Sustainable Building Design from Start to Finish (Week 3)

For the last few weeks we talked about the conventional building project and the reasons for using a more integrated approach. We have built a business case and have justified the project, have identified and documented the needs, and have appointed a person or a team to head up the project and have hired a multi-disciplinary team that is ready to put pen to paper and we can start building right?

Stage 3: Design Development

Gradually a design emerges that embodies the interests and requirements of all participants, while also meeting overall area requirements and budgetary parameters. At this stage, schematic designs are produced. They show site location and organization, general building shape, orientation, distribution of program, and an outline of components and systems to be designed and/or specified for the final result. Depending on the size of the project, it is often useful to create a cost estimate performed for the design at this point.

Design Development enlarges the scale of consideration. Design Development is a time to firm up and validate choices. It concludes the WHAT phase of the project. During this phase, all key design decisions are finalized. Detailed Design under the integrative process comprises much of what is left to the Construction Documents phase under traditional practice, thus the Detailed Design phase involves significantly more effort than the traditional Design Development phase.

Greater detail is developed for all aspects of the building, and the collaborative process continues with the architect or prime consultant facilitating the various contributors. The conclusion of this phase is a detailed design on which all players agree and may be asked to sign off. During this phase, effort shifts from WHAT is being created to documenting HOW it will be implemented. Careful proofing and identifying of items such as building systems and cost implications should be done before proceeding with final materials, colors, and finishes.

Stage 4: Tender trade contracts

The development of contract documents involves interpreting the design development information into a format suitable for pricing, permitting, and construction. The goal of the contract documents is to complete the determination and documentation of how the design intent will be implemented, not to change or develop it. No set of contract documents can ever be perfect, but high quality can be achieved by scrutiny, accountability to the project goals, and careful coordination among the technical consultants on the design team. Decisions continue to be made at this stage, but changes in scope will become more expensive once pricing has begun; changes to the contract documents also invite confusion, errors, and added costs, although technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM) or Automated Building Systems are beginning to align references for all design team members. The Integrative process assumes early involvement of key trade contractors and vendors, so buyout of work packages they provide occurs through development of prices throughout the design phases, culminating at the conclusion of implementation documents. Accelerated project definition during Schematic and Design Development allows early commitment for procurement of long lead, custom, or prefabricated items. The Integrative “Bidding” phase is much shorter than under traditional delivery methods, since most work is already contracted for. Third party verification can begin at this stage and can validate the assumptions the design makes regarding how  sustainable the project will be. A tool that can be used here would be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Next week we will further investigate what it takes to build a sustainable or green building from start to finish.



Sustainable Building Design from Start to Finish (Week 2)

Last week we talked about the conventional building project and the reasons for using a more integrated approach. The first step was for a business to justify the project and identifies that they have a need. The second step is to document the business case and the needs of the business. The next step is to appoint a person or a team to head up the project.

Stage 2: Appoint the integrative project team and hire any outside consultants.

The client updates the preliminary business case and strategic brief to reflect the comments from the internal team and collates the pre-design and  pre-construction information, ready to issue a consultant team. The client will need to appoint a consultant team and other advisers such as an integrative project facilitator, an architectural team, construction manager, an independent client adviser, and a cost estimator. It is imperative that the Owner’s Project Requirements are thoroughly and clearly articulated during the pre-design or discovery phase.

This is also an opportunity to establish collaborative practices and agree on a program.  For significant projects, a construction manager and an architect should be engaged to conduct the needs assessment; it may also be appropriate for this team to produce a master plan that places individual design activities in context and sequence of delivery. This team will need to work with the client to aid the internal team in developing the strategic brief. Regardless of a project’s scope, research and programming is a crucial first step in developing a successful design. Criteria for the selection of the consultant team may include the client’s affinity for a specific architectural philosophy, the consultant’s experience with the building type, or, with sustainability requirements, a candidate’s ability to achieve high environmental performance in historic or new buildings.

