HVACRDB

Winning the Green Medal

Mike Murphy was feeling good. Plans for HARDI member W.A. Birdsall's new luxury bath showroom were progressing smoothly. Patti Whelan had just come on board as the project manager and would take over the reins of the new operation when it was complete. She and Tom Ditzel, Mike's partner, had just returned from a Bath Industry Expo show. Mike saw the fax from Patti and assumed it was an update on the show.

The message from Patti was a simple question…

“Should we do this green?”

Very soon after, Patti received the same fax back in her office with a one-word answer scrawled across it.

“YES!”

So began the journey of W.A. Birdsall and Co. from the most traditional of the “old time” supply houses to an “eco-supply house” operation on the cutting edge of today's HVACR wholesale industry. Actually, Birdsall has been modernizing their operation for some time now, upgrading customer service processes and systems while keeping the “old time” values that have kept W.A. Birdsall successful since 1911.

The decision to “go green” having been made, what was the next step? What does it mean to build green, and once you know what it is, how do you do it?

Fortunately for me, I'd known Mike in a past life. I'd recently sold my HVACR distribution business because I wanted to be more directly involved with making buildings more sustainable.

One day, I got a call from Mike. He'd heard that I might know something about this “green thing” and … had I heard of something called LEED®?

The process through which Birdsall came to choose to pursue LEED Certification for their new showroom was typical in that it wasn't typical at all. The idea has to come from somewhere. Every project needs a spark and someone who says, “Let's do this green!” The spark ignites a flame of passion in the other team members, and people start to get on board. Patti Whelan is our spark, and she ignited a flame that was already smoldering in Mike Murphy and the rest of the Birdsall team.

So what is a green building, and what is LEED? Everyone seems to toss around the term green quite a bit these days. Its overuse has spawned another term — green-washing — which refers to something that says it's green on the surface but isn't as green as it could or should be. When we say green, what we really mean is more sustainable: products, processes, technologies and strategies that are approached and completed in the least-wasteful way possible.

Think about all of the ways that buildings affect the environment, the use of resources and us. A green building from the LEED perspective is one that seeks to address as much of the impact of a building as possible. A green building is one that seeks to serve what we refer to as the triple bottom line.

This means we want to design, build and operate buildings that are economically feasible, environmentally responsible and provide a healthy, comfortable indoor environment. If it's not economically feasible, it might not get built. If it is not environmentally responsible, we hurt the planet which supports all of us. And if it doesn't provide a healthy, comfortable indoor environment, it doesn't serve its purpose as a building. We spend 90 percent of our lives inside buildings.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED is a family of rating systems — not just one. The U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, developed and administers the LEED ratings system. This council has grown from its humble beginnings in 1991 to an organization with more than 14,000 member companies, and it continues to grow almost exponentially.

LEED began humbly as well. It started in a conference room with a group of 60 people. They were proponents of sustainable building from all over the country, each with different areas of expertise. They each saw the need to assemble best practices for sustainable building in one place. Before LEED, if one wanted to build a green building, a lot of work was required just to assemble the necessary information to start the decision-making process. The know-how was out there, but it was spread out far and wide. That's the void the USGBC sought to fill with LEED. But just having knowledge of what to do and how to do it wasn't enough. We also needed a way to measure and verify what we've done so we know that we're making a difference. LEED does that as well.

So now we've decided to build a green building. We've decided that pursuing LEED Certification is the best way to guide us through the process — it will give us ideas about what to do, educate us about the issues that the LEED systems address and provide a way to document, to measure, to prove that we actually have created a better building.

What's next?

First, we must choose the appropriate rating system. As I mentioned earlier, LEED is a family of rating systems.

It started with LEED NC version 1 for New Construction and Major Renovation. LEED NC is now in version 2.2. There is also LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors), LEED for Homes, LEED for Schools, LEED for Core and Shell, LEED for Neighborhood Development and LEED for Existing Buildings. As new rating systems enter the market, existing systems need updating. LEED 2009 will contain many streamlined features.

We registered the Birdsall project under the LEED for Retail Commercial Interiors Pilot. We are participating in the development of a new rating system based on commercial interiors but focused on retail operations.

LEED projects employ a concept called integrated design. Simply put, it means that the people on the design and construction teams talk to one another. We know that this makes sense on any construction project but we also know it doesn't happen to the degree that it should. The successful implementation of the concepts and strategies in a LEED project necessitates a high level of cooperation and communication that often provides unforeseen benefits in other aspects of the project in terms of error avoidance. So the real first step in a LEED project is getting everyone to talk to one another and then keeping the lines of communication open. It means breaking down those invisible but very real barriers that sometimes exist between the different trades and professions.

Once the team is in place and they choose the appropriate rating system, assessment and strategy development can begin. Each of the LEED rating systems is comprised of six categories.

