Living Buildings take Sustainability to the Next Level

Photogrpahy of the Bertschi School Living Science Building. Seattle, Washington. Clients: KMD Architects, The Bertschi School, Skanska USA Building, Quantum Consulting Engineers, LLC, Hermanson Company, LLC, GGLO, Rushing and O'Brien & Company. © Benjamin Benschneider All rights Reserved. Usage rights may be arranged by contacting Benjamin Benschneider Photography. Email: bbenschneider@comcast.net or phone 206-789-5973

The Bertschi School Living Science Building in Seattle, Washington. Built by Skanska as one of our first living building projects.

For years, sustainability has been more than just a buzzword in the construction industry – and with good reason.  As stewards of a planet with limited natural resources, it’s in our own interest to build projects that consume less.

The concept of Net-Zero construction has pushed the boundaries of sustainable green building further. This movement saw projects designed and constructed to offset the energy and water operations consumer through a variety of strategies ranging from on-site energy generation to rainwater harvesting.

We are entering the era of the Living Building, the industry’s most rigorous performance standard to date.  According to the International Living Future Institute, Living Buildings operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture.

Skanksa has become a vocal champion of green, sustainable and living building. In a recent interview with Construction DiveStacy Smedley, director of sustainability at Skanska USA, shared her experiences with ILFI and how it is a new area worthy of exploration.

Read the full story, with more from Stacy Smedley, here.

And for more on “How a Living Building Comes to Life,” check out our previous blog post here.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Creating one of the world’s greenest buildings

Solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, rain cisterns and composting toilets – you don’t often see those all in one building, if you see them at all. But these are central to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, which was recently dedicated in Virginia Beach, Va.

After three years spent planning, designing and building this facility, it was great to see local residents exploring what is possible with green building during the open house.  The Brock center is targeting not only LEED Platinum certification, but also the even more stringent Living Building Challenge that requires net zero environmental impact. Some of those residents seemed to be in awe of what was accomplished by this team, which includes not only CBF and Skanska (as CBF’s representative) as key team members, but also SmithGroupJJR, Hourigan Construction and WPL Site Design.

I’m still a bit in awe myself as to what this great team achieved: an international model for energy and water efficiency and climate change resiliency, and Virginia’s greenest building.  The team reached these tough goals because of open minds and much collaboration amongst team members. (This video of the eco-charette shows us all engaging in early discussions about this project – this session was at the beginning of a great adventure!)

The challenges were many, as this team was a green pioneer. Take, for example, that the 10,000-square-foot building collects rainwater, then filters and re-uses it as drinking water to help achieve net-zero water use. As far as we know, that’s a first for a commercial-scale building in the U.S., and it required the facility to be certified as a water treatment plant. Early in design, the project team engaged both the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Department of Health to make certain that they could legally re-use water in this way. After much constructive back and forth, that system is running today – and that water tastes great!

Ensuring that only proper materials were used on this project was another considerable challenge. With the Living Building Challenge, materials must be locally sourced and must not contain any of the 22 potentially harmful materials or chemicals on the Challenge’s Red List. The Brock center is Skanska’s second Living Building Challenge project, following Seattle’s Bertschi School Science Classroom that we completed in 2011. (The Bertschi classroom was awarded Living Building certification in 2013, becoming the world’s fourth Living Building.) Being able to tap the resources of our Bertschi School team was a great starting point and ongoing resource for the Brock center team. However, Brock involved different materials and a later Living Building Challenge version, so the Brock team still had to do substantial legwork to ensure that all products met requirements. You can never start early enough on materials research, but thankfully for this project our committed partners of SmithGroupJJR and Hourigan did great work in this regard.

Brock Center

As with all Living Building Challenge projects, though construction is complete the project team will keep close watch over the building. Living Building certification requires the building to be monitored over the next year to ensure it operates as intended, including meeting net zero energy and water goals. You’ll be able to see for yourself how this building’s green features make it independent of outside energy and water sources: starting in February, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is opening the Brock center for regular tours. As the building is home to CBF’s local staff and environmental education programs, it has the potential to inspire thousands of students to expect and aspire to a future populated by living buildings. Imagine how such a world would help protect the magnificent Chesapeake Bay.

I live in the neighboring city of Norfolk, so I definitely plan to come back and see this important resource in use. I hope to see you there.

Megan O’Connell

Megan O’Connell

Senior project engineer

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What does a Living Building cost or save versus a LEED Platinum building?

In 2011, Skanska completed the West Coast’s first and the world’s fourth certified Living Building in Seattle: The Bertschi School Science Classroom addition. But Living Buildings — which must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements, including net zero energy, waste and water, over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy – are still so rare that many questions remain about how they compare financially to its next closest neighbor, LEED Platinum.

So when the District of Columbia’s Department of Environment was looking to understand the costs and benefits associated with net zero energy, net zero water and Living Buildings, our team was eager to help with this effort of quantifying the rewards of ultra-green buildings.