A multidisciplinary team may include a contractor, engineers, landscape architect, environmental designer, artist, sustainability consultant, and other specialists, the architect or prime consultant will need to establish the core design goals in a collaboration with the client. The design team also may produce alternative conceptual approaches to the client’s needs, and graphics to visualize the discussion along with energy and basic environmental impacts. Refinement of research and integration with design are initiated. The project begins to take shape. Major options are evaluated, tested, and selected.

Such suggestions are meant to stimulate thought, not necessarily to describe the final outcome. It is worthy to note the importance of the team format at this stage: full involvement of team members is critical, as individual insights can prevent costly changes down the road. Continual collaboration between stakeholders also helps prevent expensive mistakes. Next week we will further investigate what it takes to build a sustainable or green building from start to finish.



Sustainable Building Design from Start to Finish (Week 1)

Green building, or sustainable design, is the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and of reducing impacts on human health and the environment for the entire lifecycle of a building. Green-building concepts extend beyond the walls of buildings and include site planning, community and land-use planning issues as well. The growth and development of our communities has a large impact on our natural environment. The EPA has revealed that buildings account for approximately 40 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption and residential buildings account for approximately 54 percent of that total, while commercial buildings accounted for the other 46 percent. At home or at work, without a doubt buildings are a big part of our lives. The manufacturing, design, construction and operation of the buildings in which we live and work are responsible for the consumption of many of our natural resources. The planning of a project is a key component in figuring out how to go about getting a sustainable building design or a green building. Many teams use a multi-disciplinary, integrated design approach, and for the next few weeks we will outline the steps involved in producing an effective Sustainable Building Design from Start to Finish.


The conventional way of bringing a project to fruition which includes, design, bid, building, and operations processes often fails to recognize that buildings are part of larger, complex system. As a result, solving one problem may negatively affect other systems elsewhere in the system. In contrast, an integrative process is a highly collaborative method used for the design, construction and operations of sustainable built environments. This approach requires the whole project team to think of the entire building and all of its systems together, emphasizing connections and improving communication among professionals and stakeholders throughout the life of a project. It breaks down similar to the strategy outlined in the Integrative Process (IP)© – ANSI Consensus National Standard Guide© – Design and Construction of Sustainable Buildings and Communities to inefficient solutions. Although the term integrative design is most often applied to the planning stage of a  new construction or renovations project, it is often used interchangeably by the public with the integrative process, where an integrative process is applicable to any phase in the life cycle of a building. What it boils down to, is getting everyone who will be involved in the project, from the design phase to construction to the actual day-to-day operations, together right from the start to collaborate and trust.


Stage 1: The Discovery Phase

During the discovery phase a project must go through a business justification. This takes place once a business identifies that they have a need, which might result in a building project. This is where the client will define the need. The client will then explore high level options for meeting the requirements set out in the statement of need. This may include an assessment of comparable projects. Then they would prepare a preliminary business case, which is a first attempt to justify the investment required by the potential project and should include a management structure, a draft legal agreements and funding options. The client will need to develop a statement of needs, that provides sufficient information about the project to allow for the appointment of a consultant team who will carry out feasibility studies and options appraisals, prepare a project brief and develop the strategic brief.  The brief should also outline preliminary requirements of the project including any potential goals or visions or basic metrics of performance.

The initial strategic brief may include the identification of potential sites for the development. It should be noted that for particularly large projects, an environmental impact assessment may be required by the local planning authority and that this may include an assessment of alternative sites for the development. It is important to consider this when assessing potential sites. Identifying possible sites, and considering their impacts (such as the possibility of moving staff) can be a complicated process and may require the appointment of independent client advisers (such as surveyors and or civil engineers).

The client undertakes risk assessment and value management exercises, sets an initial budget for the project and considers funding options for the project. They may then revise the preliminary business case and strategic brief.

The next step is to establish an internal team. They will need to identify who will lead the project for the organization and have the organization’s best interests in mind. This can take the shape of a project director, one person, or a project board, a team of champions who would take responsibility for the quality of the project from a business standpoint. The team may include a user panel or project stakeholders.

