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Decisions, decisions

To build a truly green building--- one that pays off for residents, the environment, and the bottom line--policies and regulations should push developers to make a commitment to green before the first sketches are drawn. Incorporating green from the very beginning gives the building team the opportunity to think big, evaluate the options, and make the decisions that will deliver an efficient, healthy, attractive building within the budget. Conversely, adding green features after the design is complete will add costs and create complications.

Integrated Design Timeframe Cost Effectiveness

Early goal setting fosters integrated design solutions
Early green decisions = lower implementation costs

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Which green?

Policies should encourage development teams to identify green goals--healthy homes with high indoor air quality, for example. Green building standards are an excellent and often a necessary baseline, but builders will do better when they set their own priorities and use their expertise. Government project reviewers should ask whether the architect, engineers, and contractors have experience in green design and construction.

Project goals should also reflect community and resident needs. Minimizing stormwater runoff, for example, is an environmental priority for the Washington, DC area. Policies that encourage developers to address these key issues, whether regulations, technical assistance, or incentives, will help builders gain the expertise needed to deliver green buildings.

Light green or deep green?

The next decision is a difficult one: how green can a development team make each building? The answer will emerge in the first stage of the integrated design process. Energy modeling software will help determine how well the site is suited for daylighting, passive solar heating, and natural ventilation, and thus the potential for energy savings. For rehab, building envelope and equipment conditions provide a starting point: how will investments in replacement influence life-cycle costs for individual components and systems, as well as for the whole building? An architect or consultant can help identify other cost-effective approaches and can then work with the team to weave green goals into the design and budget. Policies that set baseline, cost-effective requirements for green building help to level the playing field and help give builders the incentive to embrace integrated design. Financing that accommodates higher upfront costs in return for long-term payback gives developers the confidence to deepen their commitment to green.

Details and materials require research

Each green component will affect several other building systems. Making these decisions early gives the development team time to adjust the design, especially because green approaches, technologies, and materials are unfamiliar to many architects, engineers, and contractors. Much of the incremental cost of a green building comes from the added homework required here to realize savings in construction. For example, once an engineer researches structurally insulated panels, he or she can recalculate insulation needs. The subcontractor can submit revised labor estimates and waste disposal charges.

Governments can reduce this knowledge premium, be it through compiling a directory of experienced contractors or awarding grants to help small developers access green building consultants. You may find that training for a one contractor will make the difference for the budget, or, alternatively, that certain materials are too expensive. In this latter case, government incentives or a bulk-purchasing program are worth considering.