The risks and pitfalls in green building design
The green and sustainable movement is relatively young, having its origins in the 1970s. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) was founded more than 20 years later in 1993, and the LEED program was introduced 1998 and revised in 2000 and 2003. All of these programs are relatively young, and life-cycle costs may not have been firmly established.
As with all new technologies, products offered for sale often do not fully meet their intended function, and architects and engineers, eager to embrace this new movement, may not have a full understanding of these new designs. They may be relying on product and equipment manufacturer’s claims that do not reflect longterm data simply because the product has not been on the market for a long period of time. The contractor who is implementing green and sustainable designs may not have had much or any experience with the LEED certification program.
The building’s commissioning process, always one of the most important tasks as the mechanical systems are turned over to the owner after the TAB (test adjust, balance) process and certified that they meet the contract requirements, takes on a more important role as that equipment and other components of the building must undergo review to a new standard — one that meets the green parameters.
At the Schinnerer Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys in 2005, Thomas F. Waggoner presented the report “ Green Buildings: Potential Pitfalls for Design Professionals. ” Mr. Waggoner, whose extensive practice in construction litigation represents architect, engineers, and surveyors, said that “ unwary design professionals can find themselves in a difficult situation if they have not fully explained to the owner that the initial costs in both design and construction will be higher and that there is no guarantee that the property developer will see a return on investment in the ‘ short term. ’ ” He emphasized the need for owners to engage design professionals who are experienced in this type of design and engineering. Items such as waterless urinals save on water consumption but have a higher cost; the purported increase in employee productivity within a green building may be difficult to quantify. Warranties offered by many manufacturers on “ green ” equipment that limit liability may not have been fully vetted because they have not been in operation over an extended period of time.
This green movement is expanding rapidly in the United States, as many more public and private building owners are appreciating the social and economic benefits. Numerous studies point to the potential savings that green and sustainable buildings can provide and the positive impact they have on our environment.
Owners who are considering green and sustainable construction should seek out design consultants and building contractors who are experienced in these types of projects and explore the capital versus operating costs of their design as well as their desire to take positive steps to improve the environment.