The role sustainability plays in construction projects has evolved dramatically over the past several years. As Sam Statz, majority owner of Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction Inc. in Appleton, puts it, what used to be an add-on to the project discussion is now front and center.
“The construction industry has definitely changed. Sustainability used to be one of the extra ‘things’ a project may include. Now it’s an expectation,” he says. “Businesses are more concerned about climate change and trying to do their part to alleviate its effects.”
And instead of seeking a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation, Statz says “the single hottest idea out there right now is becoming a net-zero building, where we can create buildings to generate their own power and run off the grid as much as possible. The question has really become: How sustainable can we make this building?”
Hoffman isn’t alone in seeing that change. Businesses are asking their construction companies about sustainability initiatives and the best way to incorporate them in the building’s design. For example, several new buildings in the region, including Secura Insurance in Fox Crossing and C.D. Smith Construction in Fond du Lac, have solar panels onsite to generate some of the building’s energy needs.
In C.D. Smith’s case, the company was contractor and client, which allowed it to pursue multiple sustainability initiatives without much pushback.
“One of the most recognizable signs of our commitment to sustainability is a 294-panel ballasted, solar photovoltaic system on our roof,” says Chris Ingalsbe, a sustainable construction engineer for C.D. Smith.
Emily Smith, a MEP consultant with C.D. Smith, says the company’s electric bill for August was less than it was in July even though it was warmer, which shows what the addition of the solar panels can do for a business.
“The system is designed to offset approximately 40 percent of our electric energy consumption,” she says.
Inside, sustainable elements abound such as using reclaimed wood from previous buildings. “We have a long history of sustainability in our work, so when it came time to work on our own building, we wanted to include as many components as possible. That was one of the most exciting parts of this project,” says Tricia Muellenbach, director of marketing for C.D. Smith.
Outside of C.D. Smith’s new building, the landscape features also harken to sustainability. “All the plants are native to the area and we do not have to water them or have an irrigation system in place,” Smith says.
Looking at options
Mark Hanson, Hoffman’s director of sustainable services, says customers now expect sustainable elements in their new buildings as a way of not only being kinder to the planet but also to the bottom line.
“More are looking away from natural gas and considering geothermal or heat pump systems in buildings,” he says. “There may be more cost upfront, but you honestly don’t know what the costs of natural gas or electricity are going to be in the future.”
Adding more daylight in buildings, along with choosing an efficient HVAC system, are other ways Hoffman can lessen a building’s carbon footprint.
“Lighting is a way to lower costs. Using LED lighting and automatic controls can really lower your electricity bills,” Hanson says.
Automated building systems have also done a lot to bring down utility costs and make buildings more sustainable, says Tony Meeuwsen, senior project manager for The Boldt Co. Another decision that seems like a small change but pays big dividends is the choice of bathroom fixtures.
Meeuwsen, who worked on Gulfstream’s new 190,000-square-foot service center at Appleton International Airport, says the company “will save 40 percent on their water usage just based on the fixtures selected. All of those small decisions add up.”
Before even starting on the project, Gulfstream leaders told Meeuwsen the building needed to exceed LEED Silver requirements. For a facility with a massive hangar and large doors, an efficient HVAC system was a must, he adds.
“It’s a massive space, so we went with in-floor heating of the concrete floor. It’s very efficient,” he says. “Even with the hangar doors open, the space retains its heat.”
To hit the LEED goal, Meeuwsen also suggested going with a white roof to reflect the hot summer sun and taking excess concrete from the project, crushing it and using it in the parking lot. He says the project’s aggressive recycling program saved more than $17,000 in tipping fees, which Boldt put right back into the project.
While businesses seeking LEED certifications for new construction projects used to be the norm, that’s no longer the case as companies decide the requirements are “ratcheting up” too much or are overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork, Meeuwsen says.
Hoffman’s Statz says one trend he’s noticed is that when businesses discuss sustainability, it’s not about “having a plaque on the wall that says, ‘This is LEED certified.’ It’s now being done for the right reasons — creating a place that’s healthier for employees, whether it’s through the use of more natural light or no-VOC products.”