Form, Function, and Funds: The Next Wave of Sustainability

When it comes to sustainable design, perhaps sustaining the attention of consumers is as important as the design itself. While sustainability may be written off as one of many “green trends”, it plays an enormous role in shaping how our future looks – both from the buildings we inhabit to the overall planet we live on. To ensure the concept of sustainable design stays at the forefront of the public’s attention, it needs to achieve a few important things – function, form, and funds.

And, of course, it needs to stay interesting.

If there’s one thing the public loves, it’s stories they can talk about and share with their friends, family, and followers. It’s a benefit to the sustainable movement, then, that so many forward-thinking brands and industries are finding ways to captivate and engage with their products and ideas.

Perhaps with some thanks to social media, sustainability in design has received a greater amount of publicity in recent years with eye-catching articles including: “Ecological Packaging for Fries Made from Potato Skins”, an “Initiative to Turn Space Waste into ‘Ingredients for Something Special’”, the O-Wind Turbine that “captures energy even in the middle of dense cities”, a “maternity facility in rural Uganda is entirely self-sustaining”… the list goes on and on.

What these headlines have in common, besides being tempting to click on, is the desire to improve the environment by connecting with real people in real-life situations. While the eco-packaging for french fries is a novel idea, the self-sustaining maternity building in Africa demonstrates how sustainable thinking can save lives – and right now, not decades from now.

Despite the environment’s warning signs, many people still don’t understand the need to act responsibly now. This lack of urgency can leave sustainable design in the realm of french fry containers – a cool thought, an example of what can be done, but no obligation to do anything right now. So, when stories like O-Wind Turbine and the maternity facility make headlines, the sustainable design movement becomes more tangible and grounded, which is exactly what’s needed for sustainability to keep its forward momentum.

Once attention has been captured, sustainable designers need to follow the three Fs to move from the realm of “someday” to “today”:

Form

Sustainable designs may take on more unique forms simply because of the unique goals and aspirations embedded into the design, whether it be recyclability, high mileage, general efficiency, solar orientation etc. This distinction is advantageous because the novel form can capture attention and thereby create conversation. The simple fact of being different provides a clue that perhaps there’s more than meets the eye. When the form of a sustainable design is unique, people begin to ask questions, and these questions in turn can lead to education. Education is the backbone of every movement if it indeed is to be taken seriously and withstand the test of time.

Function

In successful design, the function and form of any design must work in tandem, or there will be little hope in it ever enjoying the light of day. When form and function complement each other, they become a beacon for the entire sustainable design movement, showing the world how promising the latest innovations can be. Often in successful sustainable design, the function serves as a determiner for much of the object’s form. For example, within architecture, the orientation, shape, and angles of the overall building layout should work in conjunction with the sun’s daily patterns; the placement and proportion of the windows, as well as the depth of shading devices and screening elements, should capture sunlight from desirable directions while also limiting sunlight from other less-desirable directions. Additionally, the angle of the roof may be utilized to harvest rainwater for purposes both in and surrounding the building. Other sustainable measures include recycled finishes, lighting with automatic sensors, native landscaping, natural drainage, permeable pavers in parking lots, etc.

Funds

Once form and function have been accomplished and the public’s attention has been captured, funds are the last item to consider. For many, sustainable design is a nice idea, but they often assume the cost to complete a sustainable project is out of financial reach. A primary concept within sustainability is weighing the initial up-front costs versus the life-cycle costs. Some sustainable design measures may cost more at the project’s outset yet actually save money over the entire life of the building. Some examples within architecture include solar panels, efficient HVAC equipment, sensored lighting, rainwater collection/harvesting, etc. These features must be carefully examined in light of the project’s long-term goals. Making sure there is an affordability to every project, that there is realistic access to obtaining the necessary funds, and balancing the costs over the life of the building, are all essential.

For sustainable designers, understanding the importance of getting the public to embrace new ideas and projects is easy. But, convincing the public of the importance behind sustainability requires thought, planning, and adhering to the concept of the Three Fs of Sustainable Design: form, function, funds.

Why Is Adaptive Reuse Important in Today’s World?

To understand the importance of adaptive reuse, one must first appreciate the value of old buildings and architecture.

While it can feel “progressive” to tear down the old in order to make room for the new, adaptive reuse defines progress differently. Rather than creating a narrow vision that imagines possibilities with a blank slate, reuse tailors creative thinking to focus on what currently exists and how it can be incorporated thoughtfully into the goals and ideas of the future. Adaptive reuse can be implemented on any building, although it’s most commonly used for when working with historic buildings.

