5 High-Performance Building Principles For Renovations
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Renovations to older buildings guided by high-performance building principles can convert them to appealing, Class-A assets, greatly increasing their income-generating potential, desirability and value.
“Investing in an energy retrofit is a popular solution to transform a diamond in the rough into a high-performance building, but it’s not as easy as it sounds,” said Ledcor Renew Director of Operations Morgan McDonald, who leads the company’s high-performance building group.
McDonald offered five key considerations for owners and developers based on his extensive office and multifamily projects.
1. Resist picking the low-hanging fruit
Many retrofit projects like lighting or controls upgrades are easy to justify with a simple payback calculation. While these improvements likely will quickly win approval, they may represent a missed opportunity for a more complete renovation aimed at long-term viability and profitability.
“Invariably, your building will need other upgrades that are harder to justify this way, whether now or in a few years' time,” McDonald said. “We have seen even the most sophisticated owners struggle with figuring out how to invest in major capital upgrades after having done all of the easy work years before.”
He advises developers to strategically assemble a bundle of projects, combining the easy and tough sells, then build a business case for the whole package. Stakeholders can use energy savings, value-added projections and other financial and nonfinancial metrics to advocate for the project.
"You will need detailed construction costing and performance forecasts, as well as a long-term vision for the property, in order to strike the right balance for your project,” he said.
The Ledcor philosophy emphasizes pre-construction services to achieve this.
2. Integrate design and construction
Design-bid-build is the in-vogue approach to procurement for both new and retrofit construction projects, but with existing buildings, there are many unknowns that warrant engaging a contractor earlier in the process.
“Designers and cost consultants often will not be able to provide the cost certainty and constructability analysis you will require to make sound investment decisions,” McDonald said.
Developers should instead consider alternative approaches that better marry design and construction, like project and construction management, design-build or any number of integrated design methods to take advantage of contractors’ insights and obtain price certainty prior to groundbreaking.
3. Do not confuse green certification with performance
As environmental awareness and stewardship permeate legislative and corporate priorities, green building standards have become abundant. Although reducing energy consumption is a universally shared goal, different approaches do not all necessarily deliver long-term savings.
“Your consultants will often find and favor the path to certification with the lowest upfront cost, but this approach can leave valuable savings opportunities on the table,” McDonald said. “Some certification programs have market cachet, but that can change, whereas strategic investments in improving building performance will bring enduring savings for years to come.”
4. Do not treat sustainability as an add-on
“Just 15 years ago, people might not have known what you were talking about if you mentioned green building and sustainability consulting,” McDonald said. “Now it has become a known commodity, clearly defined and distinct from other roles on design and construction projects.”
The downside to this is that sustainability objectives are often treated as distinct. McDonald is routinely asked how much it would cost to upgrade a project to LEED Gold, Passive House or Net Zero Energy down the road. He said a high-performance building would incorporate sustainability goals throughout and recoup those savings through bottom-line improvements.
“Treating sustainability as an add-on is the most expensive and least elegant method, and, unsurprisingly, when presented in this manner it’s the sustainability add-ons that are the first to be cut during value engineering,” he said.
5. Complement as-built drawings with property data
As-built drawings are deceptively named, because they seldom match the finished product and the dissimilarity grows over time. According to McDonald, gathering baseline data for a retrofit project should involve multiple sources, including drawings, site inspections, interviews with key building people, utility bill analysis, service calls, repairs and sometimes destructive testing. Owners may be reluctant to spend money at the start of a project, but this information is critical.
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