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LEED standards shape building envelope practices

Jean Sorensen

While the leaky condo crisis has reshaped the whole concept of how the construction industry looked at building envelopes, other changes are looming to shape both the quality and cost of building exteriors.

Building Design

While the leaky condo crisis has reshaped the whole concept of how the construction industry looked at building envelopes, other changes are looming to shape both the quality and cost of building exteriors.

“We aren’t really spending more (today),” said Aaron MacLellan, an engineer with Aqua-Coast Engineering, a building envelope firm.

He estimated the increased cost from pre to post condo leak days is really only about 10 per cent.

“We are spending a lot more on brain power than on resources,” he said, adding contractors now pay greater attention to details.

Some in the industry claim it is the energy conservation or green movement that is really adding to the cost of building envelopes.

MacLellan estimated it can add another 10 per cent to costs.

The movement is also highly susceptible to consumer trends and what’s in their pocketbooks.

As the market tightens, and developers want to ensure the building is populated, some of these green improvements can be sacrificed.

Jeongsik Jeong of JSD Envelope Engineering Ltd. said the industry is still in a “learning curve” when it comes to designing green or sustainable envelopes and is still experimenting with products and designs to achieve varying objectives.

Basic building envelope technology and design has been around for 50 years, he said, added that the industry has only been dealing with green buildings for about three years.

Sophie Mercier is the president of the B.C. Building Envelope Council.

She said that the three year push has been driven by governments adopting LEED standards on public buildings, while organizations such as ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has progressively placed more stringent requirements in meeting their standards.

ASHRAE has its third edition of a green guide printed, while it also has a certification program for those carrying out energy assessments.

B.C.’s building code is also undergoing a greening while the City of Vancouver in its bid to become greener has maintained that new buildings will be carbon neutral and existing buildings will be 20 per cent more energy efficient by 2020, Mercier said.

While these government or regulatory facts play a role in determining building envelope design, the challenge is getting consumers to pay for them and recognize what provides value in the long term.

There is much more that can be done to achieve higher energy conservation in building envelopes, Mercier said, but consumer focus often on interior furnishing rather than exterior values.

“When you buy a car, you know all kinds of information about it such as how many kilometres you get per litre, but we don’t have that for buildings,” she said.

However, there has been a significant change that could change that.

Bill 8, an amendment bill to the Strata Property Act has been passed.

It contains a requirement for mandatory reserve funding in strata properties, with councils having to hire professionals to evaluate various building components – including the building envelope – and a portion of the replacement cost mandated into a reserve fund.

A roof with a 25-year life would require 1/25th of the replacement cost set aside each year.

Patrick Williams of Clark Wilson LLP’s strata property group said the “easy” parts of Bill 8 “were brought on Dec. 10, 2009” however these “depreciation reports” on building components are harder to implement.

There have been ongoing sessions with government, lawyers, property managers, building envelope specialists and all those recommendations are being put into a white paper to be made pubic.

What the regulations will do (although strata owners can vote with a 75 per cent majority to ignore the regulation) will make consumers more aware of what materials the developer is using and who built the structure.

Vancouver architect Walter Frankl believes that the building envelope really governs the operating viability of a structure.

“If you don’t have a good basic envelope, then you have to address the envelope through mechanical and electrical,” he said. “A good envelope is the first order of business.”

But, that said, Frankl maintains there are trade-offs.

“Developers are always concerned about the view,” said Frankl speaking about the Vancouver cityscape.

Marketing features of a building can compete with sustainability design.

He said green building features such as rainwater recycling and reuse differ from energy performance and impact the bottom line of the operating costs differently.

Such features impact end-users differently.

“I think the development community is pretty attuned to where their market is,” he said.

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