As the world ages collectively, more and more buildings with rich histories are finding themselves in need of renovation and rejuvenation; adaptive reuse is the conscious decision to preserve the past while planning for the future. For example, many adaptive reuse projects bridge different worlds – churches becoming restaurants, hospitals becoming schools, and more.

Adaptive Reuse Example at Ivy Tech

Depending on the context, adaptive reuse can go by the name of property rehabilitation or historic redevelopment. Either way, the process and overall goal remains the same: to rescue discarded, unkempt buildings from a destructive fate and find them a new purpose.

Of course, adaptive reuse is not just a sentimental effort to save buildings, it is also a critical process to ensure communities don’t use (or waste) more materials than necessary.

Some cities have, unfortunately, decided to adopt a “newer is better” mindset, causing them to discard perfectly fine, usable resources in order to “upgrade”. This thinking has caused major issues for our environment and will continue to do so until we are able to see value in materials as they age. Instead, people should look at progressive cities, like Paris, London, and Amsterdam, for inspiration; many historic structures and facades in these iconic towns have been lovingly preserved for generations to come. In fact, adaptive reuse is a great example of how individuals can prove to the larger group that there are creative options for recycling, reusing, and repurposing already existing resources.

Sometimes cases will be made against reuse, mostly regarding factors that include the cost, time, and efficiency. However, adaptive reuse is both appealing and practical; sometimes even saving money by reducing certain costs. Other underlying factors, such as being able to use hard-to-find materials or recycle materials already on the location, allow for additional money to be saved – and all while making it possible to create beautiful aesthetics complete with rich textures and unique features. Lastly, the entire adaptive reuse process, from start to finish, protects the environment while also reducing unnecessary waste.

Any adaptive reuse project begins by doing a thorough examination of the building, to ensure the infrastructure exists to keep it functioning into the future. Then you can look for unique attributes and characteristics that make the building special. These features can be highlighted in new and exciting ways, once again giving them purpose and prominence. When looking for these unique elements, one can find what some see as a “ready to demolish” building and instead see both beauty and value. This allows for seemingly doomed buildings, and the often debilitated communities in which they stand, a chance at a new and brighter future.

Above all, the biggest driving factor behind adaptive reuse is the ability to keep stories and memories intact. In a world where mass production and imitation is the norm, adaptive reuse goes against the grain, literally building upon already existing stories, adding new chapters without rewriting an entire book.

LEED Certification 101

 Better buildings! It’s the goal of the LEED Certification rating system. As such, each new version raises the bar; challenging owners, designers, building managers, manufacturers, and contractors to continually improve. One example of a higher standard is LEED version 4. Referencing ASHRAE 90.1-2010, it is an energy code more stringent than Indiana’s current energy code. High efficiency systems with excellent indoor air quality – a great goal for all building types.

With LEED v4 as the new standard, we thought we would break down what LEED is at it’s core:

LEED Certification infographic

Check out our lineup of projects that received LEED Certification:

LEED Gold Certified:

LEED Silver Certified:

In Progress:

What is VRF?

VRF (variable refrigerant flow) is a sophisticated HVAC technology. Invented around 30 years ago, this is known as the “Rolls Royce” of air conditioning systems. The use of the VRF mechanical system can assist in achieving LEED certification for facilities. The basic elements of VRF systems are:

  • Refrigerant liquid is used as the cooling/heating medium, as opposed to chilled water systems. Those chilled water systems use refrigerant to cool/heat the water circulated throughout.
  • Allows one outdoor condensing unit to be connected to multiple indoor evaporators. Each indoor evaporator is controllable by its user, varying the amount of refrigerant being sent to it and the speed of its evaporator fan.
  • Inverter compressors allow lowering power consumption with partial cooling/heating loads.
  • Ability to expand modularly, important when dealing with large projects.

Energy savings for these systems can be up to 55% over comparable unit systems. Ductwork sizes are reduced because conditioned air is not being routed throughout the building, which could also lead to smaller plenum spaces, and potentially reduce the height of the building if designed appropriately.

So how does it work?

A combination of surrounding outside temperatures and inputs from a user (desired temperature) gets calculated into the operation logic inside the system – resulting in optimal power consumption while outputting desired comfort temperatures. The basic steps of this:

  1. Indoor system is turned on by a user via the local remote.
  2. Outdoor system “gets noted” and will start up.
  3. Outdoor temperatures and desired indoor temperature point are examined within the system, the compressor’s output is then increased based on level of demand.
  4. The system then is constantly working to regulate power consumption based on demands of changing conditions (outdoor temperatures and user-desired temperatures).

