Building Green

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January 2008


With the latest technologies and building practices, staying green during construction is not as hard as it used to be--and the payback is much faster.
The proposed mid-mountain Red Lady Lodge at Crested Butte Mountain Resort is named for a nearby mountain that turns crimson with alpenglow. But it's the potential "greenness" of this restaurant that weighs on the mind of general manager Randy Barrett.

His quandary: Do the PR and other benefits of a greener, more environmentally friendly lodge outweigh the more immediate benefits of a slightly larger, higher-volume facility?

Barrett isn't alone. Managers across the ski industry are grappling with similar issues. Energy costs are rising, making efficiencies more imperative. And, as the link between the burning of fossil fuels and the warming planet becomes more clear, buildings are coming under more scrutiny. Buildings account for 38 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, more than either transportation or industrial sources.

There are other environmental considerations, too. The quality of lighting and individualized air-temperature controls within a building are critical to employee happiness and, hence, productivity. And, businesses increasingly want a reputation for being environmentally friendly. It matters to their communities, and it matters to customers.

Still to be determined at Crested Butte is whether to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the Red Lady. The incremental cost is small, but some describe the process as cumbersome. LEED certification, however, is fast becoming the stamp by which the public recognizes whether a building is "green" (see sidebar below).

Being green, as Barrett notes, is a matter of shades. "It's not all or nothing," he says. Some techniques and technology cost more, mostly up front. Estimates typically range from two to 10 percent. However, Maureen McIntyre, publisher of "Boulder Green Building Journal," disagrees. "It doesn't have to cost more to build green," she says. Costs depend upon the experience of the architects, engineers, and builders. "A lot of architects are really pretty clueless when it comes to green building. And they're really intimidated by [green building], too."

That's too bad, because intelligent design can save money. Proof is found in Fort Collins, Colo., where the city built two high schools of equal size and cost. However, the newer, greener (and LEED-certified) high school costs $105,000 less to operate annually, says Brian Dunbar, who directs the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Better design, he says, allowed the building's mechanical system to be downsized.



LOWEST-HANGING FRUIT


The cleanest energy is that which is not used. It's also the cheapest. And it can be saved in many places.

Green building basics begin at the foundation. Proper siting minimizes site disruption and thus causes less erosion and silting of creeks. Minimizing cut-and-fill work reduces truck traffic.

Great savings, at minimal initial expense, can be gained by maximizing insulation of the building's envelope. "In many of our building systems we are looking at values in excess of the prototypical R-19 walls and R-31 roofs," says Dave Corbin, director of planning for Aspen Skiing Co. "We tend to super-insulate. We often steer to R-50 roofs, for example." Corbin has been studying green building principles since the 1990s, first with Vail and later with Booth Creek, where he participated in developing the base village at Northstar, Calif., the first LEED-certified ski village.

Added insulation costs comparatively little, he says, particularly when done at the front end. If the building is to be operated by the ski company, the company will make the money back in relatively short time.

At a 50-bed housing complex retrofitted for seasonal occupation, Aspen added other technologies, such as capturing heat from bathroom exhausts. "We didn't bother to do the math to see if that would be recaptured in a five- to seven-year time cycle and get a 12 to 15 percent return," he says. "We just decided it wasn't a significantly added expense. We presumably will save in lifecycle costs."

Energy efficient glazing is another flavor of low-hanging fruit. Low-emissivity glass, which uses a thin metal coating to retain heat within a building during winter and block solar heat in summer, is one example.

Lighting fixtures such as compact fluorescent and a new generation of tubular fluorescents can also reduce energy consumption, as can electronic building controls that shut off lights when people are absent (for more, see "The Ultimate Control,"?SAM July 2005).




HARVESTING ENERGY


The best payback is still in energy conservation. It delivers fewer headlines, but a stronger bottom-line yield.

"You can easily build structures that use half the energy if you simply pay attention to building orientation and envelope," says John Gitchell, who was the environmental manager for 10 years at Vail and now sponsors conferences devoted to environmental and sustainability issues.

