Questions people always ask about green building technology

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Green building

Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) refers to both a structure and the application of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.[1]  This requires close cooperation of the contractor, the architects, the engineers, and the client at all project stages.[2]  The Green Building practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.[3]

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Other certificates system that confirms the sustainability of buildings is the British BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) for buildings and large-scale developments. Currently, World Green Building Council is conducting research on the effects of green buildings on the health and productivity of their users and is working with World Bank to promote Green Buildings in Emerging Markets through EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) Market Transformation Program and certification.[4]  There are also other tools such as Green Star in Australia and the Green Building Index (GBI) predominantly used in Malaysia.

Although new technologies are constantly being developed to complement current practices in creating greener structures, the common objective of green buildings is to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:

A similar concept is natural building, which is usually on a smaller scale and tends to focus on the use of natural materials that are available locally.[5]  Other related topics include sustainable design and green architecture. Sustainability may be defined as meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.[6]  Although some green building programs don’t address the issue of the retrofitting existing homes, others do, especially through public schemes for energy efficient refurbishment. Green construction principles can easily be applied to retrofit work as well as new construction.

A 2009 report by the U.S. General Services Administration found 12 sustainably-designed buildings that cost less to operate and have excellent energy performance. In addition, occupants were overall more satisfied with the building than those in typical commercial buildings. These are eco-friendly buildings




Questions people always ask about green building technology


The NEWS: First of all, what makes you two experts in the green building movement? Please tell NEWS readers your experience in this market – in other words, why they should believe what you say in regard to the green building movement.

Lamb: We believe in and support the green building movement and have made it a primary concern of our association. Green building is the right thing to do, right now. We have an energy crisis in this country that is costing all of us and devaluing our dollar. We have a water crisis, both drinkable-potable water and storm water. We have indoor air quality issues. The LEED system forces you to look at both air quality issues and energy issues and balance the two. Credential-wise, I will refer you to my colleague, Mr. Bulley.

Bulley: I have had an interest in this area before it was even an area. I became an engineer because I was interested in alternate energy. But 20 years ago, there was no market. Now I get to bring one of my passions to the workplace.

I am currently very involved in the green building arena. I give a lot of time to green concerns, both my own and the association’s, so MCA Chicago certainly puts its time and money where its mouth is. I work with the Chicago chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, where I’m on the board and also treasurer. I was in charge of all student volunteers for Greenbuild 2007, one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I’m on MCAA’s emerging trends task force, the MCAA/UA green technology committee, and even the Naperville Enviro-Link Team.

Once I passed my LEED AP exam, I started teaching both contractors and design professionals to become familiar with LEED and take the exam. I was recently featured at an Illinois ASHRAE seminar on LEED and doubled their usual attendance.

And, I am now putting together a course on LEED EB (existing building), which is the way green building is now heading.

Pictured is a screenshot of the Website for Construction Education Institute of MCA Chicago ( The institute provides learning opportunities, including green building classes, to member contractors.


The NEWS: In regard to the green building movement, what are the 10 most important things an HVAC contractor should know?

Lamb: I will bow to Dan’s knowledge for the answers to this question.

Bulley: These aren’t in any special order – except for No. 1, since gaining knowledge is always the first step in any endeavor.

1. Learn LEED.

2. Understand the energy-saving equipment, such as variable-frequency drives.

3. Become more familiar with commissioning and how it impacts the job.

4. Become proficient with indoor air quality and ASHRAE 62.1.

5. Understand how to protect indoor air quality during the construction process.

6. Know the paperwork involved with your side of LEED jobs.

7. Know at least a little bit about the ASHRAE energy codes.

8. The impact of non-HVAC related items (building architecture, construction materials, etc.).

9. Importance of being involved in the planning and design phases.

10. Importance of recordkeeping for proof of compliance.


The NEWS: Since it seems everyone has their own definition of green, what, in your opinion, is the correct definition of green?

Lamb: Conserving our natural resources, such as fossil fuels, water, air, and the environment in general. We have a fixed amount of resources and its past time we start conserving them. Mechanical systems make up a big part of this equation and that is why we are getting involved in a big way.

Bulley: The best definition I have heard for sustainability is: Use of resources now (materials, utilities, energy, etc.) so they have zero to minimal impact on future generations’ resources.


The NEWS: How can a mechanical contractor get up-to-speed with the green building market? What would be your advice? Where should they go?

Lamb: Entering the green building market, like any business endeavor, must first start with research and education. Green building is a very exacting discipline, so rushing into it won’t do you much good. Find a suitable educational resource in your area. If you’re one of our member contractors – or would like to become one – MCA Chicago should have everything they need.

Bulley: We started offering green classes back in 2005. At that time, we were partnering with the Chicago Center for Green Technology. Now we offer green classes, as well as a series of webinars, and also promote and subsidize members’ attendance to Chicago chapter USGBC classes. The basic classes are just that – an introduction to green building. After that, attendees can take a study class and then test and achieve their LEED AP credential.

Dan Bulley is senior vice president of MCA Chicago, considered Chicago’s resident expert on green building. In addition to his duties with the association, he is also secretary of the Chicago chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), volunteer chair for Greenbuild, and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP).


The NEWS: It appears MCA Chicago made a strong stand in regard to green building. Tell NEWS readers what, as an association, it is doing to help its members in the green building market.