Overall VRF has proven to be a highly efficient alternative to traditional 4-pipe HVAC systems, resulting in reduced installation and operational costs.

 

 

Geothermal Heating Systems: How Do They Work?

Schmidt Associates has received an increasing number of inquiries about geothermal heating systems. We are also designing geothermal systems for a variety of projects. This blogs explains that technology.

A geothermal ground source heat pump (GSHP) is an electrically powered system that taps the stored energy of the greatest solar collector in existence: the earth. GSHP systems use the earth’s relatively constant temperature to provide heating, cooling, and hot water for homes and commercial buildings.

spaceatmosphereearth

 

The heat pump system uses solar energy stored in the earth’s crust. Energy is transferred to and from the earth’s surface by solar radiation, wind, and rainfall. At depths greater than 30’, the earth’s temperature remains constant, and is comparable to annual average air temperature.

Between the surface and a depth of 8’ (the maximum depth to install a GSHP horizontal loop of pipes to collect and disperse heat) the ground temperature will swing above and below the annual average air temperature, depending on the geographic location, soil type, and moisture levels. Because of its own insulation, soil temperature is more moderate year round than outside air.

water source heat pump

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look for our future blog to learn about four types of geothermal systems.

Getting Real About Value Engineering

“Value engineering” is perhaps the most overused and under-realized term in the design/construction industry today. It has become the catch bucket for any exercise that involves reducing costs.

By definition, value is the ratio of function to cost. Value is increased by improving function or reducing cost. A great example: the benefit analysis of solar shading provided by extending the overhang of a roof. Using Building Information Modeling (BIM) and special software programs, we can determine the optimum energy savings obtained from shading by applying the most cost-effective roof extension (the ratio of function to cost). Our analysis identifies the point of diminishing return – the point when the increased cost of the roof begins to yield lower shading benefit. This is value engineering.

In contrast, most references to a “value-engineering exercise” are in reality a “cost-reduction exercise.” It involves compiling a list of items (or functions) to eliminate from the project, thereby reducing cost. This is not necessarily a bad thing to do. In fact, it is often an unavoidable part of any project since needs and wants are almost always greater than budgets. However, calling it “value engineering” is a misnomer because the function is eliminated along with the cost.

It is important to recognize that value can be lost with the cost reduction. This often occurs when a function that yields a long-term benefit (reduced energy or operational cost) is eliminated to provide an initial cost reduction. A clear understanding of the difference between “value engineering” and “cost reduction” helps avoid decisions with unintended consequences or “de-value engineering.”

Lake Central High School Earns EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Certification

Lake Central High School Earns EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Certification for Superior Energy Efficiency


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Lake Central High School, has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR certification, which signifies that the building performs in the top 25 percent of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency and meets strict energy efficiency performance levels set by the EPA.

“Lake Central is pleased to accept EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification in recognition of our energy efficiency efforts,” said principal Larry Veracco. “Through this achievement, we have demonstrated our commitment to environmental stewardship while also lowering our energy costs.”

Facilities that earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification use an average of 35 percent less energy than typical facilities and also release 35 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Lake Central High School improved its energy performance by managing energy strategically across the entire school and by making cost-effective improvements to its building. The school has prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity use from 52.3 households for one year.

“Improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings is critical to protecting our environment, “ said Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch. “From the boiler room to the board room, organizations are leading the way by making their buildings more efficient and earning EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification.”

To earn the ENERGY STAR, Lake Central High School took the following actions:

  1. Provided remote monitoring of the facility’s energy management systems and advised on any modifications that would improve efficiency or operation
  2. Conducted on-site meetings at the school to determine any modifications that may need to be made to the systems
  3. Conducted walk-throughs to assess the condition and operation of the mechanical systems and make recommendations on modifications to the sequence of operations in order to increase the energy efficiency of the building
  4. Analyze the electric and gas usage each month, benchmark that usage against similar facilities, and summarize the findings.
  5. Any modifications to improve efficiency or operation have been at no cost to the school corporation

EPA’s ENERGY STAR energy performance scale helps organizations assess how efficiently their buildings use energy relative to similar buildings nationwide. A building that scores a 75 or higher on EPA’s 1-100 scale may be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification. Commercial buildings that can earn the ENERGY STAR include offices, bank branches, data centers, financial centers, retail stores, courthouses, hospitals, hotels, K-12 schools, medical offices, supermarkets, dormitories, houses of worship, and warehouses.

