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February 19, 2013

Architects offer tips on making smaller office spaces greener

Journal Staff Reporter

More developers are building big sustainable office complexes, but Stuart Silk Architects thinks green doesn't have to come in large packages.

The Seattle firm showed that with its design of The Orion Dental Building, a 14,000-square-foot complex in West Seattle that was named NAIOP's development of the year in 2010.



The building is packed with green features as is Salmon Bay Landing, a 34,500-square-foot office building Silk designed on a site near Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle.

But architects with the firm say green can be part of even smaller projects, and that owners and tenants can make quick and relatively low-cost changes to make their spaces more sustainable.

Firm principals Stuart Silk and John H. Adams offer tips on sustainability in a chapter they co-wrote for the American Dental Association's new guide to green office design.

Here's what they told the DJC:

Q. Why invest in a green office project?

Silk: It can provide a healthier, more energy efficient workplace and better environment. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for about 65 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, more than 30 percent (136 million tons) of U.S. waste, 12 percent of potable water use, and 40 percent (3 billion tons) of raw materials used globally.

Q. How can I make an office greener?

Silk: There are a number of ways to add to a building's sustainability. Many fixes are done behind the walls and embedded in the building's systems. They are invisible to the eye but impact the building's performance. Others are visible and impact the appearance, such as a green roof cistern for storm water collection, solar collectors to heat hot water or PV panels for heating.

Some are low tech, such as operable windows for clean air and less air conditioning. Others are technical, such as window louvers programmed to move with the sun.

Q. How much will it cost me?

Adams: McGraw-Hill Construction has been tracking green construction costs since 2005 and found that it costs about $3 to $9 more per square foot than typical construction.

Your return on investment should be calculated by looking at your savings over time, not just first costs. Does higher quality equipment reduce your maintenance costs? Will your staff be more productive if they do not have “thermostat wars”? Could you eliminate portable, energy wasting space heaters below people's desks? Is your municipality requiring more efficient design for new projects anyway?

Q. Should I try to get my project certified?

Adams: A green certification program can help you demonstrate the good things you have done in designing your building. The options are the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program, the Living Building Challenge and the federal Energy Star program. Each offers several tracks for different types of projects and awards higher ratings to more sustainable projects. LEED, for example, offers ratings of certified, silver, gold and platinum.

Certification can give you access to tax credits, expedited permitting and a marketable credential for sales or leasing, but your building does not need to be certified to be more efficient and sustainable.

Q. Are LEED-certified buildings more valuable?

Adams: Yes. Studies have shown that LEED or Energy Star certified buildings can be more valuable. The Green Outlook 2011 study by McGraw Hill showed that building values increase by 6.8 percent for green remodels and by 10.9 percent for new green construction. Occupancy also increased by as much as 6.8 percent, and rents rose.

Q. How much should I pay green consultants?

Adams: Costs vary, but 1 percent of construction costs is a good middle of the road estimate.

Q. Who should I hire to create my green office?

Adams: First pick an architect or design professional who understands green design. Depending on the complexity of your project you may also need a third party verifier. Finally if you are installing a new heating system or green roof, you may need a specialist in that product. Your architect/design professional can help you understand who needs to be on the team.

Q. Must tenants in green offices change their behavior?

Silk: In most cases the changes are minimal and relatively painless. For example plumbing fixtures with reduced water pressure or dual flush toilets don't require behavior changes. But it may take time to get used to opening and closing operable windows.

Q. How important is the paper trail?

Adams: In is vital with certification and performance tracking. A paper trail demonstrates your project's compliance with a certification goal. Most certification programs do not as a rule inspect the building for themselves. It makes sense for you to track the performance of your project, since the energy or water savings help pay for the initial costs of green design. In fact the entire green industry is moving in this direction. The Living Building Challenge program is an example of certification that relies heavily on a performance standard.

Q. Are there some green things that don't cost a lot?

Adams: Occupancy sensors save energy. Separately switching lights at the perimeter of the office and putting them on daylight sensors can also save energy. And water-saving toilets and motion-activated faucets reduce the water bill.

When remodeling, consider environmentally friendly finishes. The cost for low-VOC paints and environmentally sound carpet dyes is plummeting.

Finally, indoor air quality is important, and several studies show that employees call in sick less often when office space is healthy. You can invest in high quality air filters for the furnace and install walk-off mats to reduce foot-borne and airborne contaminates.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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