Next week we will further investigate what it takes to build a sustainable or green building from start to finish.



Higher Ed Paving the Way for Future Generations

Educational institutions across the state of Michigan are committed to building and operating healthy, high efficient spaces for students to learn. These institutions are leading future generations down a greener path by setting the example for sustainable progress. Campus wide sustainability departments have been established that include programs and initiatives that reduce waste, natural resources and increase energy efficiency.  This demonstrates to students the importance of  a light carbon footprint and increased social responsibility.

Many West Michigan colleges and universities have adopted LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) for one or more campus construction projects including:   Aquinas College, Central Michigan University (CMU), Davenport University (DU), Ferris State University (FSU), Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), Kalamazoo College (KU), Michigan State University (MSU), Montcalm Community College (MCC), Muskegon Community College (MCC), Northern Michigan University (NMU), Southwestern Michigan College (SMC) and Western Michigan University (WMU).  Some institutions have established LEED as a criterion for new construction and renovation projects campus wide including Aquinas, WMU, MSU and GVSU.

The State of Michigan mandates that state funded buildings be constructed to LEED standards. However, the state does not require that the building achieve LEED certification. “Why build to LEED standards if you do not complete the certification process?” asked James Moyer, associate vice president for facilities planning at GVSU. “Grand Valley chooses to pursue LEED certification as proof of our accomplishment.”

“If a Western Michigan project receives state funds or not, all projects over $1 million will be designed and constructed in accordance with LEED,” said DeVon Miller, building commissioning specialist at Western Michigan University.

It is evident that other educational  institutions agree with GVSU’s & WMU’s philosophies.  Since LEED certification was established in 2000, 13 colleges in West Michigan have registered 95 projects.  Out of the 95 registered projects, 68 have successfully obtained certification including 2 platinum buildings, 20 gold, 27 silver and 19 certified.

Just this year, five higher education buildings in West Michigan achieved LEED certification. Aquinas student housing building, St. Rose of Lima and CMU’s multipurpose stadium achieved basic LEED certification. Muskegon Community College’s Science Center addition and GVSU’s Marketplace and Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science achieved LEED Gold certification.

Building owners and operators that pursue building renovations or new construction must build to construction code, however, they have the choice to build above code. Building above code means taking extra steps to enhance the sustainability, health, and efficiency of the building.

Some buildings claim to be “green”, healthy and high efficient, while others prove it. LEED is a third party rating system that proves green operations with certification. It rewards buildings that reduce their impact across multiple areas, including: building site management, materials used, water and energy consumption, transportation options, occupant health and comfort, and more.

LEED certified buildings work to improve building operations and lower a building’s energy use.

The students of today, are the leaders of tomorrow.  Educating students to understand and value the relationship between the economy and ecology is important. Economicology is a term coined by Peter Wege of the Wege foundation.  The word summarizes Mr. Wege’s philosophy that a prosperous economy depends on maintaining a healthy environment.



LEED v2009 Ends October 31, 2016

The deadline is approaching.  October 31st is the last day to register your project under the LEED v2009 rating system.  If your project is registered for v2009 before the deadline, you will have until June 30, 2021 to complete and submit the project for certification.

Beginning November 1st, all buildings will be registered under the new LEED v4 rating system, the latest version of LEED.  LEED v4 launched November 2013 and is available for those who wish to pursue it.

According to USGBC National, LEED v4 is different from LEED v2009 because it focuses on increased technical stringency from past versions.  The new rating system is making LEED available to new market sectors, including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail and mid-rise residential projects.

LEED v4 offers a new credit for Integrated Design. This brings together the full construction team at an early stage in the design process, allowing for all areas of expertise to collaboratively design and build to LEED standards from start to finish.

LEED’s green building rating system continues to raise the bar as technology develops and the green building industry stays at the forefront.  

For those new to LEED, the USGBC West MI Chapter has created a guide to help you learn the basics of the LEED rating system and LEED accreditation for green building experts.  This simple four page document breaks down LEED into an easy to understand process – think LEED for Dummies.



