of related issues, including siting, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials and resources conservation, and indoor environmental quality including indoor air quality.
“If you look at the LEED green building rating system put out by the U.S. Green Building Council, an awful lot of the activities with respect to energy, efficiency, and IAQ fall right to the mechanical contractor, and to some degree, the plumbing contractor,” said Jerry Yudelson, PE, MS, MBA, LEED AP, Principal, Yudelson Associates, Tucson, Ariz. “The mechanical contractor is going to have to learn a new ball game. It’s not just going to be more efficient chillers and boilers, it’s going to be a whole lot of new systems put in that are going to be part of this world going forward.”
Smart contractors need to realize that green strategies are the way of the future and start getting the training necessary to be an intelligent partner, said Yudelson. “In design and construction, people are looking for partnerships. They’re not just looking for the cheapest guy; they’re looking for intelligent partners on the contractor side, which means you’ve got to go and educate yourself.”
That education includes obtaining training in new systems, which may involve learning about radiant heating and cooling, geothermal systems, natural ventilation systems, operable windows, chilled beams, and underfloor air distribution systems. There’s no question the demand is out there for contractors who specialize in these systems. The question, to Yudelson, becomes: Do you want to be the go-to part of the building team for all space conditioning and ventilation issues? That answer should be obvious.
“You have to know what you’re doing and what it takes to get to a certain LEED rating, be it silver, gold, or platinum, because a lot of building owners want LEED ratings for marketing purposes,” said Yudelson. “You’re going to have to figure out what the system is about, what your skills are, and what you can bring to the party. Taking the LEED accredited professional exam gives a general contractor and an owner more confidence that you’re going to be a partner in this process.”
UNDERSTAND THE REQUIREMENTSGreen buildings may often have different requirements than traditionally constructed buildings, so Yudelson said contractors should be aware of what will be required of them. “You better pay attention to what the engineers are doing, because what you’re going to be installing could be very different from what you are used to.”
Contractors need to be aware that innovative systems or practices are often specified in green projects, so it’s mandatory to read all the details in specifications before bidding.
For example, some buildings may utilize an underfloor air distribution system, which basically uses the area under the floor as a distribution system instead of ductwork. In other buildings, perhaps plenum returns will be specified rather than full ducted returns. “If you just apply a standard dollar amount per square foot mechanical bid to a system without even looking at what people are doing, you’re going to be way off,” said Yudelson.
Something else to consider is that every LEED project requires commissioning, which means the mechanical contractor is going to be asked to be on site during that process. The time spent on site with the commissioning agent needs to be factored into the bid, or else the contractor won’t get paid for it.
“You need to start asking a few questions, particularly of the general contractor who is giving you the specs to bid,” said Yudelson. “Ask for a pre-bid meeting where things can be explained that might be different. If there’s no time for that, then you need to get on the phone with the engineers and say, ‘Is there anything special here I should know about before I bid it?’”
Yudelson suggests that mechanical contractors visit sites where green buildings are constructed in order to see how the process works. A good place to start is with local and state governments, many of which are building green facilities. Tour the buildings, look at the systems, and see what goes on behind locked doors.
“In six or eight years, there’s not going to be a green market: It’s going to be how buildings are designed because of energy costs and CO2 problems,” said Yudelson. “The world is continually changing, and this is just another set of changes coming into play. It’s permanent. You can bury your head in the sand, but the correlate is, your butt’s sticking up in the air, and someone might whack it. This is just business. You have to decide what business you’re in and how you’re going to best serve your customer.”
For more information, visit http://greenbuildconsult.com.