February 22, 2007

Let technology play a role in your green building

  • New cabling systems can cut infrastructure costs and construction waste


    In the effort to develop buildings that are environmentally responsible and sustainable for future generations, the contributions that technology design offers is often overlooked.

    Although not specifically addressed in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED reference guides, technology can enhance sustainability, as well as contribute to potential LEED certification in several of the categories identified by the USGBC.

    Converging technologies

    One example of sustainable design as it relates to building technology systems is the concept of systems “convergence.” More and more today, buildings’ low-voltage systems are being designed to run on the same structured cabling systems using the same logical Internet protocol-based networks.

    Photo courtesy of Sparling
    Telecommuting options such as teleconferencing and Web meetings help reduce space needs and transportation costs.

    This convergence of systems — including building automated systems, lighting controls, audiovisual systems, and security and wireless systems — to a single cabling system increases efficiencies in the delivery of these technologies, maximizing their flexibility and reducing the infrastructure, installation and operating costs associated with their use.

    Requirements under LEED and most basic energy codes call for the inclusion of occupancy sensors for lighting, thermal and ventilation controls.

    Converging these systems onto a single cabling system reduces the quantity of cabling needed to support the building, decreases the number of physical equipment locations needed to maintain the systems, and permits a single contractor to install all of the cabling.

    Internet phone systems

    Another area where technology can add to a building’s sustainability and flexibility is with the use of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone systems.

    The traditional phone system requires dedicated telephone outlets and horizontal and riser cabling, as well as telephone-only patch fields in a telecommunication room.

    In the past, some facilities dedicated entire rooms on each floor to voice cabling management. In contrast, a VoIP system utilizes the same cabling, patch panels and network switches used by the data network.

    Eliminating the need to install voice cabling and utilizing the data cabling to run VoIP systems can save from 30 percent to 40 percent in cabling costs. The return on investment potential over the life of a building can also be substantial.

    VoIP systems provide the capacity to expand as branch offices are added and easily accommodate employee relocation from one office to another, or even from one desk to the next. With VoIP, when employees move, they literally take their phone with them through simple network programming.

    Resources are saved when additions or changes to the physical cabling infrastructure are not necessary.

    Construction waste

    Construction waste management, a subcategory within LEED guidelines, is an integral part of any effort toward a sustainable future. Proper communication infrastructure design should always include the removal of the replaced cable systems, a practice that was overlooked in the past due to cost concerns. It was easier and less expensive to just cut the old cable and abandon in place than to remove prior to installing the new.

    Why does abandoned cable present a problem? Aside from the obvious materials and resources that can be saved through reuse or recycling of these materials, the National Electrical Code has identified this practice as “a major concern for life safety over the past 10 years. Cables that are abandoned in ceilings, riser systems and air-handling systems are a source for fueling fire, smoke and sub-lethal toxic fumes that can incapacitate.”

    This is another example of the how far-reaching the negative environmental and human impacts can be in practices that were once thought to be benign.

    Rethinking work

    “In the period from 2003 to 2005, the Central Puget Sound region added more than 40,000 new jobs and more than 70,000 new people,” said state Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald last month in a news release.

    The pressure that these numbers put on commute times is enormous. For example, the new state Department of Transportation congestion report said that evening commutes from Seattle increased between 6 percent and 17 percent, and commutes from Bellevue increased between 11 percent and 28 percent. The negative effects of these numbers on energy consumption, environmental quality and employee/commuter satisfaction are substantial.

    Technology makes it possible to rethink the ways in which we do business, how we staff our spaces and which jobs or services can be performed remotely. The rising use of telecommuting technology options such as remote network connectivity, video and audio teleconferencing, Web meetings and telemedicine, helps reduce space and environmental requirements in buildings, as well as reduce transportation costs and harmful environmental impacts on our communities.

    Assuring that the infrastructure supports the space, power and environmental requirements for all of these technologies is an important part of building design.

    LEED points

    Of the six LEED categories identified by the USGBC — sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, material and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design — technology can contribute to several, especially when considered early in the programming and schematic design phases of the project.

    For example, an integrated building-automation system can improve energy efficiencies and help the design team gain up to 10 points toward LEED certification. Two points can be obtained for construction waste management. Thermal, ventilation and lighting controllability can also earn a lot of LEED points.

    Human efficiency

    Human efficiency is an important consideration to a building’s long-term sustainability.

    Technology that contributes to the functional environment helps maintain efficiency, health safety and the comfort of employees. This, in turn, contributes to the longevity of the building, an important sustainable goal.

    Consider the options

    In the architecture and engineering industry’s efforts to create buildings that are earth-friendly, flexible and sustainable, we must look to advancing technology systems and the wide range of green contributions they offer.

    Considering options to the common practices of the hard-wired world is key to moving toward a sustainable future. From accruing LEED points to saving future remodeling costs or offering alternatives to a two-hour commute, thinking green is greatly enhanced by considering the contributions that technology can bring to your project.

    Tod Moore, RCDD, CSI, is principal of technology consulting at Sparling, an electrical engineering and technology consulting firm with offices in Seattle and Portland.

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