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An integrated holistic approach to what’s new in sustainability

Green options benefit your church by combining planning, design and construction.

By Paul J. Hoffman

Churches around the country have benefitted from choosing sustainable products and processes, whether they are purchasing paper or renovating or building a religious facility. Many church leaders have discovered that going green enhances their integrity and connection with their communities, while also providing healthier environments for their staffs and congregations. What’s more, they provide an example of stewardship for others to follow, while reducing their environmental footprint and expenses for the life of their facilities.

But, while the benefits are clear, it can be hard to keep up with all of the available options in such a fast-changing industry. So take a moment to discover what’s new in sustainability.

A number of new products are emerging that are important to current and future generations of sustainable buildings which can benefit a church and its congregation. These options include:

Zero net-energy buildings:
This is the big vision looking ahead. In December 2005, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) adopted a policy that all new and renovated buildings reduce fossil energy use by 50 percent compared to a 2003 baseline. Furthermore, the AIA set a 2030 target for carbon neutrality. A Wisconsin religious facility, which is currently under construction, will achieve this 2030 target by about 2011 in their new facility, as soon as it completes installation of a PV (photovoltaic) renewable energy system.

Electro chromic windows: Highly sustainable projects take into consideration the functions of a building, the building orientation and views, and the management of daylight in selecting the best window for each room. These decisions, however, are typically for fixed glass characteristics. Electro chromic windows adjust to exterior lighting conditions. The brighter the light outside, the darker the window gets in order to manage glare and heat gain. These windows are currently available, but costs are currently too high to make them practical for the majority of budget-conscious building projects.

LED lighting:
Churches have often been great early examples of naturally lit spaces, but they’ve also looked to, and have relied on artificial light sources as well. Transitioning from incandescent lamps to fluorescent lamps will result in significant gains in energy efficiency. The next frontier in lighting is the use of LED (light emitting diodes) lamps. These very long-lasting lamps offer the promise of reducing lighting power use by an additional 50 percent or more. As an additional benefit, LED lamps don’t require the use and management of mercury. LED lamps are currently higher in cost and not as readily available, but that is changing as technologies progress and demand increases.

Smart meters:
The current power system relies on meters that simply record the amount of power used and for some of them, when the power is used. Smart grids are now coming onto the market that will provide the ability to read a price signal from the power grid and use that price signal to control the operation of equipment in a building. For example, if power costs are high, such as at peak demand times, some lights can be turned off, or the temperature in the building allowed to rise a couple of degrees so the air conditioning does not need to run.

Greater variety of eco-friendly products:
There is an increasing amount of environmentally-friendly products available for your next construction project. These products limit the strain on materials, fossil fuels, and other natural resources through the choices of ingredients to produce them. As well, careful consideration is given to the manufacturing process, transportation of the material, and end of life recyclability. Examples include wheat board cabinets (made of wheat-straw), wood panels made from sunflower hulls, wall caps and window sills made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, laminates for countertops using banana fibers, and wall coverings of cork.

PVC is harmful

One of the predominant new themes in sustainable materials is the elimination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). While it is a very easy, durable, and flexible material to use, PVC is a major source of the carcinogen, dioxin, which is harmful to humans and unhealthy to both our interior environments and to the natural environment when it is disposed of in a landfill. Manufacturers of flooring, window treatments, and office furniture have recently introduced PVC-free options.

Additionally, there are greater product options for carpet backing, acoustical ceiling tile, and other finishes such as porcelain tile which use an increased amount of post-consumer recycled content. This is a result of more and more waste material being collected from demolition and construction sites and being recycled back into the manufacturing process.

At a recent conference of construction professionals, the benefits of combining the disciplines of planning, design and construction were touted. While this is not new for a few select firms, there is an increasing respect in the design and construction industry for the value of Total Project Management (TPM) delivery, a process that integrates planning, design, and construction through a single-source of responsibility from concept to completion and beyond.

A collaborative effort

Using TPM, a single contract is established with a firm that is able to handle every aspect of the project. That project team, which collaborates with the project owner, includes the planners, designers, architects, construction managers, expert consultants, and other specialists such as sound engineers.

This team engages with focus groups, including church elders, pastors, staff, laymen, and perhaps even the broader community. A spirit of cooperation becomes evident early on in projects that use TPM due to the increased communication and education that takes diverse ideas and melds them into a successful construction project.

TPMg is an enhanced approach which not only integrates planning, design, and construction, but also incorporates a holistic approach to sustainability from concept through completion and ensures that churches attain a highly green and cost-effective solution. TPMg looks for the “sweet spot” where four critical components are carefully considered:

  • Healthy productive environments
  • Budget-driven capital costs
  • Sustainable design and delivery
  • Value-added life-cycle cost savings

As you consider your next project, be certain that your staff and congregation benefit from sustainable products, future-thinking trends and smart processes. With careful consideration and a spirit of discovery, you can incorporate emerging sustainable opportunities. If you do, you’ll be a role model for others and reduce expenses for the life of the building — all of this while developing stronger relationships with those in your community.

Paul J. Hoffman is owner and CEO of Hoffman LLC, Appleton, WI, a firm with a commitment to holistic sustainable design and delivery. [www.Hoffman.net]

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