The Benefits of Life-Cycle Costing

In the past, sustainable building design may have been more expensive than following a more traditional construction route. Improvements in both materials and building systems, and a greater commitment to building green facilities, are thankfully changing that perception. Designing and constructing sustainable projects may cost more initially, but an analysis of life-cycle costs shows that building green can also positively benefit the bottom line as well as the environment.

Designing Differently

Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff boasts three Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) buildings as certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, including the Applied Research Development (ARD) building, which is one of the highest scored LEED Platinum-rated buildings in the world. According to Rich Bowen, NAU’s vice president for economic development and sustainability, the University has changed how it designs buildings in an effort to achieve environmental as well as economic goals. “We now begin each project with the premise that all our buildings will be designed to achieve LEED certification rather than trying to work in green features later during the project process,” he said. “Life-cycle costing is not an add-on, but the way we design. You design from a different perspective when you look at long-term environmental investments from day one.”

Bowen said that, in the past, the approach was to obtain as much program as possible for the money available and that environmental aspects were often an afterthought. Now, the approach is to provide the required program while designing sustainable buildings at close to the same cost as traditional construction.

“The ARD building is an excellent example that life-cycle costing is beneficial and that it is not more expensive but vastly more beneficial,” Bowen said. “We made key decisions early regarding the building’s orientation, daylighting features, energy management, and numerous other facets to establish a foundation for achieving success. With life-cycle costing, you can determine the best fit — both economically and environmentally — if you embrace the major philosophical challenge of changing how you design.”

The $26M project, designed by Burns Wald-Hopkins Architects, earned 60 out of a possible 69 points from the LEED rating system. Features include a photovoltaic power system donated by the Arizona Public Service Company that provides at least 20 percent of the facility’s electricity. Automatic shade controls, venting windows, and an “enthalpy wheel” regulate the building’s temperature. Working together, the design and automated systems result in a 60 percent reduction in energy consumption compared to traditional buildings. Other features include a green roof, water reclamation systems for landscaping and toilet flushing, pervious concrete for the parking lot, and the extensive use of recycled materials, including denim jeans for insulation.

According to Barnes, the ARD facility’s construction cost was only about 10 percent higher than non-environmentally friendly buildings. While the first cost was more expensive, he notes that the lessons learned in designing and constructing the building will allow NAU and others to develop high-performance facilities at a lower cost in the future. In addition, the energy-saving features will make up the cost difference within five years.

“Building sustainable facilities doesn’t cost more over the long-term if you commit at the beginning to that approach,” Bowen stated. “Colleges and universities can build green projects as economically as conventional buildings while also reaping important environmental benefits.”

Integrated Solutions
Brian Lomel, principal with TLC Engineers in Deerfield, FL, enthusiastically agrees with Bowen regarding the importance of committing early to green building design. “The commitment to sustainability at the beginning of a project puts all team members on the same page,” he said. “This, coupled with an integrated solutions strategy, results in long-term economic and environmental benefits.”

Lomel observed that, in the past, mechanical and electrical engineers were often given a set of plans and then told to make the building as energy-efficient as possible. Upfront discussions regarding environmental features were limited. With an integrated systems approach, all aspects of a building are analyzed in concert to maximize the benefits of life-cycle costing.

“You cannot study one aspect of a building,” Lomel stated. “It’s imperative that you analyze the entire building as it functions together, and that you evaluate and balance all components in order to maximize benefits.”

Higher education clients typically go after longer life-cycle value as compared to clients developing commercial properties, in Lomel’s opinion. He said that his company’s education clients are also more likely to view the construction of sustainable buildings as a teaching tool in addition to positively impacting the environment and the bottom line. For this reason, achieving a payback in five years, sometimes longer, for investing in better systems is acceptable.

TLC was responsible for the mechanical and engineering design for the Christine E. Lynn School of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton. The $13M facility is certified LEED Gold for new construction and illustrates the importance of integrated systems design. Building features include carbon dioxide monitoring, lighting controls, systems for reduced energy consumption, a reflective roof, and glazed windows to let in light but not heat.

“Our experience is that investing in systems for a LEED Gold building costs three to five percent more than traditional construction,” said Lomel. “FAU will achieve a 20 percent savings in energy consumption and 40 percent in water savings based on the design decisions they made. The payback for going green is the right choice, and confirms the wisdom of placing great value on life-cycle costs.”

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