The District of Columbia’s Department of Environment had two goals: first, to investigate the costs associated with upgrading existing buildings from LEED Platinum to zero energy, zero water and Living Building. And second, to collect data to advise policy makers on deep-green buildings and incentives. Their findings are published in: Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia. For the study, Skanska joined the New Buildings Institute (NBI) and the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) to conceptually transform three LEED v3 Platinum-designed buildings in the District to net zero energy, net zero water and Living Buildings. Three reference buildings were chosen to represent three of the most common developments in the District of Columbia: new office construction, new multifamily construction and office renovation.

88M Hero Print - E

A rendering of our 88 M Street NE project in Washington, D.C., one of the three reference buildings in the study.

NBI and ILFI determined the most appropriate energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies for the buildings, while Skanska determined the anticipated differential costs for the various energy strategies employed.

The team applied a set of energy efficiency measures to each building’s envelope, lighting, HVAC, operations, occupancy and direct loads, along with rainwater harvesting techniques in order to achieve reduced energy and water usage before adding photovoltaics and water-reuse strategies.

The costs for getting to net zero are difficult to distinguish from overall project costs. However, our team conducted an analysis to identify costs connected to energy and water conservation, as well as the photovoltaic and water reuse systems necessary for such a project.

So what’s the answer?

The initial cost for energy efficiency is approximately 1-12 percent higher, varying by the building type. This rises to 5-19 percent in net-zero energy buildings when considering the added cost of photovoltaic power supply. But the benefits make the added cost worthwhile: the energy efficiency measures alone offer a return on investment of 6-12 percent. After factoring current tax and renewable energy credits into these figures, the return on investment in net zero building is approximately 30 percent.

That is not to say the net-zero goal is appropriate or feasible in every case. When considered in isolation, even ultra-efficient 300,000-square-foot buildings with today’s onsite renewable energy technology cannot generate as much energy or collect as much water as they consume over the course of a year.  In fact, these buildings would require up to seven equivalent rooftop areas to achieve net zero.  And achieving net zero is not only a matter of design; it also requires careful attention in such areas as operations and maintenance.

But ultimately, this project yielded valuable results that will inform future design decisions on our journey to Deep Green. The largest benefit: it raises the dialogue over the value of net zero to a new level.

Facility owners now have something tangible to consider when looking at high-performance buildings. We’ve come a long way with Living Buildings, but there is now a true framework to have meaningful conversations shifting from first cost alone to life-cycle value, emboldening market leaders to explore building solutions that push the envelope toward a more sustainable future.

 

Steve Clem

Steve Clem

Skanska USA Vice president of preconstruction

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Why construction materials matter

The more holistically we think, the more important materials become. If you had asked people 50 years ago what houses would be made of in 2010, the average answer might have been titanium, aluminum and high-impact plastic. Reality has long since rendered that view obsolete. We now understand that the world has a finite amount of resources available – and that goes for the construction and operation of our buildings and infrastructure as well.

straw

Did you know straw can be used for insulation? photo credit: Special via photopin cc

So, now we may use recycled paper on the building’s exterior, or use straw for insulation.

We may use bricks made of residues taken from wastewater treatment plants, and make roofs of living plants. Or we may choose something completely different. Because a green building philosophy means choosing the building material that is best suited to the conditions at the particular site.

Environmentally sound materials.

Among the most interesting requirements is that materials should be produced as close to the construction site as possible. They should not contain hazardous materials, and they should be produced with minimal effect on the environment. They should be easily recycled – and preferably made out of recycled materials such as paper, recycled aluminum or leftover stone chips. And naturally, materials and products carrying an environmental label should be selected whenever possible.

Another thing about the future: The material should be future-proof. In other words, it should last the entire lifecycle of the building.

Reducing waste and packaging.

Just as important as selecting the correct material is not using too much, or processing it any more than necessary. There are great environmental savings to be made by minimizing excess.

First off, of course, resources are saved that would have been spent producing the material. But this approach also reduces the transport of material, and thereby the emissions – first to the building site, and then away from the building site, carrying all the leftover materials and waste. Another way to reduce waste is to deliver materials and installations, such as appliances and other machinery, without packaging.

Using less material and packaging saves a lot of resources. And if you like to watch the bottom line, you’ll soon see that less material also means lower costs.

Recycled paper can be used in many ways. Richlite is a material used for exterior wall systems – it’s made from recycled paper and natural fibers from environmentally certified forests.

Eco Bricks, sturdy blocks made out of plastic bottles filled with non-recyclable waste and include water treatment residues can replace traditional bricks in many projects

Paper Stone is a surfacing made from recycled paper, cashew nut oils and water-based resins. It was used when retrofitting the 32nd floor of the Empire State Building.

Recycled truck tires make terrific flooring for outside play areas at schools.

Lastly, on top of all these environmental materials, Skanska has also constructed with the Living Building Challenge (LBC) in mind. LBC is widely considered the world’s most rigorous building performance standard. A Living Building generates all of its own energy through clean, renewable resources; captures and treats its own water; incorporates only non-toxic, appropriately sourced materials; and operates efficiently and for maximum beauty. A building must perform as designed for one full year of occupancy and pass a third-party audit before receiving certification as “Living.” See how we made Seattle’s Bertschi School Science Classroom come to life.

Myrrh Caplan

Myrrh Caplan

Skanska USA National Program Manager - Green Construction

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