Some of the key features in sustainable building include energy efficiency and renewable energy use, water efficiency, reduced waste, eco-friendly materials, and a healthier environment for workers. In the U.S., commercial buildings use 39% of the country’s total energy and create 38% of the carbon emissions. The numbers in Canada are similar, according to Alpha-Sense.com.
A green building offers many benefits to building managers, property owners, and tenants. Some of these include:
- Reduced costs of operation
- Improved productivity for workers
- Faster lease-ups due to the desirability of these spaces
- Increased profitability for property developers and building owners
In addition to economic factors, there are social factors driving the popularity of green buildings. Significantly, a report from Dodge Data and Analytics, in collaboration with the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) found that owners and investors had several triggers for increasing their green building initiatives.
Number two on the list, behind lower operating costs, was that green building is the “right thing to do.”
In the same survey, architects, engineers, and contractors cited “client demands,” “environmental regulations,” and “right thing to do,” as the top items on their list of reasons to increase green building initiatives.
A recent series of studies from Harvard University and SUNY Upstate Medical University found that occupants in “high-performing green buildings” appeared to be healthier, more productive, and even showed increased cognitive function. High performing buildings refer to buildings that meet the standards of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers.
Similarly, a “green-certified” building is high-performing and meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s Standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. These are just two of more than a dozen certifications buildings can earn for their environmentally conscious construction and practices.
Many factors can contribute to a building’s green certifications and sustainability. Elements such as living walls, building automation, and renewable energy all contribute to a building’s sustainability.
You can retrofit some of these features to meet some sustainability standards. But a green building from the ground-up starts with eco-friendly materials and building processes to create a green shell.
Why Is a Green Shell Important?
Contractors and CRE pros know that the shell of a commercial building comprises its internal support structure or structural skeleton and the exterior building envelope, including the walls, roof, window and doors. Since the roof, windows and doors have unique considerations separate from the structural skeleton and exterior walls, we will explore those aspects in separate articles.
(Read: How Much Energy Can You Save with Double Glazed Windows?)
A green shell is crucial to create not just a healthy, but sustainable, building. In office construction projects and retrofits, eco-friendly materials contribute to a healthier workplace while reducing the carbon footprint of the project.
Building designers and project managers have many choices in green construction methods and materials. Let’s explore some of the factors that set green shells apart from other building solutions.
Eco-Friendly and Healthy Materials
Builders of green cores and shells emphasize eco-friendly and healthy materials. Building materials are typically designed for minimal environmental impact. They might be made from renewable materials, such as DIRTT Timber, a renewable material that has sequestered CO2 from the atmosphere.
They might be made from non-toxic materials with zero outgassing for a healthier and environmentally friendly workplace. The manufacturing processes might also have lower carbon emissions than traditional construction.
Before you choose a company to create your building shell, ask about the materials used in the construction. For instance, Nexii Building Solutions products, including their modular wall panels, have no LBC Red List substances. They also have air change rates 40% better than conventional construction, creating a well-sealed building for a healthier living or working environment.
Zero-Waste Construction Processes
Green building companies like Nexii and DIRTT tout near zero-waste construction processes through their modular building methods. This is important to reduce the carbon footprint of the process. Nexii says that it can save 13,500 lbs. of waste from the landfill per commercial retail unit constructed.
Similarly, in one commercial office building project, the executives at DIRTT said their modular construction helped keep 18,700 lbs. of drywall out of the landfill.
In general, pre-fab construction has shown to be a greener – and faster – building method.
Parts are built on one location and transferred to the worksite. This reduces construction waste and gives the manufacturer greater control of the building environment. Components can be constructed in a green factory where workers enjoy a safer environment. There is less construction waste because parts can be re-used in the factory. Once the components are constructed, they are transported to the site
Less Heat Transfer Through Outer Walls
One measure of a building’s energy efficiency is the R-factor in its outer walls. The R-Value or R-Factor is an insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow. The desired R-Value differs based on the region and local building codes. The higher the R-value, the greater the resistance to heat flow.
Nexii walls have an R-value of R34 for a 10” thick panel, which is equivalent to a 14”-thick conventional wall. The company says it uses one-third less energy overall, and half the energy of a conventional building for heating.
Combined with techniques such as daylight harvesting and energy efficient heating and cooling systems, a green shell can significantly reduce energy costs in commercial construction.
Start Your Next Green Building Project the Right Way
Commercial real estate experts agree that sustainable construction is “the right thing to do,” and a worthy goal to strive for, with a number of benefits. You can retrofit green elements into any commercial building project. But you can improve your return-on-investment and improve sustainability across the board by starting with a green building core and shell.
Rely on Monster Commercial’s Green Building Materials, including specific Green Roofing Contractors and Consultants categories to help you find the best options for your next green commercial construction project.
Cover Photo Credit: Nexii Building Solutions – Scotiabank, Abbotsford, BC