Art Prize Unveils Sustainability Resource Guide


More than 400,000 people will visit downtown Grand Rapids during the 2.5 weeks of Art Prize.  The world’s largest art competition challenging local and international artists around the world is a premiere event in it’s eighth year.  With that many visitors comes an excess of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) emissions from transportation to and from the area as well as an increase in waste, water and energy usage.

The organizers of Art Prize understand this impact and have recently released the first Art Prize Sustainability Guide.  The guide encourages alternative transportation (bus, biking, walking), waste diversion, water share (reduction of single use bottles) and serves as a resource for the more than 170 Art Prize venues.  

The Art Prize team worked with many community partners including the U.S. Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter (USGBC-WM) to create a useful guide to help venues implement green building practices that will reduce their negative impact on the environment both during and long after the 19 day event ends.

Grand Rapids has a long history of environmental leadership.  Named America’s Most Sustainable City by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and most recently the 10th city in the world to form a 2030 District.  The Grand Rapids 2030 District is a groundbreaking, private & public led, collaborative high-performance building district focused on fostering a sustainable, efficient, thriving downtown Grand Rapids.  2030 Districts represent more than 285 million square feet across the US & Canada with a goal to reduce building energy use, water use and transportation GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions by 50% by the year 2030.  

The Art Prize Sustainability Plan encompasses environmental, social, and fiscal responsibility and centers on four themes:  climate change, waste management, social equity, and healthy living.  The guide covers impact, measurement and planning and is sure to be a valuable resource for visitors and venue owners.  For more information visit: www.artprize.org/about/sustainability



LEED 101


LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is an international standard for environmentally sound buildings, certifying approximately 1.85 million square feet per day.

If you’re new to LEED it can be overwhelming but don’t worry, we’ve made it simple for you.

LEED is split into two overarching categories LEED Certification and LEED Credentialing.  LEED Certification is a third party verification process for green buildings.  LEED Credentialing is an educational accreditation for individuals.

Should I be pursuing LEED certification for my building?  The answer;  if you want to be sure that your building is designed to have a low impact on the environment then LEED is for you.

LEED works for all building types, from corporate offices to homes.  It’s a roadmap to follow and a recognized designation that proves your building is eco-friendly.  Each building or project that registers for LEED certification earns points to achieve a certification level:  Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.  Points are earned based on the sustainable practices implemented during the construction and renovation phase of building.  Your building is certified by the number of points it achieved.  The more points achieved, the higher the certification.

Should I be pursuing LEED accreditation for myself?  The answer;  if you would like to improve your green building knowledge or be recognized as a green building expert, then yes, you should be pursuing LEED credentials.

Follow this link to learn the basics of LEED and why you should choose to pursue the green building certification or education credentials.



Sparrow Ionia Celebrates 1st LEED for Healthcare in Michigan


With a mission to be recognized as a national leader in quality and patient experience, Sparrow Health Systems believes that transparency leads to greater accountability and performance improvement.  Sparrow Health understands that this approach is multi-faceted and translates to more than patient care alone.

On September 8, 2016 the team of the new Sparrow Ionia Hospital celebrated their LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification.  The West Michigan Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) was honored to share this achievement with Sparrow and members of the design team including The Christman Company and Hobbs + Black Architects.  Stories shared during the ceremony about participation from all departments in the hospital made it evident that everyone was taking great pride in this achievement.


LEED for Healthcare is a branch of LEED certification that works to improve the environmental impacts of healthcare facilities.  With unique challenges such as 24/7 operations, chemical use, energy & water use intensity, infection control requirements and the heightened need for patient privacy.  The implementation of sustainable design practices can create obstacles for healthcare facilities.  The LEED for Healthcare rating system acknowledges these obstacles and provides a roadmap for design teams to follow.

