When engaged in cost assessment or early schematic design, building owners and design teams often struggle determining how evolving green building and energy codes will impact their projects. Additionally, agencies are applying above-code requirements such as all-electric construction, photovoltaic installation, third party rating programs such as LEED, and/or other sustainability elements.
An early feasibility study can help design teams assess sustainability impacts and align the owner’s requirements so designing in a vacuum does not occur. Early studies can help a project avoid costly delays and additional scope creep leading to soft and hard costs.
Below are three benefits to performing a feasibility study:
- Align Requirements and Orient Design: Cities or funding partners may ask for increased above-code energy performance. We have seen local code requirements in some developments that request performance ratings anywhere between 10 to 25% above code. Often a code-compliant energy model is created in the design development or construction documents phase. Other off-the-shelf energy model programs such as Sefaira will not satisfy CA Code or ICC requirements; therefore, a fully built out energy model is required to assess early compliance. Working closely with the architect, assumptions to the building envelope and spaces can be made. Minimum baseline energy systems are implemented and then those system efficiencies are increased to meet the standard. Likely, several envelope elements and systems may change from concept through to design development. As such, the model will need to be modified as the project adapts.
In situations where third party ratings such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), GreenPoint Rated (GPR) or National Green Building Standard (NGBS) are requested, an early scorecard and checklist should be developed to assess the yes, maybe and no measures. Often projects can reach Silver levels without much effort, and if the City or a Fund is requesting Gold level, what are the cost impacts and what is the path of least resistance?
A clear understanding of the operational performance of the building can help guide certain sustainability aspects since credits such as Green Cleaning and Indoor Air Quality are relatively easy to achieve but will need commitment by the building operator.
- Control Costs: An appropriate energy modeling or sustainable consulting budget should be allocated to help deliver clarity in design and matters related to hard cost impacts. System efficiencies are often identified later in design or additional equipment may be added to help deliver sustainability goals. Early assessments will help drive a conversation related to system types in the hopes of delivering those that best align with the owner’s goals.
$200k to $1.5 million in hard cost savings have been realized depending on project size and scope.
Having Cost Estimators and/or General Contractors involved in the process early can help the team received immediate cost control feedback.
Discussing first cost vs. potential return on investment and whether the building will be held long term or sold immediately changes sustainability strategies significantly.
- Avoid Delays: Delays impact holding costs. The sooner we start strategizing how to meet green building codes, energy codes and conditional use requirements, the better the impact on project schedules.
The “Green” or “Energy” consultant has been an afterthought on many projects and they have been engaged as late as 50% CD phase. This stage may be too late to effectively address sustainability goals and requirements without impacting the design or construction process. We’ve seen a project need to reengineer building envelopes because they missed a key energy code item.
Consulting fees are reasonable and worth their weight in cost savings. Bring in your Green Building/Energy consultant as early as possible for a solid piece of mind. For more information, contact Moe Fakih at VCA Green below.
Moe Fakih, Principal