At one time, owners feared that green building
practices did little more than raise construction costs. Today, however,
green building practices rank high among the best practices for designing
and constructing high-quality, cost-effective buildings.
Need proof? Look at how green techniques have improved the performance
of one of the most inefficient and environmentally unfriendly building
types: the science laboratory. The OSHA Salt Lake Technical Center—the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new 76,000-square-foot
national laboratory in Sandy, Utah—costs $43,800 per year less to
operate than other buildings of the same type and size. Reasons include
heating, cooling and lighting systems that cut energy use.
Designed to earn certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design (LEED) program, the building employs 10 LEED techniques that produce
operating economies, and environmental and societal benefits.
The LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary rating system
established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It issues credits
for satisfying green building criteria for various kinds of construction
projects. The rating system evaluates projects in six categories: sustainable
sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources,
and indoor environmental quality. Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of green
building certification are awarded based on the total credits earned.
The OSHA lab earned 33 out of 69 possible points. Following is a
rundown of the techniques applied in each LEED category that earned the
lab a Silver certification. Taken together, these techniques form a strategy
for designing and constructing energy-efficient and environmentally friendly
1. Sustainable Sites: 6 points
The sustainable sites category evaluates how a project deals with
issues such as location, building orientation, roofing and transportation.
The OSHA lab earned six points in this category for its approach to site
selection, the use of a white roof and the inclusion of charging stations
for alternative-fuel vehicles.
Site selection: The site facilitates the use of alternative forms
of transportation and pollution reduction, while helping to reduce land-development
impacts from automobile use. The site selected for the OSHA lab lies within
a quarter-mile of three public bus stops and 1.3 miles from a light rail
station. Additionaly, carpool and vanpool parking spaces were designated,
which currently serve more than six percent of the building’s occupants.
Finally, the facility has seven changing facilities and showers, along
with 10 secure bicycle storage slots.
White roof: The building features an Energy Star-compliant white
roof that reduces the temperature of the roof surface by as much as 100
degrees. The lower roof temperature—also described as a reduced heat
island effect—cuts cooling energy demands by as much as 50 percent.
Lowering temperatures in a building also provides the environmental benefit
of minimizing the impact on microclimate, and surrounding human and wildlife
Charging stations for alternative-fuel vehicles: The laboratory provides
several charging stations for electric vehicles. While OSHA does not provide
electric vehicles for employees, employees may use these recharging stations
if they buy the vehicles.
2. Water Efficiency: 1 point
The efficient use of water ranks as an increasingly important environmental
concern. The OSHA lab received a LEED point for the way its landscaping
Water-efficient landscaping: The landscape architect selected native
vegetation that requires less water than a lawn or more commonly chosen
landscaping plants. The irrigation system also limits water use and maintains
efficient water distribution with a dedicated mini-weather station that
schedules automated watering sessions by evaluating local precipitation
and wind velocity. The water-wise design reduces water use by 52 percent.
3. Energy and Atmosphere: 10 points
Science laboratories are famous—or infamous—for using huge
amounts of energy for heating and cooling. Labs typically do not recycle
heating and cooling air. For safety reasons, air cycles through once and
vents to the outside. The design team, with energy efficiency in mind,
identified solutions for this requirement that the OSHA facility employs.
Mechanical system design: The lab employs a three-stage cooling and
heat-recovery system that contributes to the building’s 47 percent
improvement in overall energy performance. First, 40 percent of the building’s
76,000 square feet provide office space, not laboratory space. That area
of the facility is treated like any office space, and re-circulates air
that has already been heated or cooled.
The lab areas use heating and cooling that works in one of three
modes, depending upon conditions. On the cooling side, a conventional air
conditioning system works with sensors that activate a less-expensive evaporative
cooling system, when conditions are right. A heat-recovery system boosts
heating efficiency by capturing heat from warm exhaust air, and then adding
the heat to incoming outside air.
The HVAC installations throughout the building, including the refrigeration
equipment, are free of ozone-depleting HCFCs and Halons.
Commissioning: Commissioning ensures that the building functions
are designed through careful planning, adjustment and tuning of the building
systems. The building was designed with building systems feeding information
to a central computer for monitoring, data collection and maintenance tuning.
This allows the facility managers to make comparisons, and tune the building
for best performance across its lifecycle.
4. Materials and Resources: 4 points
The LEED materials and resources category considers recycling issues,
the use of regional materials and the management of construction waste.
Materials selection: More than 26 percent of the materials used to
construct the building came from regional manufacturing plants. LEED places
a value upon the use of local materials because it boosts local economies
and reduces the environmental impact of transporting materials over long
distances. The building also incorporates recycled materials in construction
components from carpeting to steel.
Construction waste: During construction, the contractor sent more
than 70 percent of the construction, demolition and land-clearing waste
to recycling plants instead of landfills.
5. Indoor Environmental Quality: 9 points
LEED assesses indoor air quality in terms of the use of natural lighting,
protection against build-up of carbon dioxide, off-gassing and other considerations.
The OSHA lab earned 9 LEED points with its lighting scheme and carbon dioxide
Lighting: The building provides daylight to 75 percent of all occupied
spaces. The design includes an automated lighting system, with sensors
and dimming controls that adjust the amount of artificial light based on
the amount of natural light streaming through the facility’s windows,
skylights and clerestories.
Carbon dioxide sensors: Sensors in the office portion of the facility
determine when the level of carbon dioxide reaches a point where outside
air must be added to the mix. The technique cuts heating costs, while ensuring
the quality of indoor air and a healthier environment for the occupants.
6. Innovation and Design Process: 3 points
LEED awards credits for innovative ideas, and for going above and
beyond requirements. The OSHA facility earned innovation credits for its
innovative electrical distribution system; using an outstanding amount
of recycled materials in the concrete masonry units, carpet, steel, concrete,
wood, ceiling tile and other materials; and for having a LEED-accredited
professional as a significant participant of the project team.
The LEED system as developed by the USGBC offers many more green
building techniques that architects, engineers and contractors are coming
to view as best practices. A number of reasons lie behind this trend toward
green techniques. The most compelling may be the recent steep rise in the
price of natural gas and electricity. Architects and engineers will consider
virtually any technique that conserves energy today, and many green techniques
do just that. More broadly, the design and construction professions have
learned to see value in sustainable construction; in buildings that contribute
to instead of detract from the natural world. What could be a better practice
Jeff Gardner, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal architect with Architectural
Nexus, Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has 17 years of experience in the
architecture profession. Contact him at email@example.com.