A Manufacturer's View of Green Building

Sept. 1, 2010
Projects would be more successful if vendors were more involved during design

Two of the most compelling arguments made to justify green building are long-term operational-performance savings and improved occupant health and productivity. Those goals, coupled with the relative newness of green-building concepts, have resulted in a process requiring multiple designs, specifications, and prices for just one project, a process product manufacturers and their representatives can find challenging.

For example, in the conventional HVAC sales-cycle process, vendors price equipment after receiving design parameters and associated cooling and heating loads. At this point, the building's design is nearly complete, and not much changes thereafter. Green projects, however, are expected to evolve as the design team reviews methods of reducing the building's environmental impact. Therefore, vendors typically are asked for a budgetary price based on fewer design parameters. Because of the evolutionary nature of the green-building design process, the numerous changes in architecture, equipment, and methodology rarely resemble the original specifications upon which vendors base their prices.

Let's suppose an office-building design evolved from conventional rooftop HVAC equipment to chilled-beam systems. Chilled beams are a great sustainability concept, but they require decidedly different design parameters (e.g., supply conditions, dew points, airflow requirements) than a conventional rooftop system. Additionally, their radiating method necessitates less air movement, but still requires outdoor air. These parameters adversely affect the design of and initial price quote for a dehumidified-outside-air unit, especially if it originally was priced to supplement a conventional rooftop air-handling unit.

This fluctuation, combined with an absence of solid parameters in the beginning, results in a design "guesstimate" until the project nears its end. Consequently, overbidding to cover the project's many initial unknowns can occur. This may lead to an inflated budget, which can result in the dropping of various innovations, which, in turn, forces vendors to backtrack on prices and leads to less-efficient equipment being specified, as the engineer is pressured for a quick redesign.

From the vendor's perspective, the green-building process would be less painful and more cooperative if the consulting engineer and architect provided a closer overall perspective, giving the vendor a better understanding of all of the ideas the design team was exploring. The vendor then would be able to provide information on how various technologies work together, possibly furnishing unthought-of solutions to the overall energy-conservation and environmental goals.

Vendors apply their products and technologies in many different and often unique applications and environments. Knowing the overall scope of a project upfront is a win-win for everyone. It taps the knowledge and experience of manufacturers and their representatives, whereas sharing minimum criteria with a vendor does not. Additionally, having a tighter overlapping process and more stringent guidelines upfront could lead to fewer budget overruns and reduced lost time.

While the green-building design process can be challenging for vendors, the potential to promote products and solutions that may be overlooked in conventional buildings is great. For example, conventional buildings often are designed to meet minimum outside-air requirements set by local code or ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2010, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, but a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building pushes for increased outside air, moisture control, and energy efficiency. The benefits are real for the manufacturer or representative agency that addresses green goals and provides solutions throughout an evolving design process.

Miranda Sofia Berner, LEED AP, is the development manager for Berner International Corp., a specialist in air curtains and energy-recovery-ventilation systems. She is a board member with the Green Building Allicance in Pittsburgh and a member of the Mountain Institute's International Advisory Committee.