The 65,645 square foot Sparrow Hospital located in Ionia has set the bar for healthcare in Michigan.  It replaces the less efficient hospital originally built in 1953.  “Sparrow Hospital really saved healthcare in Ionia County,” said Mayor Dan Baliace at the ceremony.  “We couldn’t be more proud.  They under promised and over delivered.”

At the LEED Certification Ceremony, President & CEO Bill Roeser said, “This event is really the frosting on the cake for us.”  Sparrow is making vast improvements in their field and plans to pursue LEED for Healthcare for the Sparrow Cancer Center in Lansing as well.

Since the launch of LEED for Healthcare in 2011, 301 projects around the world have registered for LEED for Healthcare certification.  Of the 301 registered projects only 29 have achieved certification thus far.

Sparrow Ionia is the first healthcare facility in the State of Michigan under the LEED for Healthcare banner. “Other hospitals in Michigan have achieved the LEED for New Construction Certification, but none have completed the LEED for Healthcare rigorous process,” said LEED project administrator Debra Sypien from The Christman Company.

The investment in LEED certification is really paying off for Sparrow Health.  According to Mark Brisboe, Vice President and CFO, the new hospital has decreased electricity use by 38%, water use by 46% and natural gas use by 49%.  This translates to an operational savings of $209,000 per year despite seeing, on average, an increase of over 30% in occupancy.

Sparrow Ionia is a great example for the green building industry to emphasize the rewards and savings you achieve when you invest in LEED.  



Abueva Builders LLC Practice What They Preach

What better way to understand a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) home, than to live in one. Paul Abueva, owner of Abueva Builders LLC is the definition of practice what you preach. Paul owns and manages a small residential construction company out of Kalamazoo. His company recently completed its first LEED home in October of 2015, which Paul and his wife currently live in. “We wanted to have a sense of just how much it costs to be green,” said Abueva.

Unlike most builders, Abueva has a degree in environmental science. His business unites his educational background and passion for the environment with his 14 years of construction experience. As a builder, Abueva strives to educate his customers on the added value achieved by incorporating green features into their homes. “We encourage our customers to think beyond their immediate needs and incorporate features that will make their homes functional for years to come,” said Abueva.

Abueva’s business philosophy encompasses three things: exceptional energy efficiency, environmental consciousness, and universal design. Abueva’s new Sandy Cove home in Kalamazoo was built using this triple threat philosophy. It is one of the first LEED homes in the greater Kalamazoo area and the first to receive gold level certification.

Abueva’s team designed the house using a seven-year strategy. Meaning that any green feature implemented would need to pay off within 7 years, and anything that didn’t was not incorporated into the house.  “We strived for an achievable goal,” said Abueva.

You can’t avoid waste when it comes to construction, but you can always plan for it. This house was designed with waste in mind. Abueva’s example was, “carpet typically comes in a 12’ roll, so the bedrooms were designed to be 12’ wide.” This planning system was utilized for all materials purchased for the project. The house was built around 2’ increments to maximize materials and minimize waste. A commercial dumpster was never on site. Every product or material purchased was either used up, recycled, or donated to their local habitat for humanity.

Abueva wasn’t just thinking about the future of the house when he designed it. He built this LEED home with the future of the homeowners in mind. It’s called universal design. Universal design is a building procedure that ensures inherent accessibility to all people regardless of age or ability. Abueva pre-framed this home for wide hallways, ramps, a zero clearance entry, and an elevator shaft. “It’s designed so that anyone could see this as a forever home, for whatever may happen,” said Abueva.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index is the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured. The lower the number, the more energy efficient the home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a typical resale home scores 130, while a standard new home is awarded a rating of 100. Abueva’s home achieved a HERS score of 32. This means that Abueva’s home is 68% more energy efficient than a standard new home.

The home achieved its impressive numbers using a design that incorporated a 10” thick double stud wall and air sealing details that were incorporated into the framing.  This allowed for almost double the insulation of a house built to current codes.

Abueva said one of the most impressive and rewarding aspects of certifying his home was the blower door test. A blower door test is done to measure a building’s leak rate. Their result was 0.04 ACH (air changes/hour) natural. “It was the tightest non passive house certified project our green rater Michael Holcomb has ever tested,” said Abueva.

