Green building LEEDs way to a sustainable future

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Fort Carson’s band training facility was LEED Gold Certified in 2009. Among the other local LEED Gold buildings are three at UCCS, two offices, and Colorado College’s Cornerstone Arts Center.

“Green building” became a common term among construction and design circles years ago, but it’s still a buzz phrase that excites architects and worries accountants.

“Now, we always build sustainably,” said Katie Dabbs, marketing director at H+L Architects, a firm that has designed several projects in Colorado Springs. “It’s not even something we ask our clients about anymore. It’s just part of design standards.”

Nearly all modern buildings are more efficient, better insulated and oriented to take advantage of natural sunlight, heating and cooling opportunities than they once were. While it means higher costs for materials up-front, it also means bigger savings on energy bills in the long run.

JaDee Harsma, an architect associate and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design coordinator for DLR Group in Colorado Springs, graduated from college seven years ago and has been immersed in sustainable building ever since.

“Most architects and designers are trying to incorporate sustainable building practices,” she said. “They have more efficient HVAC systems and better lighting. It’s all about creating a better environment indoors for workers.”

But not all green buildings are created equal.

There is a hierarchy. And the United States Green Building Council has established a scale that determines just how green a building is and offers third-party certification of its “green-ness.” The council’s LEED certification started out small, but now has become the industry standard in green building.

Developers can and do build structures green enough to be certified without ever going through the process. But the program’s popularity has grown dramatically in recent years, said Patti Mason, Colorado USGBC director of advocacy.

Leading green development

There are about 20 LEED-certified buildings completed in Colorado Springs proper, not including those on military bases.

“There are newly completed projects and a bunch in the works,” said Zach Collins, an engineer with Woodmoor Water and volunteer chairman of the Southern Colorado Green Building Council.

The city of Colorado Springs announced last week that its Mountain Metropolitan Transit building at 1070 Transit Drive is LEED Silver certified. The building was designed and built using strategies focused on achieving high performance in key areas such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality, according to a release from the city.

Collins and other GBC members recently toured the Gottlieb building at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Though the building at 33 North Institute St. is a registered historical site, the school renovated the interior to LEED Gold standards with LEED for schools funding.

Other green buildings in town range from two Kohl’s stores, Lockheed Martin, the USAA offices and the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado, to government and education facilities like the Cornerstone Arts Center at Colorado College, U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters, the Pikes Peak Regional Development Center and several buildings at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

But the most ambitious LEED project isn’t built yet. James Fennell, who owns The Fennell Group architectural firm, is working on a new fire station that could be the first LEED platinum certified building in Colorado Springs. Fire Station 21 near Dublin Boulevard and Peterson Road on the far northeast side of town is expected to use 60 percent less energy than Fire Station 20, which opened near Cottonwood Creek Park in 2004, Fennell said.

There are only three other platinum buildings in Colorado, according to the GBC: the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, The Signature Center in Boulder and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Boulder office.

The fire station will have the first gray water recycling system in the county that funnels used water from showers, laundry and sinks to irrigate land, where Pikes Peak Urban Garden will establish community plots.

Fennell will drill geothermal wells to use the Earth’s temperature to heat and cool the building. That, along with hyper-efficiency and solar photovoltaic panels to produce most of the building’s electricity demand, will make it the greenest building in the city when it’s finished in about a year, Fennell said.

“What’s cool about it is that it saves the city money,” Fennell said.

Military’s example

While there are plenty of exciting green building projects in the private sector, the military is definitely leading the charge.

All new construction on military bases is required to strive for LEED silver certification at a minimum, said Harsma, who has worked with DLR Group on a half- dozen military LEED projects in the past three years.

She’s working on two projects that are under construction now, including the Evans Army Community Hospital Recovery Center at Fort Carson. That’s an interior remodel project that’s pursuing LEED silver certification, she said.

“We’re focusing on their internal structure — lighting controls and functions,” she said.

Other military projects, like the Division HQ Band Training Facility and the Soldier Family Assistance Center at Fort Carson, are bigger. Both of those use geothermal systems for heating and cooling, Harsma said.

“We have 400-foot-deep wells using the Earth to heat and cool the air in the buildings,” she said. “It’s really just about smarter design.”

While all federal government buildings are required to pursue LEED certification, Fort Carson is particularly aggressive.

