McGuire Engineers (MEPC) lobby, plyboo wall.
CHICAGO and HOUSTON — Every year, the American economy loses more than $130 billion dollars from leaky, inefficient buildings.
The existing building market includes more than 60 billion square feet of already constructed buildings in the market place — about 80 times larger than the new construction market, said Ashley Katz, communications director for the United States Green Building Council.
“In 2009, the green building retrofit and renovation market was five to nine percent by value, or a $2 to $4 billion marketplace for major retrofit projects,” she said. “By 2014, that share is expected to increase to 20 to 30 percent — a $10 to $15 billion market for major projects.”
The LEED certification program provides different ratings for existing buildings and for new buildings that take into account the features already in place.
“LEED for Existing Buildings: O&M is a tool for the ongoing operations and maintenance of existing buildings,” Katz said. “The certification system identifies and rewards current best practices and provides an outline for building’s to use less energy, water and natural resources; improve the indoor environment; and uncover operating inefficiencies.”
The goal of the rating system is to institutionalize a process of reporting, inspection and review over the lifespan of a building, she said.
Recently certified LEED Platinum buildings have found different ways to accommodate existing structures and the challenges they present.
Practicing What They Preach
Not only does McGuire Engineers help other facilities reach their green potential, their own office was recently certified LEED Platinum as well.
The Chicago-based full-service engineering firm moved into a 28-year old building with 11,000 square feet of rentable office space less than a year ago, which presented a good opportunity to implement sustainability features.
Completed this past summer, the $700,000 renovations were designed to showcase the many ways an office can lessen its carbon footprint and create a healthier, more productive environment for employees, according to a statement from the company.
“Getting awarded Platinum LEED certification is an immense honor,” said Bill Stangeland, president and principal of McGuire Engineers. “At first glance, we have a typical office space. But behind the scenes, we built an environmentally conscientious space on a reasonable budget.”
The eco-friendly office space includes energy efficient lighting, placed and controlled to take advantage of as much natural light as possible, Stangeland said. On cloudy days or evenings, employees use individual task lights that use less wattage than overhead lights, along with lights placed near white walls to multiply brightness.
All lighting is controlled in zones and shuts off if no one is in the space — contributing to the McGuire's use of 0.78 watts per square foot, which exceeds ASHRAE’s standards by 28 percent and fit Chicago’s energy requirements of no more than 1.0 watts per square foot.
The company also uses recycled, local and sustainable material anywhere possible, in addition to energy monitoring and control systems installed throughout the space.
McGuire’s new individual water measurement system is serving as a test model that may be implemented for other tenants in the building since the owners were previously unable to measure individual water usage, according to information provided by the company.
Recycled carpeting, low-VOC paints and zoned lighting.
In addition to creating sustainability, Stangeland said that making the office comfortable for employees was a key goal of the McGuire team.
Low and no-VOC materials in ventilation and at least one potted plant per person serve to improve air quality, and main employee workplaces are along the perimeter of the office typically “monopolized” by offices to allow in natural light. And while going completely paperless is next to impossible for an engineering firm, they installed large-screen televisions to view oversized blueprints to reduce paper use.
The principals on the project were Laura Young of Griskelis Young Harrell and Bill Stangeland of McGuire Engineers. Leopardo served as the General Contractor.
Founded in 1986, McGuire also engineered the John Hancock Building, the Wrigley Building, The Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. The company has overseen LEED projects for other companies, including LEED Platinum status for the PepsiCo Sustainability Center and LEED Gold for Norcon, Inc.
“We built our office space for energy efficiency as well as employee health and comfort,” said David Brooks, senior vice president and principal at McGuire. “When our clients tell us they want to ‘go green’ we just take a walk around our office, showing them what worked for us and what solutions might be best for their space.”
Brooks said the process of selecting green features began with due diligence. Though they had initially set their sights on LEED Platinum, they realized that fulfilling all the requirements would take them a considerable amount over the budget.
The team eliminated items where the costs outweighed the benefits, or had a payback of longer than 10 years, which is the length of their lease.
“Because we’re experts in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering design, we were able to cost those features out closely, and selected the ones that we either wanted to try in our space or that made the most sense financially,” he said. “Once we had all of our ‘base’ features decided, we realized we were only one point away from potentially getting LEED Platinum, and within our budget. We added a few more features, like decommissioning older, non-energy star computer equipment, and those put us in the LEED Platinum category.”
