Building green costs too much.” “I’d like to include green features, but the budget just isn’t high enough.” “Green building is just for wealthy clients.” All too often we hear these claims. And, indeed, a lot of elements of environmentally responsible building
do cost more—at least in the short term. But many of the design and building practices that are described in the pages of
EBN or advocated by a growing cadre of environmentally conscious designers and builders cost no more than conventional practice. Indeed, some cost
We’re talking about
first-cost here—how much more (if any) it costs to incorporate green features into a building project.
Life-cycle costs are different. When we factor in energy savings over time, or increased durability, or enhanced worker productivity, green design features and materials become much easier to justify. It would be wonderful if life-cycle costs were considered as a matter of course in building design today—but they are not. Most of us in the building profession are forced to deal almost solely with first-cost in justifying our projects.
To address this issue—and the perception that building green has to cost more—we’re devoting our feature article this month to low-cost green building features. Most of the article is a checklist of design strategies, building practices, and material substitutions that will cost no more than—or actually cost less than—conventional practice. By no means should this list be considered complete in terms of what can be done on a tight budget. With good integration of all the disciplines on a design team, it is possible to incorporate, within budget, many strategies that taken alone would increase costs. The project report Performance and Value in British Columbia's Sun Life Building provides an excellent example of such a design.
Some Cautions on a Low-Cost Agenda
As we examine green design strategies and construction practices that reduce (or at least do not increase) construction costs, it is important to point out that limiting oneself to
only those strategies that keep first-costs low may not be in the best long-term interest of the client. Sure, we can create better buildings (from an environmental standpoint) while spending less money, but realize that
too strict a policy on avoiding those strategies that increase first-cost may result in lost opportunities for even more significant savings down the road. Yes, we should pay attention to low-cost strategies, but we should also pay attention to some of the higher first-cost strategies that can significantly reduce life-cycle costs.
As the green design field matures, it becomes ever more clear that
integration is the key to achieving the energy and environmental goals we desire—especially if cost is a major driver. Integration is more than using the savings from one change to pay for another—it’s about making changes that allow other changes to happen. A smaller chiller, for example, makes money available to upgrade the envelope, but it also depends on the envelope upgrade to satisfy the building’s needs. While integration can keep construction costs down, it usually requires more time to be spent in up-front design.