Working with Owners to Achieve the Right Level of Sustainability

Over the past decade, sustainability has come to mean different things to different groups of people. While everyone agrees that protecting our environment for the long term is an important and serious goal, there are many different connotations of the word Sustainability. These can include “necessary”, “long-term”, “net-zero”, “carbon-neutral”, “health”, “cost-saving”, and “expensive”, to name a few.

Business owners throughout numerous market sectors have varying approaches on how they will incorporate sustainable design elements into their projects. Often factors that need to be considered include the type of project they are envisioning and whether it is a new facility or renovation, schedule requirements, the availability of local and sustainable products, and cost, as often the biggest driver. Additionally, items that are now required by the various California building codes can dictate the direction that a project needs to proceed.

For many clients, an initial discussion, prior to design on sustainability elements, is important to understand the framework and constraints for each project. Once these parameters are defined, we work to assess what options are immediately available and viable, and which “stretch goals” we can also obtain.

Items that have lower costs, are easily attainable, and have immediate measurable results include items such as insulation with higher R-values. This higher value coupled with more energy-efficient wall and roof assemblies is an extremely attainable way to reduce energy usage in a building and works equally effectively in commercial, institutional, and residential buildings. Another element is to design rain screens that separate the exterior finish from the main building envelope and provide additional air space – protecting water infiltration – and adds airflow to mitigate long-term moisture issues.

Adding solar strategies to a building is a requirement in the California Energy Code but also it is also a way to lessen energy usage and provide energy back to the grid. This strategy, coupled with peak metering can be a one-two punch toward elimination of additional energy reliance. These peak metering systems use battery energy storage from the solar panels which can then draw from these sources during that peak usage time of 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. These systems range in size from residential through large commercial and industrial capacity.

Initial, common sense sustainable strategies also include thinking through items that are natural and local to the environment of the project. These can include stones and timber that are locally sourced, old buildings that are disassembled, and components re-used in a new way – think old barn beams that become new flooring – indigenous landscaping and xero-scaping.

LDA Partners has participated in many of these discussions with our clients and have implemented sustainable design options for projects from simple to full net-zero energy projects like our recently completed San Mateo County Animal Shelter and a custom design passive house overlooking a vineyard.

We are all working toward the goal of a more sustainable future and California’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. Together we can achieve these goals.