Passive housing is another building standard, also voluntary for buildings owners to adopt. Abueva’s team did not implement the passive house standard into the Sandy Cove home, instead, they designed the house to be passive ready. “We wanted to design a system that could meet Passive House certification,” said Abueva. “That way in the future we could utilize the same system should we decide to go for their certification.” The house is also designed to achieve net zero energy waste. It was sited and built to allow for solar panels, should they want to incorporate them in the future.

This is the first of many LEED homes for Abueva Builders LLC. Abueva plans to use his LEED home as a guide for future projects by tracking his return on investment, and benchmarking his home for many years to come. He will be able to not only tell his customers about the remarkable paybacks of his LEED home, he will be able to show them.




Habitat for Humanity Kent County LEEDs Affordable Green Housing Movement in MI


Grab your hard hats folks, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is creating an explosion. An affordable green housing explosion that is. Recently named a finalist for a Governor’s Energy Excellence Award for Best Communication/Education Program. The Governor’s Energy Excellence Award honors Michigan organizations and individuals for their commitment to responsible energy production and consumption.

Habitat Kent is a Christian nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable homes in the greater Grand Rapids area.  The business model enables them to build affordable homes by engaging volunteers and implementing efficient building practices into their work. “We have between 4,000 – 5,000 volunteers every year,” said Brandyn Deckinga, director of construction at Habitat Kent. “Forming strong partnerships with organizations and volunteers is what helps us build affordable housing for the community.”  

Partnering with educational groups such as Grand Rapids Public School (GRPS) and Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) to provide the next generation workforce with hands on experience.  Together they have built a combined 36 homes in Kent County. In the past year Habitat Kent has helped communicate, instruct and train 31 GRPS students and over 50 GRCC students. “That’s 80 students last year who specifically worked on a house, received training in construction and learned ways to be energy efficient” said Deckinga.

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The staff at Habitat Kent is excited to be one of the finalists for a 2016 Governor’s Energy Excellence Award. In 2015 the Michigan Battle of the Building’s Awards and Recognition Program took home the honors for Best Communication/Education Program.  “We look forward to August 11th when the 2016 winner will be announced in Lansing,” said Cheri Holman, executive director of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) West Michigan Chapter.  “Congratulations to all the finalists for executing outstanding programs that encourage us all to be better stewards of our resources.” Other finalists include City of Holland and Muskegon County Department of Veterans Affairs.

Along with volunteer work, choosing sustainable building options enables Habitat Kent to build affordable homes. By implementing things like energy efficient wall assemblies that include DOW’s XPS continuous insulation, paying attention to detail with air sealing, using EnergyStar appliances, LED lighting, installing Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV’s), and low flow plumbing fixtures Habitat Kent is able to reach their low cost goals.

Habitat Kent has excelled across the leaderboard when it comes to sustainable building.  They were recently recognized for building the first v4 LEED certified house in Michigan. The LEED v4 certification is the newest version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

Among 25 honorees, Habitat Kent was also recognized by the USGBC as a 2015 Power Builder. To be considered a Power Builder, organizations must have obtained LEED certification on 90 percent or more of their homes or units. Habitat Kent’s team has certified 142 homes to LEED standards in Kent County, 10 of which were v4 certified and more than 70 are EnergyStar certified.

Also noteworthy, Habitat or Humanity is a founding member of the Grand Rapids 2030 District. A groundbreaking, private and public led building district focused on fostering a sustainable, efficient, thriving downtown Grand Rapids.

Habitat Kent aspires to build LEED certified buildings. Currently they have 6 homes in progress, 4 of which will be underway in the next month and all aiming for LEED v4 certification. “We have plans for a multifamily unit coming in 2017 that we would like to build net zero energy ready,” said Deckinga. “It will be a challenging project but we’re ready for it!”

There really is no place like home. With the help of Habitat Kent, many homeowners are able to live affordably in high efficient homes that will last a lifetime.