Passive solar is among the cheapest and most effective ways to go green. But tapping this essentially free energy source requires thinking well in advance of firing up the backhoes. Buildings harvest the sun's energy best when the long side faces within 15 degrees of due south. This maximizes solar gain in the all-important window from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Solar gain during winter can be enhanced by providing additional mass-such as rocks or concrete floors-inside the structure, to absorb the heat and then dissipate it into the building after the sun has set.

Conversely, eaves over south-facing windows reduce heating during summer months, and good design can maximize natural cooling, allowing windows to be manipulated to maximize currents of natural (as opposed to conditioned) air.

Another good place for investing money is in heating and cooling systems. Boilers with efficiencies of more than 96 percent are easily paid back in terms of lower fuel costs. "Different building forms and shapes, and mechanical systems, are now being looked at holistically, and I think that's a huge improvement," says Corbin.

Using recycled brick, wood, and carpet also makes for a greener building. "In some cases they can be quite expensive, but not ordinarily so," says Corbin. "These are good things to do and relatively easy to do, if people want to take the time and be scrupulous."

Recycling should also be considered in building demolition. Several years ago, when Aspen Skiing Co. replaced the mid-mountain restaurant on its flagship ski area, it carefully deconstructed the old building. Components were sold, and the wood was ground into pulp onsite, reducing truck trips by a factor of five. In all, 84 percent of the old materials were diverted from the landfill, says Auden Schendler, the company's executive director of community and environmental programs. In the process, he says, the company also saved money.

Water can be saved, using the new generation of low-flush and double-flush toilets and other conserving fixtures. Such devices not only save water, but also energy used to pump it. Since purifying water in municipal systems, as well as sewage treatment, requires a great amount of energy, reducing the load thus saves energy at the plant.

Finally, buying locally-sourced materials reduces transportation costs.



ALTERNATIVE ENERGY


Clearly, the public is enchanted with the idea of "clean" energy. Giant windmills are a powerful image, especially if located distant from local backyards. Solar collectors are also iconic.

But the most efficient technology for heating and cooling buildings, and one with the most rapid payback, is called geoexchange. In the most common application it involves drilling wells to about 400 feet, to tap the earth's constant temperature (about 58 degrees). Horizontal fields-using coiled pipes, similar to a child's Slinky-are another option. Either way, water or glycol circulated through plastic pipes in the wells is pumped to a building's mechanical room, compressed, and then exchanged into water sent through a building's heating system. In this alchemy, ground-source heat of 58 degrees can produce 120-degree heat for buildings. (For more on this, see "Cheap Heat," SAM July 2007.)

In some cases, such as at the Snowmass Club, the residual heat of pond water can be tapped through winter, and conversely the heat differential can also be used through summer to produce air conditioning.

With prices of natural gas now rapidly rising, more and more ski area operators are turning to geoexchange.

"It's a no-brainer," says Paul Mathews, president of Whistler-based Ecosign. "The payback has gone from 15 years to seven, and now it's about three, because of rising energy costs. Geothermal heating and cooling of lodges is an absolute winner in my book."

The key to alternative technology, says Mathews, is whether the particular application is regionally appropriate. At Sun Peaks, B.C., he says, "we think we have three to four microhydro units that will run our ski lifts. We need about four megawatts of power."

Less universal are wind and solar. Massachusetts' Jiminy Peak has great wind-not just gusts, but steady wind-to justify the enormous capital expense of a turbine. Other ski resorts are not similarly blessed (some would say cursed).
Ditto for solar. Solar makes great sense at many of the Rocky Mountain resorts, although the payback is far slower. Technological breakthroughs that will speed the payback are still a few years away. Even so, where local utilities are offering grants, that money can tip the scale in favor of solar. Such was the case for Aspen, which installed solar collectors on its retrofitted employee housing complex. The company figures an annual return of 6.5 percent on its investment on top of the accrued goodwill.

