Living Buildings gain financial cred
While architects and engineers across the country have been working to design buildings to meet the Living Building Challenge, a green building rating system developed by Cascadia Green Building Council, most developers and lenders still need a little convincing that such buildings make financial sense.
A recently released financial study on Living Building provides new fodder for such decision makers.
Although meeting the Living Building Challenge was projected to cost more than meeting Gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the recent study found the extra costs result in higher performance resulting in a payback period of fewer than 20 years.
Developers planning to retain ownership of the building over the long term stand to benefit the most, according to the study published in April by Cascadia Green Building Council and conducted by Portland-based SERA Architects with Skanska USA Building, Portland-based Gerding Edlen Development, White Salmon-based New Buildings Institute and Interface Engineering.
Taking the construction documentation of nine LEED-Gold buildings located in Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix and Portland—some of the nation's highest performing buildings—the authors of the study modified the building plans so they met the prerequisites of the Living Building Challenge. The authors then asked how much each modified building would cost if it were located in each of the four cities.
Of the 36 "prototype" Living Buildings, 24 were shown to have a payback of 20 years. In fact, they were found to cost as little as 5 percent more than buildings designed to meet LEED-Gold standards. The highest cost increase was 49 percent.
One of the study's strengths is that it assumes use of readily available technology, which lends credence to its findings, according to Brian Geller, sustainablity specialist at the Seattle office of Zimmer, Gunsul, Frasca Architects. One of the firm's LEED Platinum projects, the 12th and Washington Building, served as a model for the study.
"The modifications done are simple," Geller says. "They make the building thinner, add an atrium for daylight, use solar panels and living machines for water technologies. these have been around for decades. Their costs are well known."