Best Practices in Green Homebuilding

These solutions are an affordable investment; builders will profit on returns while the environment will profit from conservation

By PATRICK R. FUSCOE, P.E.

We all know that being “green” is a good thing and generally helps us gain approvals for our development projects. Since the State, counties, and even cities have adopted policies, regulations, and new building codes that require what we call “environmentally sustainable features,” we have all become familiar with this. So, rather than adding more noise to the excessive “green wash” out there, I will instead share what we think are current “best practices” to consider.

Let us start with best practices for the site:

Clear and grade: Now, you should also add recycling of concrete and asphalt, careful removal of topsoil for reuse later in landscape areas, and avoidance or relocation of specimen trees.

  • Underground utilities: Now you should also add recycled water (if available) or add a “dry” line for when it is.
  • Paving and roads: Add pervious pavement “strips” around the parking field to infiltrate  water and reduce run-off. Also, consider “green streets” that have shade trees, walk- ways, and bio-filtration planters. Overhead canopies provide shade while attracting retail customers.
  • Landscape: Change planting to “California-friendly” or “drought-tolerant” plant palettes with low-pressure/low-volume irrigation.

Now, let us go to the best practices for building:

  • Design to minimize cost: Add LEED building goals that include R-57 insulation, solar reflective exterior paints, air sealing, high-performance or “Low E” windows, LED lighting, ENERGY STAR® appliances, high efficiency HVAC units, tankless water heating, and skylights. All of these add 10 percent to building costs, but that expense returns in five to seven years of energy/water savings.
  • Utilities: Add solar panels, zoned heating and cooling, energy monitoring displays, and maybe a “gray water” system that filters and reuses laundry (hotel) or sink (homes) water for reuse in laundry or plumbed to drip irrigation.
  • Additional run-off: Consider AC condensation water that now is plumbed to the sewer and wasted. Instead, capture this distilled water for use on pavement wash-downs or decorative fountains. A typical 125,000 SF building generates 5,000 gallons/day in AC condensate during summer months when water is even more valuable!
  • Roofing: Also consider “green” or “live” roofs on commercial buildings. Cost is $10/SF + $1/SF per year maintenance, but you can use them as a rooftop garden for tenants!

Finally, lets focus on best practices for the interiors:

  • Paint, flooring, and finish: Consider low- CO2-emission paint, recycled flooring materials, raised flooring with under-floor ventilation and power, LED lighting, windows galore, and indoor plants for oxygen.

None of the above listed features are extraordinarily expensive, and all are proven to work and deliver long-term savings while attracting buyers or tenants. Furthermore, California just passed a new law requiring “net zero” development starting in 2020! At least we know that 55 percent of homebuyers or commercial tenants prefer energy conservation and rank it as the #1 criteria for a transaction.

I have been a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) since 1981. All 12,000 members are worldwide CEO’s. They just did a survey of each of the members, with 2,200 CEO’s as respondents, and 93 percent of them ranked “doing more for society and the environment” as more important than profits.

For more information on green building, check out these local San Diego Resources:

  • City of San Diego “Sustainability Department” (www.sandiego.gov/sustainability) has information on energy, water and waste management including “benchmarking” buildings.
  • County of San Diego “Green Building Program” (www.sandiegocounty.gov/pds/greenbuildings) has information incentives for using these features.
  • Cal State University Student Union has details on using a “live” or green roof and how it pays for itself.
  • CBRE reports “green buildings” have lower vacancies (five percent) and higher rents ($.40/SF). See San Diego Union-Tribune 9/15/12 article.
  • San Diego Green Building Council (www.usgbc-sd.org) has valuable information on award- winning green projects, including:
  • San Ysidro Land Port of Entry
  • Montgomery Middle School
  • SDSU Aztec Recreation Center and Student Union
  • Parkview Homes, San Marcos
  • Qualcomm-Building W
  • Johnson & Johnson Drug Discovery Center
  • Sun Harbor Marina

Patrick R. Fuscoe, P.E., is CEO of Fuscoe Engineering, Inc., a full spectrum civil engineering firm headquartered in Irvine, Calif. He may be reached at www.fuscoe.com.

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