19 July 2019/ sale_commercial_property_guide

5 strategies for making your building greener

Lower your carbon footprint, reduce costs and increase tenant satisfaction with energy-efficient upgrades.

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These days, making your building greener is not just a matter of complying with environmental or energy efficiency rules and regulations. By ensuring a building is eco-friendly and energy efficient, owners and business managers not only make the space more attractive to tenants, they can also save on costs, reduce the need for extensive future upgrades and demonstrate they’re doing their bit to help the planet.

“Creating more sustainable buildings improves outcomes for employees and customers,” says Eric Corey Freed, principal of Boston-based organicARCHITECT. With three decades of experience in sustainable design and building, Freed currently focuses his practice on consulting with property management companies and organisations to achieve net-zero energy – where a building produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

If you already own or manage buildings, there are a few practical ways for you to start working toward net-zero energy – along with reaping the cultural and cost-saving benefits an eco-friendly building can provide. Here, Freed offers five strategies for going green.

1. Get an energy audit

An audit of your building’s energy usage is the best place to start and, thanks to initiatives such as the Carbon Trust’s Green Business Fund, you may qualify for a fully funded energy assessment at no cost to your business to help identify areas for energy and cost savings. According to the Carbon Trust, SMEs identify an average saving of £8,230 on their energy spend through its energy efficiency assessments. One example is Haldex Brake Products Ltd in Nuneaton. Even though it’s housed in a new BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) rated building, the visiting Carbon Trust expert reported three key opportunities to save energy and associated carbon emissions. These were: managing energy as a controllable resource; repairing compressed air leaks and upgrading lighting to LED. These recommendations have a combined capital expenditure of £6,700 and will pay back within a year.

2. Update the lighting

The old school incandescent lights were 90% heat and 10% light. Most office buildings today have fluorescents, which are 90% light and 10% heat – but the quality of light they emit is not well liked. One quick update that Freed's firm often makes is to put in LED lighting, which provides better quality of light, is more energy-efficient and typically lasts longer than traditional bulbs.

While updating the light system, Freed also suggests adding a dimmer, or an occupancy sensor, which can dim or turn off the lights in empty areas. Even better, a daylight sensor can dim or turn up the lights based on how much natural light is coming into the space.

Optimising natural light is one of the most important elements in improving employees' wellbeing as well as lowering lighting bills. The most effective way to increase natural light is by installing more windows, but if that's not feasible, try redesigning the interior layout to make sure desks are positioned where natural light will reach them and install mirrors at strategic places.

A rule of thumb when estimating how much light you'll get in a room: Light comes in about twice what the ceiling height is. If you have 15-foot ceilings, you'll get natural light about 30 feet into the space.

3. Update the heating and air-conditioning system

Poor office air quality reduces employee productivity, while high-performance buildings designed with health and wellbeing in mind were found to enhance productivity and profitability, according to a recent report undertaken by integrated real estate service provider STOK.

There are easy maintenance steps that will improve system efficiency, such as getting the filters cleaned. However, if the system has been in place for a number of years it could be time for an upgrade. The new generation of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems provide thermal comfort and improved indoor air quality, save energy and reduce costs. A central HVAC system may include a ground source heat pump used for providing heating and cooling, a number of ducts and pipes for ventilation purposes, underfloor heating and/or radiators for distributing the heat across the house, along with air humidifiers, dehumidifiers and ionizers.

Optimising daylight will also impact the space's heating and cooling. Light can provide the right amount of heat when feasible, but you'll have to make sure you don't have so much you'll need to run air conditioning to counterbalance it. "More light is not always the answer. More light equals more heat," advises Freed. “It's about controlled light."

4. Check out the insulation

“Insulation is like chocolate – the more you have, the better,” jokes Freed. All joking aside, he says upgrading the insulation probably offers the biggest bang for your buck of any building improvement. It's relatively inexpensive, and the payback is immediate. “From day one you're heating or cooling your space, so if you're keeping the ideal temperature from leaking to the outside, you're cutting heating and cooling expenditure right away.”

While adding insulation to certain types of walls can be an extensive renovation project, concrete is easier to add insulation onto than many other types of wall materials. And there are now many types of eco-friendly insulation available, such as Bonded Logic's recycled denim product, wood fibre, hemp, sheep’s wool and cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper combined with a mineral fire retardant.

5. Source sustainable materials

The availability and choice of sustainable and eco-conscious building materials is ever-increasing. Start your search at green-construction.org.uk, ecomerchant.co.uk and greenspec.co.uk.

If you’re thinking of building from scratch, investigate companies such as NetZero Buildings, which creates energy-efficient, off-site manufactured buildings with integrated solar PV roofs, designed to reduce construction time (40% quicker to build), costs (up 10% less to build and, on average, 76% less to maintain per annum) and environmental impact.

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