Lamb: We are telling members that green isn’t just a trend – it’s the wave of the future, and we are giving them the education to ride that wave. Also, we are showing them potential business opportunities. Basically, we are helping them to do more business, make more money, and not be left behind by the green building revolution that’s coming to life nationwide.

Bulley: We provide training opportunities for contractor CEOs through our executive forum. During our next executive forum, one of the educational sessions will be presented by our marketing expert, Nancy Nehlsen, of Nehlsen Communications, and she will discuss how member contractors can incorporate green building into their marketing.

Plus, we offer other courses, including several green building offerings, through our Construction Education Institute (CEI). Our PipeLine News newsletter also has articles on green building, and we offer green webinars, too.


The NEWS: This spring, MCA Chicago is scheduled to move into a sustainable building in Burr Ridge, Ill. What part did the association have in the building of this new headquarters? Did it have a total say in what went into its creation? Is the building occupied by MCA Chicago only? Please provide details as to what mechanical system went into building, why that was the choice, how large of a building it is, etc.

Lamb: Our board had every say. They said from the beginning they wanted a LEED building, and we’re attempting LEED Gold. It is being built even as we speak. MCA Chicago will use the entire building. Half of the 9,000-square-foot facility will be offices, while the other half will be used for classes. Previously, our classes have been held in locations throughout Chicagoland. Since educational programming is a top function of MCA Chicago, the availability of in-house classrooms, and ample parking, were considered top priorities.

Bulley: The building features the following and more: white-reflective green roof; high-efficiency lighting; high-efficiency plumbing, donated by Sloan Valve; low-emitting materials such as flooring, walls and paint; closed cell foam insulation; natural lighting; extra occupant controls; and special indoor air quality both during operation of the building and during construction. The building will be professionally commissioned.

Stephen Lamb is executive vice president of MCA Chicago. He is dedicated to providing learning opportunities for members. To date, Lamb has put together many sessions on the topic of green building.


The NEWS: Do you believe building owners are looking for green solutions? If so, what can an HVAC contractor bring to the table? If they are not, how can an HVAC contractor change their way of thinking?

Lamb: More and more building owners are considering and deciding upon green solutions. From statistics I have seen, the tide is changing to favor green solutions. FMI projects that $21.2 billion of new nonresidential construction will use green building principles in 2008, which will be a 58 percent increase over 2006. Green building is becoming popular – and a business necessity – at such a rapid rate, HVAC contractors won’t always have to do much convincing. It will be like having to convince someone that they should wear a safety belt when they’re driving. Deep down, most people realize it’s the right thing to do.

Bulley: When you consider that the efficiency – the success or failure – of a green building depends on its mechanical systems, an HVAC contractor has quite a lot to bring to the table. He or she is bringing the expertise needed to make a green building the best it can be. When talking to building owners, HVAC contractors should be prepared to talk about the energy savings that green solutions can put into effect.

All good business people like to save money, and if they can help the environment at the same time, that’s clearly a win-win situation.


The NEWS: The Green Mechanical Council was created, somewhat, in answer to the U.S. Green Building Council. When originally formed, GreenMech said the mechanical side of a building should have its own accreditation and/or designation. It was the association’s contention that the USGBC could provide LEED credentials from an architect’s perspective, but not from the mechanical side. Should there be specific designations for the mechanical systems inside a building, apart from LEED? Please provide your thoughts.

Lamb: MCA’s green advocacy predates the formation of the Green Mechanical Council. But, another voice promoting green is always a good thing.

Bulley: I applaud the efforts and intentions of the Green Mechanical Council, but do have some concern that separate rules and accreditation could really complicate things.

Green building has a healthy presence on the MCA Chicago Website (, shown here.


The NEWS: A contractor has to sell a building owner on green. Generally speaking, if this does not involve saving money, it won’t fly with a building owner. Therefore, green should mean putting green in an owner’s pocket. So as to help HVAC contractors sell green, list 10 ways a building owner can provide green, as well as save green, from the mechanical side of the equation.

Lamb: It would be hard to list 10 items. The designers can promote this investment by calculating what the costs are and payback will be. Of course, at times the payback period may be beyond the time the developer/owner anticipates keeping the building. One has to consider the goals, intentions and ‘Earth-friendliness’ of the owner. There will always be people who won’t see eye-to-eye with green building. Unfortunately, that can’t be helped – though someday, those people may have to face green building-related legislation.

Bulley: There are so many ways. It would be hard to list 10. Any improvement on energy efficiency – ASHRAE 90.1 Standard – will save operating costs. It depends on the building. However, contractors can help improve energy efficiency balanced with good indoor air quality. One saves money and energy, the other saves tenants and productivity. Owners do need to be realistic about payback times on both ends. If you won’t be there long, then you need to decide whether it will help you sell the building, which it probably will. If you will be there, say, 10 or more years, then you should consider a longer payback than a couple of years. Because once you pay it off, it’s like free money.


The NEWS: Ten years from now, where do you believe the green building movement will stand? What will make it strong? What will make it weak?

Lamb: Green will be the way to go. Like I said, future legislation could make green building even more of a necessity than it is now. What will make it weak? Opposition by people who resist change. But I believe the movement is growing and cannot be crushed at this or any future point.

Bulley: Politics, implemented by those who oppose the movement, could hurt it. Rising energy prices will help it. I think eventually, we will see LEED requirements mandated by law, incorporated in local building codes. Tax credits from the federal government will help it. I agree with Steve, though: The green building movement is very strong and will only grow in popularity and strength.



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