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Building Integration

Green and smart!

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009 - 14:01

Abiding by strict environmental rules can at times seem as much like a religion as a lifestyle. It’s often difficult and even conflicting to balance the intention to live “green” with the attractions of modern convenience. Moving into igloos or pit houses made of mud, is sustainable, yes, but not realistic for most people.

Buildings aren’t only a symbol of modern convenience, they are often hubs of economic activity, and model comfortable living. They’re also environmental enemy No. 1. From consuming natural resources, to polluting the air during their construction, to draining energy supplies during their life cycles, buildings (commercial and residential) top transportation in the total amount of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, U.S. buildings are responsible for approximately 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and 60 percent of the country’s electricity use.

In Canada, buildings are responsible for 37 percent of that nation’s primary energy use and account for almost 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Canada Green Building Council.

While building construction demand isn’t likely to subside anytime soon, many engineers are opting to marry two concepts to address environmental concerns—buildings that aren’t only intelligent, but also environmentally friendly.

“There’s so much energy being consumed by the building fleet in Canada that everything you can do to improve performance in buildings is important to Canada and its climate change goals," says Glenn Tubrett, director of built environment at the Canadian Standards Association. “And I think constructing green buildings and incorporating automation systems is a natural evolution.”

Industry Canada defines an intelligent building as, “equipped with the telecommunications infrastructure that enables it to continuously respond and adapt to changing conditions, allowing for a more efficient use of resources and increasing the comfort and security of its occupants.”

Smart buildings save energy by connecting once-separate features such as heating, air ventilation, air-conditioning, fire safety, security, energy, and lighting processes into one centralized system that monitors each process and reduces any counterproductive energy usage. In building-speak, this is known as “building automation.”

Lighting is often a source of much wasted energy. Lighting systems typically generate more heat than light. During summer months, lighting may even cause air conditioning to turn on to cool down a room, wasting even more energy.

Automation systems in buildings contain smart features that are designed to reduce energy usage: occupancy sensors that detect whether people are present and turn the lights on accordingly, computer systems that automatically turn off when an employee has left the office building, and boardrooms that are configured to modify air flow.

Although including green features in an intelligent building isn’t mandatory, under the umbrella definition of intelligent buildings, and vice versa, often the concepts overlap because the energy efficiencies achieved are beneficial on both ends. When heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems are linked to an integrated system, these can be managed in a way that cuts down on unnecessary energy use, while reducing costs. 

“Most often if you have a building that has been given a gold, silver, or platinum rating through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program as a green building, most often you will find integrated systems in the building,” says Ronald J. Zimmer, president and CEO of Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). “A green building doesn’t have to include integrated systems, but to not include any is very rare.”

CABA is a nonprofit industry association that distributes knowledge on smart buildings among its members and industry, and promotes the implementation of intelligent technologies in homes and buildings across North America.  

Zimmer estimates that the return on investment from energy reduction and the incorporation of an energy management system into a building can reduce lifetime energy costs by 35 to 45 percent. CABA is currently undertaking a research study called “Convergence of Green and Intelligent Buildings” that will quantify the energy savings and outline the long-term benefits to commercial institutions and multiresidential facilities of using intelligent and green building features.

“Energy costs have skyrocketed,” says Zimmer. “And today that is the biggest driver for integrated systems. People are feeling the pain in their bottom line and operating costs due to the high cost of energy.”

Though standards related to building codes and installation have existed for decades, green intelligent buildings have paved the way for new building-related standards.

“The latest trend is looking at total performance of the whole building as a system,” says Tubrett. 

Standards are also necessary in this area to facilitate partnerships between once separate occupations such as IT personnel, architects, building designers, and building contractors. 

“This begins at the earliest stage of design using a method called integrated design process (IDP). IDP is a standardized protocol that brings architects, building operators, and engineers together,” says Tubrett.

By bringing the design team together, IDP can reduce or even eliminate systems to achieve energy efficiency. Given that industry uses IDP, CSA is proposing a development project that would result in the publication of a Canadian national standard on IDP.

“The process includes feedback loops so all of the players come to the table and keep communicating with each other to make sure they have the most integrated design possible,” says Tubrett. “This ensures the most efficient and energywise practices are being integrated from the beginning. This also avoids confusion and expense from design changes later in the development process.”

Green awareness has resulted in environmentally savvy consumers who demand and expect greener products and services. Consumers, however, aren’t the only proponents of environmental building practices.

“Green intelligent building is more mainstream than it was five years ago,” says Tubrett. “Large architectural firms, building owners, government, and consumers have helped push it along.”

The total number of green intelligent buildings is difficult to come by at this point. Zimmer says official data is not yet available, but he adds that green intelligent buildings aren’t being constructed quickly enough.

According to the 2008 report "Green Building in North America," published by the Montreal-based organization Commission for Environmental Cooperation, green building accounts for approximately 2 percent of the new nonresidential building market in the United States. Though the number is small, it says green building has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to increase almost five-fold (between 5 and 10 percent) by 2010. The report acknowledges that similar comprehensive surveys of Canada’s green construction haven’t been conducted, but says it’s generally accepted that Canada’s green building trends are comparable to the United States.

An increase in the number of building projects certified as “green” (through various voluntary rating systems) provides some quantitative evidence. Adoption of the LEED program points to rapid growth of green buildings in Canada. In 2006, there were only 42 LEED-certified buildings in Canada. That number has more than doubled in a span of two years. As of July 2008, 108 projects had been LEED-certified and hundreds more are registered to be certified once they are completed. In the United States, there are currently 2,476 LEED-certified projects, according to the latest U.S. Green Building Council document, "Green Building by the Numbers."

From 1997–2007, a voluntary program offered through Natural Resources Canada certified 1,132 buildings as highly energy-efficient buildings. Though the Commercial Building Incentive Program has since closed, by its end, the program was confident it had touched 15 percent of the commercial building square footage in Canada.

Despite the environmental offenses historically committed by building construction, experts agree that building greener, smarter buildings by addressing and modifying their environmental effect is becoming reality.

“Whether ‘green intelligent buildings’ is a buzz word or a term that will have longevity, I’m not sure,” says Tubrett. “But more responsible design and building operating practice are here to stay.”

This article first appeared in Volume 35 of Consensus magazine, in 2008. Consensus is Canada's standardization magazine and is published annually by the Standards Council of Canada.


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Standards Council of Canada

The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) is a federal Crown corporation. It has its mandate to promote efficient and effective standardization in Canada.