ENERGY STAR was introduced by EPA in 1992 as a voluntary, market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, the ENERGY STAR label can be found on more than 65 different kinds of products, 1.4 million new homes, and 20,000 commercial buildings and industrial plants that meet strict energy-efficiency specifications set by the EPA. Over the past twenty years, American families and businesses have saved more than $230 billion on utility bills and prevented more than 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions with help from ENERGY STAR.

For more information about ENERGY STAR Certification for Commercial Buildings: www.energystar.gov/labeledbuildings

To check out a photo gallery of our Lake Central High School project, click here

Graduating Green

40 years ago, our principal preoccupation with energy consumption issues was whether we had integrated enough of the right technology to keep the campus warm in winter and cool in summer. Those solely selfish considerations of personal comfort have given way to a completely different approach; one where the planet is also seen as a key stakeholder in everything we design for the college environment. So how does each individual institution stand out in the powerful “greenwash” as being measurably innovative and effective?

There can be no doubt that today, on campus and across the United States, the sustainable nature of the built environment is a major consideration for undergraduate and graduate students; not least when they come to choose a school. This is not anecdotal. Around a decade ago in fact, a “looser” interest in green matters began to firm up into a real focus. By 2008, Princeton University’s College Hopes and Worries Survey reported that 63% of its (over 10,000) respondents said information on a particular college’s commitment to the environment might impact their decision to apply to or attend that institution.

Higher education has certainly responded. Individual college and campus greening initiatives are taking place in the context of a sector-wide focus on placing sustainability at the very heart of campus life. This emphasis is as well funded, as it is well meaning.

Take the example of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI), founded in 2005 as a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, Inc. The SEI has pioneered research, education, and outreach to advance resilient institutional responses to the climate crisis. It now runs the Billion Dollar Green Challenge.

This impressive initiative encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions to invest a combined total of one billion dollars in self‐managed green revolving funds that finance energy efficiency improvements. The SEI also coordinates the College Sustainability Report Card, the first comparative and independent evaluation of campus and endowment sustainability best practices at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

If sustainability is very much on the college strategic development horizon, it has also put down roots deep into the fabric of daily college life. Sustainability-themed dorms, eco-initiatives and diverse policies that range from local food sourcing for cafeterias to the recycling of tons of otherwise wasted soap from bathrooms are all manifestations of real working practice, as well as a philosophy. Nor is this simply about saving resources and money – crucial as these complementary benefits are. Green design, and in particular daylight availability, has even been shown to measurably and positively impact student performance.

In this “bright green” context, what contribution can the architect make to a more sustainable campus? The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education states that: “Buildings are generally the largest user of energy and the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on campuses. Buildings also use significant amounts of potable water. Institutions can design, build, and maintain buildings in ways that provide a safe and healthy indoor environment for inhabitants while simultaneously mitigating the building’s impact on the outdoor environment.”

That’s a pretty strong manifesto for any architect involved in higher education. At Schmidt Associates, we are very proud of the fact that sustainability considerations lie at the heart of all our designs. In fact, they are as important to us as our aesthetic approach. But we have most certainly not arrived by accident at the ability to design buildings that deliver measurable sustainability, as well as being a driver of campus pride. Sustainability is about good technology – and great technologists – as well as good intentions.

To be certain of translating their own good intentions into a demonstrably more sustainable campus, college leadership needs to ask some searching questions before engaging with any architect. These questions will include the following:

  • Does the architectural practice concerned have a track record of energy efficient design?
  • Does the practice retain its own engineers and technologists as an expert green resource?
  • Is the ethos one of genuinely integrated teamwork, so that aesthetics and technology work together from the start to achieve a “truly green” design?
  • Can they show precisely how they will arrive at the numbers they put around promised resources savings and performance improvements?

The responses to all these questions will help institution leadership decide whether they are in the kind of committed and proven hands that can create and deliver a real contribution to campus sustainability, as well as a beautiful end result. With so much riding on “graduating green” today, the choice of the right architect has never been more important.