Fort Carson volunteered last year to be one of two U.S. military bases in the world shooting for net-zero energy, waste and water by 2020. That means the base would produce as much as it uses and use as much it produces on site in the course of a year, said Fort Carson sustainability director Mary Barber.

The goal is a big step up in ambition from an earlier target of getting 100 percent of the base’s energy from renewable sources by 2027. The base currently gets just 3.2 percent of its power from renewable sources, Barber said.

Cutting back on how much energy buildings use will make the goal more achievable.

Room for improvement

Collins says he’s been impressed by the number of businesses looking to implement sustainable building practices in recent years and adds he’s noticed an ever-increasing interest. But the government is still leading the movement.

“The government can do good work, but there’s only so much impact that can have,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of construction going on in the private sector that could stand to be more socially responsible.”

The key to advancing green building systems will be to make sure developers are educated and to find a way to help them recover the return on investment when they sell a more efficient building.

Building one usually costs more up-front in higher-quality materials, but the payback ranges between four and 20 years, with an average of about 10, Collins said.

“The problem is, they’re in it to make money,” he said. “And they might be investors looking to build it and lease it, or build it and sell it, and they won’t realize those benefits.”

Colorado Springs LEED certified projects

Project Level
Care & Share Food Bank Silver
Cornerstone Arts Center, Colorado College Gold
Lockheed Martin at Epic One Silver
Farnsworth Group office Gold
First Affirmative office Certified
Hybrid 1 & 2, commercial office Silver
Kohl’s, Powers Boulevard Certified
Kohl’s, Janitell Road Certified
Patriot Park VII, commercial office Gold
Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, civic Silver
Russell T. Tutt Science Center, Colorado College Certified
Service Contractor Facility One, civic/transit Silver
Stratton Point, commercial office Silver
T. Rowe Price, Building One Silver
U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters Silver
UCCS events center Gold
UCCS recreation center Gold
UCCS science building renovation Gold
USAA, Colorado Springs office Certified
Verizon Wireless, Academy Boulevard Silver
Colorado Springs West, retail Certified

(This list comes from multiple sources and may not be complete.)

2 Responses to Green building LEEDs way to a sustainable future

  1. I’m a 3rd generation builder with 60 years experience.
    Have designed a demonstration house which contains more of the green sustainable features than any of the others now being built.

    One feature that no one seems to think is appropriate is Composting toilets. Everyone seems to talk about saving water with water saving 1.6 gal. toilets and water saving faucets. Composting toilets use only enough water to to keep the compost damp while it decays, saves urine to use as fertilizer, requires very little attention by the homeowner. Yearly removal of composted material is normal..
    Heat generated during the process kills off harmful toxins, the composter is located in the basement and air drawn down through the toilets exits via a 4″ vent through the roof.

    The main purpose is to show the public how it works, along with led lighting energy star appliances, passive solar, well insulated, sealed envelope, thin film solar solar cells on south facing roof that is angled to take advantage of the sun during all seasons. It does not have roof gutters, catches the water in concrete gutters at ground level directing it and grey water to a mini wetland. It uses vestibules at entries to avoid drafts while shedding the rainwater from pedestrians. It will use either a combined heat and power system with a balanced heat recovery ventilator, or geothermal heat.
    Roof overhangs provide shade to south facing windows. Use of the well insulated envelope should eliminate the need of air conditioning.

    Again I emphasize that it will be a house to show how those combined features work together to save energy, provide comfort. The features could be adapted to many other floor plans, if they prove
    to be as effiecient as I expect.

    My plan is to build the house, keep it open and available for all interested parties to view for a year, keeping records of the, in and out door temperatures, humidity levels, energy consumed.
    What I seek most is some sense of approval from the housing industry as a whole. Everyone so far has turned up their nose at the thought of composting toilets.

    Elmer Stenger
    September 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm

  2. Green verses green washing….

    When man made products like engineered trusses and floor joists are considered green in part because they use small trees and small pieces of trees, without understanding they are part and parcel to the Industrial form of clear cutting – plantation forestry we get green washing. When these products fail in under 5 minutes in a house fire and fire departments are getting hip to not going inside those building that may contain them we get green washing. When these critically important distinctions are ignored because of the prestige of a silver or gold certification we get green washing.

    LEED is a process of green washing when it doesn’t adequately separate green from green washing. The inmates are driving the bus….

    Craig Patterson
    September 16, 2012 at 10:20 am