This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

March 30, 2006 - green buildings save money

I used to live across the street from an old architect, trained in the 1950s. Back then, he said, architects believed buildings needed to "breathe." Public buildings used to have windows that opened.

Then came the energy crunch of the 1970s. To deal with wildly rising costs, owners scrambled to tighten up, even hermetically seal their buildings.

It wasn't easy. People kept opening doors to get in and out. (Imagine!) Air escapes other ways, too. So, figuring that fresh air leaked in, too, many building managers did something few people know about: they turned off the air intake valves.

It made heating or cooling the building much cheaper, because it was mostly about recirculating the same air.

At about the same time, lots of new building materials came along. New glues. New, less expensive plywoods.

The glues were used to hold down the carpet. The reconstituted plywood lined the inside of many a home.

But the recirculated air was thick with staleness, germs, and mold. Many people are allergic to some of the compounds in the glues. The plywood, it turned out, released concentrated formaldehyde, for many months.

And a new phrase entered our lexicon: "sick building." Remember Legionnaires' Disease?

Here's an irony. The Environmental Protection Agency poohpoohed some of the early findings. Buildings can't make you sick!

Then their headquarters got all new carpeting. The carpeting was backed with those new glues.

And the whole agency called in sick.

It makes you wonder: how many days of productivity are lost annually due to illness? How much of that illness is preventable?

Well, eventually a group of architects, engineers, and builders was formed called the United States Green Building Council. (For more information, see www.greenbuildexpo.com.) They're the folks behind a kind of education called "LEED." That stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It's also a rating system -- a way for owners and buildings to quantify the actual performance of a building on several dimensions.

These standards apply to new commercial construction and renovation. They refer to existing building operations -- to give you a baseline. There are LEED guides to core and shell projects, homes, neighborhood development projects, and more.

Incidentally, we're not talking about teepees, geodesic domes, and yurts, here. Green building is now about 20% of the construction sector activity: green buildings are rising in Manhattan, underwritten by major banking firms. Wal-Mart, Costco, and others are investing in the idea as a competitive advantage. Green buildings may cost a little more to build, but they recover their costs in operations, often within a year or two.

Here's the other thing: a number of schools are looking at building green, too. They should be. The students who attend green schools score some 20% higher than their peers. Why not? Better lighting. Better air movement. No hot and cold spots. Healthy environments make it easier to concentrate and learn.

When was the last time you saw anything about that in a CSAP report?

There are green hospitals. Patients there have measurably shorter stays. Why? Because they recover faster.

The library has been interested in this movement for a long time. We've even recycled whole buildings: a bowling alley, a grocery store. Our facilities manager is a LEED-accredited professional.

We have yet to build a LEED-certified building -- although that's definitely the future of building. Just maybe, it ought to be a focus for both public and private sectors of Douglas County.

Incidentally, Denver will be hosting the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at the Colorado Convention Center from November 15-17 later this year. We'll be there.

It might be a smart thing for all of us to know how to build smarter buildings.

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