This is the fifth part of "Seven Practices of Highly Effective Green Building Consultants," an nine-part series from green building consultant Jerry Yudelson
Practice #4 of highly effective green building consultants: Practice and Perfect the Win/Win Approach.
As a consultant, it’s important to demonstrate how everyone on a project can win, starting with the owner and including the entire team, especially by paying attention to cost and constructability issues throughout design. Without it, the entire project stands to lose something.
Consider this: Most of us have experienced how the best green building designs get altered, sometimes unrecognizably so, during construction, as the dreaded value engineering (or VE) process starts to take things out of the project that may, in fact, be essential for sustainable design success. One project I know of, completed more than a decade ago and which did eventually achieve LEED Silver certification, featured daylighting design that was based on south-facing external fixed shading. During the construction VE process, the external shading was removed, and when the building opened in August of that year, there was so much glare through the south-facing windows that employees couldn’t see their computer screens. Staff mutiny aside, the fix was to install internal mini-blinds which mitigated a large part of the daylighting design and added cost back to the project, but which also still allowed unwanted solar heat gain. In this case, the budget was met, but everyone lost something valuable and the Band-Aid solution caused a lot of trouble.
How does a win/win differ? In many cases, a positive win/win scenario starts with including the general contractor and the key subcontractors) in the design process—from the beginning—to discuss cost and constructability issues. Despite the tension that might arise as good design ideas get shot down by “practical” people, if managed well, the process can work, especially with a sophisticated owner or owner’s representative and a building team that has experience working together. When the budget, schedule, design program, and building quality requirements are all met, everyone wins.
In 2005, Interface Engineering in Portland learned the value of win/win in integrated design. At that time, the firm was working on the Center for Health and Healing at Oregon Health and Science University, which, at that time, was the largest LEED Platinum project in the world. Interface’ts mechanical engineer, Andy Frichtl, was determined to implement innovative mechanical strategies that would cut total capital costs AND improve energy efficiency. This was perhaps the ultimate win/win strategy, and it could only be done through integrating many of the HVAC and building envelope systems and trying new approaches that met local codes via performance criteria. Working closely with the architectural designers as well as the construction team, Frichtl was able to provide innovative mechanical approaches to comfort and energy efficiency that were eminently constructible and, at the same time, less expensive than conventional approaches. This cost-effective, integrated design approach meant that the VE phase was not needed, that mechanical and electrical costs were cut by almost $10 per square foot, and that the design met a predicted 60 percent energy savings compared with a conventional building.
The center also benefited from a very savvy developer that already had had completed multiple LEED projects, a very experienced general contractor, and an institutional client willing to try new ideas to create a ground-breaking project. If “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a visionary building team, with many component groups all working toward a common goal, to create a high-performance project. Aiming at “win/win” solutions is a key strategy for success, and one that highly effective green building consultants get good at over time.