As energy prices continue to rise and concerns about “global warming” and “carbon footprints” become more widespread, the building industry is beginning to change to address these new concerns. We are currently at the leading edge of the “green building” phenomenon — buildings designed to minimize energy and material waste, maximize recyclability and efficiency, and create healthy, sustainable environments. Beginning with schools and government buildings, this trend is now radiating out through commercial and even residential structures. The process is being led by a non-profit group, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) which has established its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to evaluate how well the design of a new building or renovation of an existing building has been tailored to address environmental and energy efficiency concerns. The USGS acts as an independent evaluator giving certification (as a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum Plaque) to buildings based on this set of guidelines and certifies individuals (Accredited Professionals or AP’s) based on a computerized exam about the LEED standards.

Studies have shown that more than 80% of a building’s life cycle costs are associated with the operation and repair of a building over time, 19% is associated with the initial construction and less than 1% is attributable to design and engineering costs. The design and installation of better-insulated buildings or more efficient HVAC systems have the opportunity to repair initial design and construction costs ten-fold over a building’s lifetime. Taking short cuts in the design of the building not only means a heavier cost burden for the future owners of the building but also for the environment as a whole because of the extra coal and other fossil fuels that will be needed to heat and cool the structure over the many decades that it will exist.

Here in Newport, the first LEED certified residence is being completed. There is often a misconception that to build such a structure would mean putting solar panels on the roof or creating a structure that looks futuristic and which is expensive to build. This structure, located at 485 Spring Street, disproves these ideas of what a sustainably designed and built structure would look like. The renovated house looks like a Victorian-era cottage, but inside insulated concrete foundations, utilization of recycled material for construction, and durable siding will give the building longevity and energy efficiency. My firm, A4 Architecture, was privileged to be the designer of the project and Atlantic Building and Renovation was the builder.

The project would not have been possible without the cooperation and involvement of the building owner, Derek Boudreau. Boudreau states, “As you undertake projects either on your own or as part of an institution where you are a stakeholder, ask what provisions are being made to utilize the most efficient and environmentally products that can be accommodated by the budget.” Enquire if LEED certification is being considered and learn whether the design staff has any LEED accredited professionals on the team. These questions will at least ensure that opportunities to improve the function of the building while lowering the long-term cost to operate the structure will not be missed. To twist the old adage about construction, it is better to “plan twice, but build once.” Planning has always had to address aesthetics, function, and budget, but more and more, the issues of environmental impact and energy efficiency are becoming important considerations. People who care about design and historic preservation are dedicated to leaving beautiful and well-built structures behind but should be equally anxious to preserve an environmental condition that will allow future generations to properly enjoy those riches.


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Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA, LEED AP, is an historian, educator and living and working in Newport and is Managing Director of A4 Architecture. This article was initially published in ARCHI-TEXT, in Newport This Week, August 4, 2011.