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Experts discuss value of environmentally friendly building practices

Midstate construction and real estate experts answered the question, “Is it worth it to build ‘green’?” in the Business Journal’s Fall Construction and Real Estate Report. For more responses, see the report.

Midstate construction and real estate experts answered the question, “Is it worth it to build ‘green’?” in the Business Journal’s Fall Construction and Real Estate Report. For more responses, see the report.

Although the terms “green building” and “sustainable projects” have been catchphrases for years, recent magazine articles, newspaper columns and public-radio segments on the issue have begun to raise our level of consciousness on the importance of going green, constantly reminding us that it not only makes sense, but that it’s our individual and collective responsibility as humans living on this earth to take better care of our environment. The federal government is also endorsing this movement by providing incentives for buildings that achieve LEED (Leader-ship in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the nationally accepted yardstick for green building.

Considering all the pros and cons, I believe that building green has its merits. Home innovations range from green roofs, which reduce heating costs and eliminate stormwater runoff, to smaller enhancements, such as rain barrels on downspouts, which are used to water gardens. And while both homebuyers and developers frequently will incur additional upfront expenses to go green, the effort usually pays off in ways such as improved water conservation and reduced energy bills. No doubt that as the green initiative gains momentum, energy-saving and eco-friendly features will become less expensive to incorporate into new homes and, therefore, a staple in the housing industry.

Some developers and their engineers and designers, however, have been practicing green and sustainable design since the 1980s, albeit not as glamorous as today’s bamboo flooring or eco-friendly paint.

What I’m referring to is the approach that many developers, engineers and designers take when collaborating on the overall design of a development by taking a close look at how to best use the natural environment, ensuring that the development is incorporated into the environment in a harmonious manner. Prior to any structures being built, engineers, planners, and landscape architects will look to design developments that best integrate with a property’s topography and natural features.

Can stormwater runoff be minimized by using pervious (porous) pavement, which allows the stormwater to slowly seep through it and replenish the groundwater table? Does the site being developed have natural wetlands? Can they be used to filter initial stormwater runoff containing water-borne sediment and other pollutants? Can building, parking-lot or driveway designs be altered in an effort to preserve a pristine wooded area? Or can an alternative building dimension be used that is more aesthetically pleasing to the surrounding environment?

More common than designing homes or structures that are themselves eco-friendly, engineers, planners, and landscape architects work with developers using green- and sustainable-design principles when designing the entire development. As the housing industry continues to embrace green and sustainable design, let it not be overlooked that one of the most effective approaches to building “green” houses is effectively planning the land on which the houses are being built. Focusing on the planning phase by designing developments that integrate a land’s natural features is a fundamental step in building green.

—John Love,

Rettew Associates Inc.,

Lancaster County

In a word, absolutely! However, there are different ways of arriving at that conclusion. The first, and most common determinate in a building’s worth, is financial cost. The second, and frequently ignored, is the actual value to ourselves, our society and our environment. When strictly looking at dollar signs, there are green strategies without higher upfront costs, which can provide lower operating costs. Other approaches to green have higher upfront costs but provide substantial financial savings over the life of the building. The final category of green systems has higher upfront costs, without significant financial payback. The majority of green buildings will employ strategies from all three categories, so it is necessary to evaluate the inherent benefits in order to establish the value of building green.

A widespread challenge is uninformed design and construction professionals, who view green design as something added to a project. This incohesive approach results in higher building cost, perpetuating the assumption that green buildings are more expensive. Green is a method of designing, not something applied to a building. Through an integrated design process, it is possible to produce an inherently green building without added financial cost.

To determine the genuine value of green building, it’s necessary to look at the advantages of building green, not just financial costs. It comes down to what we value as a society. Air pollution, water contamination, deforestation and global-warming are all issues exacerbated by traditional building techniques. Green buildings consume fewer natural resources, produce less waste and have the ability to restore natural habitats. Although everyone values the environment differently, it is undoubtedly essential to sustain life on earth.

Another pertinent issue is the physical and mental well-being of ourselves and our children. Traditional buildings often lack fresh air, adequate lighting and contain unhealthy materials. They have been linked to various physical and mental health problems including headaches, asthma, depression and cancer. Green buildings are designed to provide a healthy environment in which to live, work and play. Studies of green buildings have shown increases in product sales, student test scores, worker morale and productivity. They have also been linked to decreased absenteeism and employee turnover.

No matter which way you approach it, the value of building green is obvious. There are many methods that have financial-, environmental- and health-related benefits. There should be no question of the invaluable nature of green design. There are countless facts and figures advocating green, and as a society we should be past the time of asking, “Should or shouldn’t we?” We should be asking, “How can we do it better?”

—Rebecca Silva,

Gilbert Architects Inc.,

Lancaster County

Buchart Horn is dedicated to green design. Our corporate headquarters are in an award-winning brownfield-redevelopment complex that reclaimed a long abandoned industrial site and converted into Class-A office space. We have seen, firsthand, the increased productivity that results from green-design concepts such as natural daylight and enhanced indoor air quality.

Green design has the potential to make us healthier, improve our environment, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and save money. Where’s the downside? Some might point to the initial additional 2 percent to 5 percent expense of green design. That minor initial investment is paid off quickly in reduced energy costs and performance enhancements benefits that last for the life of the building.

The benefits to the bottom line are obvious, and the benefits to our community are the icing on the cake.

Our green school designs, such as the West York Middle School, the largest green-design school in Pennsylvania, has shown improved student performance. Teachers are motivated by the improved environment of green building, and students have a longer attention span in green schools. And schools have a local cultural and historical aspect that can be highlighted through the use indigenous materials.

Buchart Horn has invested in green design by encouraging and assisting our engineers and architects to earn LEED certifications. We know it is worthwhile to build green.

—A. Stevens Krug,

Buchart Horn Inc./Basco Associates,

York County

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