Instead of monopolizing window space for executive offices, the main office space is surrounded by open windows to let in the maximum amount of light.
Brooks says many clients they take through their office want to do many similar things, included the architect who worked on the space.
“This was the architectural firm’s first LEED project, and the staff there is taking what they learned and actively applying it to new projects, both LEED and non-LEED,” he said. “We are constantly applying our own process to client projects. We make sure we know what their goals are for LEED certification. To stay within budget, we rank the points and prioritize — some features make sense for the space, some don’t. We help clients find the features that have the biggest impact and lowest cost.”
Brooks said one factor that makes it less common for offices to achieve certification is the initial cost issue.
“The initial investment is a lot. But if you’re already planning on moving offices or remodeling, it might not be that much more,” he said.
While products and design aren’t necessarily more expensive, there is a lot of documentation required for LEED certification, Brooks said.
“If a new building is going for LEED certification, the process is a much smaller percentage of the total cost,” he said. “For an office build-out, it’s a much larger percentage.”
Brooks said the biggest challenge is keeping the entire office involved in the process, beginning with the buy-in and continuing with post-certification.
While the staff is enthusiastic about sustainable design, they still have to police themselves.
Energy-efficient lighting is beautiful as well as functional.
“We turn of lights if they’re not needed,” he said. "All our computers go into sleep mode after a few minutes, which can be annoying but we all know how much energy it saves. We look at our energy bills, and see whether we can do better. We have signage all over the office that reminds our staff what we did and the impact it has.”
Being a part of larger ongoing efforts also helps the office maintain their practices, Brooks said. As a part of Chicago’s Green Office challenge, they are required to continuously report on energy usage, attend seminars and put on seminars for other tenants in the same building who are interested in sustainable design and efficient energy usage.
“All of this helps keep us excited about it,” he said.
Adam Rose, the general property manager of 717 Texas, a building that recently received LEED Platinum status, echoed similar challenges to certification of an existing building.
The 33-story Class A office tower in Houston’s downtown theater district is the first skyscraper in Texas to earn LEED Platinum certification for existing buildings.
“It’s challenging because you’re working with an older structure, and you’re dealing with a lot of variables with the tenants,” he said. “We have two thousand occupants, we don’t have a whole lot of control over what those two thousand people do. We can put procedures and policies in place but in the end we have to get them behind us, motivate the tenant base and give them avenues for them to comply.”
A joint venture between Hines Interests, a Houston-based real estate firm and privately-owned real estate holding company Prime Asset Management, the building previously earned LEED Silver certification in 2009, but made additional upgrades to reach Platinum level.
The building initially received silver certification in January of 2009, but after it was completed, Rose said they realized they could probably get Platinum.
“We knew we could do better,” he said. “We made continual improvements, not necessarily with LEED, but we made some changes to the water fixtures in the restrooms and increased our efficiency to exceed 30 percent over the baseline.”
The upgrades included electronic filtration of outside air, floor-by-floor air quality monitoring and control, and treatment of all on-floor tenant supply air with ultraviolet light.
The building also features carbon-filtered, ultraviolet light-treated, chilled drinking water delivered to every floor, finishes made from recycled materials and nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Hines also announced recently that each of its 203 global offices has achieved its HinesGO (GREEN OFFICE) designation for sustainable operations and performance, an internal company prototype that encourages building occupants to apply no cost and low-cost operating alternatives in a standard indoor office environment.
“HinesGO has been a wonderful, cost-effective way to rally our employees around an important cause — one that helps the environment and promotes our business objectives,” said President and CEO Jeff Hines. “Expanding the program to our tenants has been a real value-add. We were completing buildings at the top of the sustainability spectrum, but had no great way to influence what happens inside tenant spaces.”
Achieving the designation in some areas was easier than others, said the company’s Manager of Corporate Services, Alan Cranfill.
“For example, in cities like Warsaw and Moscow, recycling services were not readily available and came at a high cost,” Cranfill said. “Local nuances required our offices to be creative in designing solutions that would help them meet our program requirements.”
Completed in 2003, 717 Texas was designed by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum and Kendall Heaton Associates Inc., with oversight for LEED certification by Kirksey.
“To have completed a recertification, I think it really shows that through commitment to sustainability it’s possible to continue to make gains at the building,” Rose said. “It’s not sort of a one time event but through continued dedication to our sustainable approach we were able to improve our score.”