Starting a new construction project is never dull. Big picture thinkers revel in images of the finished product, knowing that all of the hard work to come will result in a structure that fits their current needs. But what about tomorrow’s needs? When planning a project, it’s important—and ultimately cost-effective—for plans to include building for the future.
What changes do you anticipate encountering, and how will you prepare for the ones you don’t or can’t predict? Anyone who has ever worked on a retro-fit project will likely agree that it’s easier to include features the first time around than to go back and add them later.
Whether it’s a business, hospital or school, it’s important to think ahead when planning, not just how much space you’ll need, but how that space is distributed. The inclusion of multi-use spaces is a great way to prepare for a variance in occupants, and will also be a selling point if the structure is ever rented out or sold. By thinking of the “life cycle” of the structure, you can build for flexibility.
Within the space of a structure, it’s important to prepare for advances in technology. Having plentiful outlets and adapters to accommodate varied use of space will be key, as will having easily accessible wiring systems. By considering the new and noteworthy in green features, such as low-flow toilets and faucets and insulated heating and cooling ducts, the money saved on water and energy bills will help make up for the additional cost of new features.
Another area where flexibility and adaptability are important is in climate control. In what seasons will the building be used? In any weather, shading the building’s windows significantly reduces heating and cooling needs, as do double-paned windows. This is another example of how spending more to begin with will be rewarding over time.
Green roofs and rooftop gardens can also save energy by reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling. In addition, the soil in these features diverts rainwater from storm sewers. The benefits do need to be measured against the building’s weight gain; while a dry green roof adds only 17 pounds per square foot to a roof, a garden can add up to 100 pounds per square foot.
A Sustainable Future
The previous considerations take into account the building’s future phases, but the building’s entire life cycle, including it’s deconstruction, should be considered. What will happen with the building when it reaches the end of it’s useful life? Structures continue to impact the environmental landscape even after they’re no longer in use. Using building materials that contain recycled content and have environmental certifications or environmental product declarations such as “cradle-to-grave” means the manufacturer has considered the building’s entire lifespan. These considerations enable design and construction professionals to be responsible stewards who are mindful of the health and well-being of the people who occupy the buildings as well as the landscape the buildings impact, both presently as well as in the future.
According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), increased efficiency in construction and building maintenance would eliminate 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions each year while saving the U.S. economy $130 billion. While building for today and fixing it later can seem like an attractive way to defer costs, the reality is the initial design and construction of a building is only 11 percent of what a building owner will spend over it’s life. They will spend 25 percent on renovations, 50 percent on operations and 14 percent financing the project. Integrative design and construction that considers the life of the building will not only considerably save operational and maintenance costs, but will have little impact on initial costs as well.