They are:

  • Sustainable Sites: stormwater, open space, heat island effect, etc.
  • Water Efficiency: reducing the use of potable water.
  • Energy and Atmosphere: maximizing energy efficiency.
  • Materials and Resources: encouraging use of recycled and rapidly renewable materials, construction waste management.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality: thermal comfort, IAQ, daylighting.
  • Innovation in Design: allowing for consideration of new ideas that meet a sustainable goal and awards bonus points for exemplary performance.

Each of the first five categories contains prerequisites. You must satisfy each of the prerequisites of each category to achieve any level of certification. An example of a prerequisite: In the E&A category, the prerequisite Minimum Energy Performance requires that the project satisfy all applicable requirements of ASHRAE 90.1-2004. Many of you know that this is the Commercial Energy code for many states. Its enforcement is inconsistent. Even if local authorities don't enforce it, LEED requires compliance as a starting point. You'll get points for achieving energy efficiency beyond ASHRAE 90.1-2004.

Once we know that the prerequisites will be satisfied, the team then evaluates the project with regard to the credits. Not all credits will be achievable in all projects. The basis for credit assessment is its benefits, cost and achievability. After finalizing a strategy, you must include necessary information and construction documents. You also must hold meetings to ensure that participants know what their roles and responsibilities will be. Everyone doesn't need to know everything, but the success of the project and the achievement of certification depend on all team members doing their part. Now — go build green!

When the project is substantially complete and your documentation is ready for review, you submit it to the USGBC. (Some LEED ratings systems allow for a phased submission process.) If you've done it right, you'll receive the points you attempted and the level of certification sought. There are four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Our project, the Birdsall Bath Design Showroom, is on track for Gold level certification — we'd love to attain Platinum, but it is a daunting goal. We're trying our best though. Someone once said if you shoot for the stars you might not make it, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either!

Some of the strategies we've employed on our project: We're meeting the building envelope goals of the ASHRAE Energy Design Guide for a 30 percent better envelope (30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1-2004). We have ERVs (Energy Recovery Ventilators), which provide fresh air while recovering 80 percent of the energy from the exhausted air. Presently, we've kept 87 percent of the construction waste out of a landfill.

Our HVACR system employs a chiller-boiler concept that will be more efficient than packaged rooftops and is geo-thermal ready when we're ready to drill the wells. All of the toilets are dual flush, and we've been vigilant about not using materials containing urea formaldehyde or those with noncompliant VOC levels. This contributes to better IAQ now and when the building is in operation. The design of the lighting system allows it to use 23 percent less power than ASHRAE 90.1-2004 allows — no easy feat for a retail showroom.

Green building is not an add-on. It's not about tweaking what we do now. It is about fundamentally changing the way we think about the design, construction and operation of our buildings. We can't shoehorn green building into the existing design and construction process. We need to change the existing process to include building green as an integral part.

Mike Murphy and the Birdsall team saw the opportunity to build green and seized it. There are many opportunities out there; we just need to recognize them. The greenest methods are often the least sexy, boring things that offer low-tech, long-term benefits.

Why would a wholesaler build or renovate green? For the same reasons anyone would. Supply houses are in buildings, yes? All buildings require energy, use resources and have an impact on the environment and on the lives of the people who live, work or do business in them. Energy savings and productivity improvements go right to the bottom line. Supply houses are in it for the long term — this means a long period to reap the benefits of creating a better building.

There is much data available now to show that improvements in indoor environmental quality — good ventilation, thermal comfort and proper lighting — produce measurable gains in productivity. I've heard that countermen are much less grouchy in a green building. I have no data to support that though. Happy, comfortable people produce more work of better quality — you don't have to be a statistician to know that's true.

As people become more aware of the necessity for us to change, shouldn't you be seen as leader, as a resource? Shouldn't you “walk the talk”? Think of the effect your customers have on buildings. They're out there installing the HVACR systems and the IAQ systems. These systems have huge impacts in terms of energy use and IEQ. You have a great deal of influence on your customers. They look to you for leadership and guidance; you are one of the ways they find out what's going on in the industry and what they should be doing to keep up and remain successful.

Be that resource — walk the talk and allow your building and your operations to represent the economic benefits, environmental benefits, productivity benefits and marketing benefits of building green.

The closer you look, the more reasons you'll find to build green.

Hopefully, you'll also find an important one that W.A. Birdsall found — it was the right thing to do.

Gerry Hazel LEED® AP, CBCP, is the owner of Sustainable Systems LLC. After 28 years in the HVACR distribution business, Hazel now focuses on assisting owners and project teams with LEED Certification, building commissioning, HVACR systems, and controls and sustainable building practices. Contact him at [email protected] or 973/538-5937.

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