What projects merit green-building? Proponents say virtually all. At Mammoth, director of planning Tom Hodges says the payback is different in every situation, but in some cases will extend to eight to 10 years. "That's a little bit of patience for capital," he says. But in attempting to lead in environmental matters, he adds, "I think it's incumbent on us to stretch a bit and demonstrate an example."

Plus, there are greater expectations of mountain resorts. Aspen's Corbin notes that when people take vacations, they don't want to think of themselves as trampling on the environment, and a vacation home is by its nature an incremental expense. "In the mountains," he says, "green building is a natural."






TO LEED OR NOT TO LEED

This has become a central question for developers across the country. For those who know little about green-building, the LEED check-list provides a good starting point, a way to guide projects. Yet LEED also has detractors. The process is known as both costly and cumbersome, and, in some cases, not fully relevant for mountain resorts.

The evaluation grid, officially called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was first issued in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council. Since then, LEED certification has moved into broad consciousness in the building sector. For public relations, LEED certification does have major value.
A third-party validation of green-building substantiates the effort, says Tom Hodges, director of planning for Mammoth Mountain, which is seeking basic level LEED certification of its new base-area Eagle Lodge, a 210,000-square-foot structure. "This will be a milestone for us," he says.

In mountain towns, there is a torrent of ski area operators and base-village developers now seeking LEED certification. Aspen was the first. Four years ago, it got a bronze certification (the lowest of now four levels) for its Sundeck Restaurant. It followed with a silver LEED for the Snowmass Golf Clubhouse. Gold and platinum are highest levels. But Aspen has company; Whistler, for example, is among the growing number of cities that mandates LEED certification for city-financed buildings. Because of that green-stamp of approval, Crested Butte Mountain Resort general manager Randy Barrett is still considering LEED certification for the Red Lady Lodge-even if it means down-sizing it.

The LEED application fee itself is nominal. Still, the argument can be made that the money is better spent in improved building components. Dan Richardson, an energy consultant with Schmueser Gordon Meyer Inc., a Colorado-based firm, suggests instead a mechanical engineer to design a superb heating and cooling system.

Criticism also comes from an unlikely source: Auden Schendler, Aspen's executive director for community and environmental responsibility. A one-time proponent, in 2005 he faulted the certification process as "a death march for applicants administered by a Soviet-style bureaucracy that makes green building more difficult than it needs to be." Even if the process has been smoothed, as some LEED backers claim, Aspen is nonetheless investigating another, Canadian-based evaluation grid called the Green Globes.

Another criticism, especially from those most concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, is that LEED is entirely too lax about energy efficiency. "Energy is everything," Schendler believes. Until last summer, it was possible to get LEED certification without doing anything more than required by local building codes. The new basic level certification ratchets up energy efficiency by a paltry 14 percent. For Schendler, that's not enough.

Mountain locations can also make it more difficult for resorts to score LEED points. A case in point is the local sourcing of materials. "We're more than three hours from Reno, and more than six hours from Los Angeles," says Mammoth's Hodges. "So there are some of the points associated with local sources of materials that just aren't available."

In addition, some LEED requirements make little sense for mountain resorts. LEED buildings gain points if they are convenient for bicycling commuters, for example. That, points out Dave Corbin, director of planning for the Aspen Skiing Co., is clearly irrelevant to an on-mountain restaurant. He also notes that passive solar, another LEED criterion, is more difficult to achieve when designing double-loaded buildings with condominiums.

There are alternatives to LEED. Green Globes, the program Aspen is investigating, is also a points-based program, one that more strongly weights energy efficiency. It also allows use of wood certified by a variety of rating systems, not just the Forest Stewardship Council specified by LEED. Moreover, its Internet-based process is easier to complete. And certification costs $4,000, compared to $20,000 for LEED. Other programs include Advanced Buildings and Benchmark and the ISO 1401 certification process. The latter has a broader purview than green-building and includes the lifecycle of the building.
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