The federal government may lose money-saving opportunities by capping the expenses for green-building features in renovation projects, Wisconsin consultants warn.
The U.S. Department of Energy is accepting public comments until July 27 on proposed green-building requirements for renovations to federal buildings, such as post offices and courthouses. The rules would apply to projects worth more than $2.6 million, and contractors could forgo green-building requirements if adhering to them would increase project budgets by more than 3 percent.
“I would say they shouldn’t limit themselves,” said Richard Walker, senior vice president of the Milwaukee office of TransWestern, a nationwide real estate and consulting company. “They should take it on a case-by-case basis.”
The requirements would include reducing water use by 20 percent, collecting and reusing rainwater, and installing more efficient light and water fixtures. But unlike federal green-building rules for new construction, the renovation rules would kick in based on initial project costs.
The rules for new construction require green-building features if departments determine the energy savings from sustainable practices, over time, would pay for the upfront construction costs.
“There’s things that will make sense for them to go above and beyond 3 percent to go green,” Walker said, “and there’s times where it will not make sense.”
Some of renovation requirements, such as installing lights that dim when there is more sunlight entering a building, are cheap ways to cut long-term energy costs for buildings, said Dirk Mason, director of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design services for the Leonardo Academy, a Madison-based nonprofit organization that provides green-building consulting to project owners. He said it is hard to say at what point the federal government should limit spending because each project will be unique.
“In terms of 3 percent,” he said, “I think it’s better than zero. It’s putting some direction on where emphasis should be placed, and I can understand in today’s economic times putting limits on how much should be spent.”
The city of Milwaukee has included green-building products and practices, such as materials recycling, in its renovation projects without exceeding cost estimates, said Venu Gupta, superintendent for facilities development management for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works. But it has been unable to install new systems to harvest and reuse rainwater, for example, because they cost too much to build.
The systems would force the city to build a huge storage tank to hold water and to install new pipes and pumps so the water can be used in city toilets, Gupta said. But the department is exploring them for future projects if elected officials approve the budget for them, he said.
Walker warned a hard limit could force federal agencies to cut from projects green-building features that could have generated savings over time. More expensive features, such as solar water heating systems, could bump budgets past a 3 percent increase limit, but also could pay for themselves by cutting the federal governmentís cost of using the building, he said.
“You may be able to say, ‘I’ll do 10 percent more,'” Walker said, ‘but it could be a brilliant thing to do on that application.”