Roof 101: Low-Slope Roof Material Options

Low-slope roofs have 3 main options:

  1. Built-up
  2. Single-ply membrane
  3. Monolithic sprayed foam

To begin with, built-up roofs can be of two basic types and have a fabulous reputation at Schmidt Associates. Built-up roofs can be composed of coal tar or asphalt and the asphalt can be hot applied or cold adhesive applied. Coal tar roofs are the oldest low slope systems used in North America and are built to last for 40-50 years. The multiple layers create a built-in redundancy and a self-healing tendency. With coal tar, the layers of tar never fully harden and the heat from the sun softens the tar allowing it to naturally fill cracks and holes to prevent leakage. With the asphaltic type built-up roof, the layers are attached or adhered with hot asphalt or cold adhesives.

Another nice thing about built-up roofs is that they can be applied anywhere and are capable of being placed on all low-slope roof building shapes. Coal tar roof, however, while it is a great option, is not as widely used today as it once was due to the oil companies making tar less accessible and more expensive and attributed carcinogenic effects during installation, plus it requires hot (flame) application. Asphaltic built-up roofs are fairly common on industrial low-slope roofs.

Next we have the single-ply membrane system, which too is broken down into 3 subcategories- rubber (EPDM), thermal plastic (TPO), and plastic (PVC). EPDM has been utilized the longest and makes patching problems easy and relatively inexpensive. The newer options, TPO and PVC, are both made out of plastics that are melted together with heat. These options eliminate or reduce the possibility of leaks and also come in colors other than black, making them a popular choice. PVC roofs have been used since the 1970s while TPO has been used for the past 15 years. Both are expected to maintain the highest quality for approximately 20 years.

Lastly, we have sprayed foam monolithic roofs. These roofs are also known as “foam roofs” and are not recommended by Schmidt Associates. They are expected to last for 10-15 years, but historically Schmidt Associates has seen problems with the surface after only 3 years. The foam material was originally made for interior use and is extremely sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light, causing it to deteriorate with sun exposure. The sprayed foam roofs must be covered with a thin coating to protect them from the UV light. The foam application is also difficult to control, which often creates bumps, unevenness, and other various cosmetic defects. Condensation on the substrate can be very detrimental to the ability of the foam to stick to it as well.

Of further concern is birds. They love to peck at the foam and eventually break through the top coat of the foam allowing for water to seep underneath. The water is then trapped under the top coat which expedites the deterioration of the foam in the sun. Thus, this roof is really only good for climates with little sun, rain, or snow.

Despite these issues, sprayed foam monolithic roofs do offer an advantage over other roofs in that they are monolithic, meaning no seams, and the ease of initial application and reapplication. To repair and replace, all you need to do is spray down another layer of foam.

What Schmidt Associates Prefers and Why

All in all, you can’t beat a roof with a long life expectancy that doesn’t require frequent repairs.

If choosing among steep-slope roofs, Schmidt Associates would recommend using the classic shingles because of its life expectancy and the minimal maintenance and repair required.

If choosing among low-slope roofs, Schmidt Associates would recommend the plastic option for 3 simple reasons. First, both TPO and PVC is heat-welded, giving it good seams that prevent leaks, thus also preventing expensive repairs. Second, the plastic membranes comes pre-made, making it extremely easy to apply during the construction process. Lastly, TPO is the most affordable option.

Have any further questions? Reach out to our experts!

Roof 101: Steep-slope Roof Material Options

There are 4 main material options for steep-slope roofs: shingles, slate, clay tile, and metal.

The most commonly used material is shingles, which has an average useful life of 20 years. Shingles can come in traditional asphalt form, as well as in rubber or steel.

Slate and clay tile, while beautiful, are the most expensive of the options and may also require expensive maintenance. Because slate and clay tile are natural products, they do not come with a warranty. This lack of warranty can cause extensive repair costs, especially when considering that problems caused by improper installation can start soon after the installation. Further, slate and clay tile roofs can only be attached to a roof by mechanically attaching them, which risks cracking the slate or tile, or clipping them, which may allow for water to seep underneath, freeze, and cause the slate or clay tiles to become detached from the clips.

The third option is a metal roof. While it is expensive, it is relatively maintenance free and gives a modern look that many desire. Metal roofs are installed with clips and proper installation is important to ensure that water seepage does not occur. Schmidt Associates typically specifies two roofs to avoid this problem; a rubber membrane under the metal roof. Hail can also create problems for metal roofs. Damage from a hail storm can be significant since the metal can show dents just like a car. That damage, however, is usually just aesthetic and the metal roof can continue to perform leak free. Without hail and with proper installation, metal roofs can last up to 20 or more years.

 

Look for a future post about roof material options for low-slope roofs, as well as which option we prefer and why.