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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2007 : Case Study

Case Study: Greening the Science Lab
How 10 recognized best practices produced a cost-effective and green laboratory.

by Jeff Gardner, AIA, LEED AP


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 buildings.

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 habitats.

• 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 conserves water.

• 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 controls.

• 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 than that?

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 jgardner@archnexus.com.


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