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Strategies for Greening Your Building

Reduce Costs and Increase Tenant Satisfaction with Energy-Efficient Upgrades to Your Building

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Greening a building is not just a matter of complying with environmental or energy efficiency code these days. It behooves owners and building managers to ensure a building is eco-friendly and energy efficient, as green buildings can save on costs, make the space more attractive to tenants, and reduce the need for extensive future upgrades.

Plus, having accessible outdoor space and creating an office environment that "brings the outdoors in" has been proven to increase workers' productivity and mental health.

"Building healthier improves outcomes for employees and customers," says Eric Corey Freed, principal of Boston-based organicARCHITECT . With three decades of experience in sustainable design and building, Freed currently focuses his practice on consulting with property management companies, municipalities and organizations on achieving net-zero energy, meaning the building produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a full year.

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A sustainable block in Detroit designed by organicARCHITECT.

In addition to overall health, Freed is also dedicated to "rethinking the financial structures of how we pay for buildings upfront and monetize afterward."

If you already own or manage buildings, there are a few practical ways for you to get started working toward net-zero energy—and reap the cultural and cost-saving benefits an eco-friendly building can provide. Here, Freed offers five strategies to for going green.

1. Get an Energy Audit

Determining where the bulk of your energy usage is coming from is the first step to reducing it. In some cities you can get an audit done for free, paid for by your local utility company.

"In a typical office building, just the lighting makes up 25 percent of the total energy use," says Freed. The mechanical systems, i.e. heating and cooling, account for another large chunk. "Depending on the age of the building, we can easily cut these two energy expenses by up to half."

2. Update the Lighting

The incandescent lights of yesteryear were 90 percent heat and 10 percent light. Most office buildings today have fluorescents, which are 90 percent light and 10 percent heat—but the quality of light they emit is not well liked. One quick update that Freed's firm often makes is to put in LED lighting, which provides better quality of light, is more energy-efficient and typically lasts longer than traditional bulbs.

While updating the light system, Freed also suggests adding a dimmer, or at least an occupancy sensor, which can tell when no one is in the room and dim or turn off the lights in empty areas. Even better, a daylight sensor can dim or turn up the lights based on how much natural light is coming into the space.

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EpiCenter Med Spa

Optimizing natural light is one of the most important elements in improving employees' moods as well as lowering lighting bills. The most effective way to increase natural light is by installing more windows, but if that's not feasible, there are other ways, like redesigning the interior layout to make sure desks are positioned where natural light will reach them, and installing mirrors at strategic places.

A rule of thumb when estimating how much light you'll get in a room: Light comes in about twice what the ceiling height is. If you have 15-foot ceilings, you'll get natural light about 30 feet into the space.

3. Update the Mechanical System

Many mechanical systems were installed three or four decades ago, according to Freed. Poor office air quality reduces employee productivity, while high-performance buildings designed with health and wellness in mind were found to enhance productivity and profitability, according to a recent report by STOK .

There are easy maintenance steps that will improve system efficiency, such as getting the filters cleaned. Freed also recommends getting them commissioned, which is "like a Jiffy-Lube treatment for systems."

Optimizing daylight will also impact the space's heating and cooling. Light can provide the right amount of heat when feasible, but you'll have to make sure you don't have so much you'll need to run air conditioning to counterbalance it.

"More light is not always the answer. More light equals more heat," says Freed. “It's about controlled light."

4. Look at the Insulation

"Insulation is like chocolate—the more you have, the better," jokes Freed. All joking aside, he says upgrading the insulation probably offers the biggest bang for your buck of any building improvement. It's relatively inexpensive, and the payback is immediate.

"From day one you're heating or cooling your space, so if you're keeping the ideal temperature from leaking to the outside, you're cutting heating and cooling expenditure right away."

While adding insulation to certain types of walls can be an extensive renovation project, concrete is easier to add insulation onto than many other types of wall materials.

There are many types of new and eco-friendly insulation, like Bonded Logic's recycled denim product, spray foam made of soy, and mineral wool insulations with fireproofing benefits. Additionally, the standard pink insulation now comes in a formaldehyde-free formulation.

5. Source Healthy Materials

The availability and choice of healthy, green and eco-conscious building materials increases each quarter. Start your search at www.buildinggreen.com or at the open-source Mindful Materials Database .

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