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Architects Strive to Learn Green Building

Being known as environmentally friendly isn’t just for tree-huggers anymore.

A mainstream push for green building has many local architects scrambling to become a part of the scene.

“This is the next evolution in building,” said Dan Heinfeld, president of Irvine-based LPA Inc.

What started as a socially conscious movement is well on its way to being a governmentally mandated one. Local architects want to be ahead of what they see as a fundamental shift.

High-energy prices and concerns over global warming have stirred the interest of nearly everyone looking for ways to save money and help the environment at the same time.

Being environmentally friendly is more than just putting in solar panels, Heinfeld said.

With green building comes a whole new set of terms and expertise to make projects efficient enough to save money and have less of an impact on the environment.

Educating architects to be able to design these types of projects has been a primary concern for local firms as more clients search out that kind of talent.

Commercial developers have been at the forefront of the demand, according to Tricia Esser, chief executive of KTGY Inc. in Irvine. But some people have yet to commit to the new, more expensive designs.

Many of KTGY’s clients are public companies whose shareholders demand green building.

“It won’t be until the consumer is fully on board that a complete shift will take place,” Esser said.

A downturn in the housing market could be the perfect time to go into green mode when the market comes back to normal, she added.

The public has been a little resistant to green because of the lack of understanding on the particulars, Esser said. Intimidated by unfamiliar terms and extensive paperwork, many decide to hold off on bringing green elements into a project, she said.

Fear of higher costs also weighs heavily on consumer decisions, but many architects insist it’s not more expensive to build green if you plan for it from the beginning.

“If there’s x amount to be spent, you can figure a way to make it green,” Heinfeld said.

As proof, LPA’s office and warehouse plans for CI-Design in Irvine were 20% less expensive than a comparable standard building in Southern California, according to Heinfeld.

“Ten years ago this was very expensive, but it’s getting cheaper,” Flynn said.

Though every project is different, the more expensive green touches could end up saving building owners money in the long run through eco-friendly technology.

Maximizing sun exposure and breezes can help to save energy costs, Heinfeld said. Night flushing is a process that takes advantage of lower temperatures at night to cool the building for daytime use.

On average, energy-efficient designs could save a building owner up to 10% in costs with electricity and water, according to Flynn.

Materials for building such as nontoxic paint and recycled tiles and carpet that were once hard to come by have become more abundant and therefore cheaper, Flynn said.

But not all aspects of green building are so cheap and easy, said Brian Dougherty, cofounder of Dougherty + Dougherty Architects LLP in Costa Mesa.

A mechanical system designed to have air flow more efficiently from the floor rather than the ceiling added $150,000 to one of his recent projects, he said.

The more high-tech the energy-saving systems are, the more expensive it makes the building at the start.

But there are levels of green that provide varying degrees of savings and environmental benefits for less of a cost.

These shades of green are most commonly defined through “LEED” grades, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards that were created by the U.S. Green Building Council and are becoming more widely used in development.

The grades are really more like guidelines that aren’t enforced,except for government owned buildings,and don’t have specifically defined criteria. But Flynn said they may be the basis of a green building law in the nearer future.

In California, it is already mandated that all state-owned buildings qualify for LEED’s silver rating.

“We are seeing legislation passing through that will make things greener,” Flynn said.

By the year 2011 it is expected that all new buildings will be required to meet LEED-like standards, according to Flynn.

There are three bills in California demanding higher standards for protecting the environment in new development.

California’s building code already brings projects 60% of the way toward being LEED certified, Flynn said.

Last year, California passed a bill that required all new projects to assess their impact on global warming, promptly spurring lawsuits from developers.

The city of Anaheim has made green building easier by promising to expedite the approval processes for those projects that incorporate sustainable design. In Irvine, the city has set up its own guidelines for green building.

The LEED rating system gives four grades. From highest to lowest they are certified, silver, gold and platinum.

The grades are based on water and energy efficiency, air quality and recyclable materials.

LPA is building the county’s first platinum LEED project with the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach. It also said it built the county’s first LEED building, the Premier Automotive Group building in Irvine.

To be prepared for these projects, KTGY asks its employees to take a certification program offered through LEED and the Green Building Council.

Certification involves a test that,if passed by an architect,gives a project one credit toward the 26 needed for LEED certification status.

Both LPA and KTGY also give in-house seminars to educate their staffs on green building techniques. And with business slowing down along with the drop in housing development, Esser thinks it “is the perfect time to educate” his staff about implementing green building.


Green: By the Numbers


– By 2010, 10% of all U.S. commercial and housing construction projects will be green, according to McGraw-Hill Construction.

– $30 billion to $60 billion will be spent on green development in the next three years.

– More than 60% of Corporate America sees sustainability in their offices as a competitive advantage, according to CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.’s Torto Wheaton Research.

– 6,000-plus buildings are registered or certified with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation.

– Nationwide, 896 million square feet of commercial construction was registered as LEED, as of July.

– Building owners can claim a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot for buildings that save at least 50% on heating and cooling.


CORRECTION:


Michael Flynn is misidentified in the above article. His title is senior project director in Irvine for the KTGY Group.

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