We offer the following recommendations in the hope that they will help step up the pace of high-performance building reconstruction in the U.S. and Canada. We consulted many experts for advice, but these recommendations are solely the responsibility of the editors of Building Design+Construction. We welcome your comments. Please send them to Robert Cassidy, Editorial Director: rcassidy@sgcmail.com.

May 11, 2012

13. AEC firms should consider expanding their business models to add “service integration” to their portfolios.

Due to the disaggregation of building ownership in the U.S., with half of commercial floor space in buildings under 50,000 sf, there is a need—and a business opportunity—for “service integrators” to help owners overcome their reluctance to renovate their buildings. As the NEEA/RMI report, “Financing Deep Energy Retrofits,” suggests, service integrators could provide “the full spectrum of support” to take the hassle out of doing deep retrofits. NEEA/RMI have proposed that service integrators could work through the U.S. Small Business Administration (504 Green Loan and 7a programs), utility companies, and community development banks. There is a huge need for such a “one-stop” service, but making it financially feasible, especially for owners of small properties, will not be easy, which is why some sort of sponsored experimentation is called for.

14. Building Teams must become more cognizant of the long-term economic and environmental impact of building products in renovation projects.

As the NTHP report, “The Greenest Building,” notes, Building Teams should pay careful attention to the amount and performance of building materials used in renovation projects, or the environmental and financial benefits of reconstruction may be lost (as in the case of converting a warehouse to multifamily use).

Along similar lines, Building Teams involved in reconstruction must be clever enough to think ahead as to how future technologies might be applied to buildings currently undergoing renovation: for example, reconstructing a roof such that it could accommodate future photovoltaic arrays—cheaper, smaller, more powerful that today’s—even if PVs don’t make sense for the project right now.

15. Building product manufacturers need to redouble their efforts on durability and end-of-life reuse in their products.

If it is true that the greenest building is the one that lasts the longest, then it follows that the greenest building product is the one that lasts the life of building—and can then be recycled or reused in some beneficial way. This is especially important for systems like roofing, cladding, windows, and other key components of the building envelope, as well as for interior components—flooring, furnishings, wood, ceiling tiles. Even old toilets and urinals have been known to have a second life, crushed into granules and mixed into flooring materials.

Product durability in particular needs to be emphasized, to avoid the kind of disaster that took place with some first-generation low-VOC paints and finishes that washed right off the wall (a problem that the paint industry has since rectified).


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