Mini-Storage Messenger, August 2007

Achieving Eco-Friendly Status for the Planet (And For Profit) By Tammy LeRoy
A round the globe, green building is getting a lot of press. With all the recent discourse on global warming and other effects of pollution, phrases such as carbon neutral, renewable energy, and sustainable buildings are now bantered about everyday. It's no surprise that green building is a hot topic considering estimates that buildings consume 40 percent of total annual U.S. energy use. Moreover, the U.S. produces 25 percent of all greenhouse gases but holds only five percent of the world's population.
    Production of the energy we consume emits an estimated 100 million tons of carbon dioxide-the primary greenhouse gas that many scientists believe is driving climate change. This is where green building comes into play. Green buildings use 20 to 50 percent of the energy conventional buildings use, reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent. They also conserve
water, improve health, increase productivity, and cost less to maintain and operate.
    Nearly all new commercial construction incorporates at least some green building features, and self-storage is no exception. In the storage industry, this is usually spurred by mandates from municipalities and by savings owners can realize on operational costs. At the same time, developers are concerned about rising construction costs, and green costs more to build up front. Although it's likely that building environmentally responsible facilities will someday become the standard, it is not likely to happen until the costs reach a comparable level with traditional building methods and components.
    Even today, however, there are exceptions in the industry. Self-storage owners who build green today usually do so for one or more of four primary reasons: local mandates, savings on operating costs, public relations concerns, or a genuine concern for the planet's future.

What Is Green Building?

A green building is designed with emphasis on the health of its inhabitants and its environmental impact and resource conservation over its lifecycle. Green building issues include reducing human exposure to noxious materials, the conservation of non-renewable energy and scarce materials, the life-cycle ecological impact of the energy and materials used, the use of renewable energy and materials that are sustainable, and protecting and restoring local air, water, soils, flora, and fauna.
    Greg Godsey, design project manager for Buda, Texas-based MST Constructors, says he tries to incorporate green building features in all of his designs. "My education is in environmental design," he says, "so every project we design is pretty much from a green building stance." Godsey considers it a differentiating service they can offer clients. On self-storage projects, MST incorporates several strategies aimed at reducing energy usage and conserving water.
    Godsey says the most popular green building component is the use of solar panels on the roof. Often, he says, the local energy jurisdiction will give you credit for any surplus power you generate. "We do a lot with PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric] in California," he says. "They are real good about allowing you credits back when you generate more energy than you use." Godsey says most facilities will end up with a zero bill at least four or five months out of the year.

More Green Building Essentials

While generating power is one issue, another is how to use less power. "A lot of owners don't put much value on energy savings on the front end because they're concerned with construction costs and lease-up," says Godsey. "But they get really concerned about it three years later when they're trying to figure out how to squeeze another dime out of their product."

The most beneficial aspect for owners, however, is that green roofs keep the temperature down inside the building itself.

    Of course, a critical factor in reducing energy use is how buildings are insulated. A six-inch concrete tilt-up wall, for instance, provides about an R-3 rating, which Godsey considers "a pretty poor product." Lately, MST has been using insulated panel systems from which he can get an R-15. For power savings in the units, MST's designs generally eliminate all switching systems and replaced them with motion control sensors zoned for lighting.
    Daylighting is another technique that saves on lighting costs. Godsey prefers clearstory lighting to make use of natural light in a facility. The watt-stopper switches that contain motion sensors also have light sensors, so when there is enough natural light, the lights will not come on even when there is motion. "For self-storage, we don't recommend holes in the roof in any location, so we don't put the skylights or light tubes or other cool things you can do in an office facility or residential," he says. "We try to get all of our natural lighting in through the wall panel at the top with clearstory windows."
    Water conservation is another key component of green building, and Godsey tries to incorporate this into his designs. "It's been a standard for a long time to just allow one domestic waterline into your building," he says. "What we've been trying to sell is to have multiple water lines into the building, both potable water and not potable water, where the water coming out of your faucets and drinking fountain is standard water but the water used in the toilets and cleaning comes from a rainwater collection system. It's not really a big deal to have a little tap off the city water system for your drinking water and use rainwater collection for your toilet water and irrigation."

Building For Tomorrow

Overall, designing green involves answering some key questions. In the design phase, it is essential to decide how you will generate or conserve energy and where you are going to get your water. Although owners may not elect to incorporate all of the possible features, you can employ enough of them for the project to be considered green.
    Simply relying on more efficient equipment without using architectural strategies can cost more to build and more to operate later. The best HVAC systems won't compensate for a building design with inherently high cooling and heating needs. Some of the best ways to conserve energy are through architectural design that manages solar gain and takes advantages of passive heating, daylighting, and natural ventilation and cooling opportunities.
    Ken Carrell, president of ARE Associates, A Lake Forest, Calif.-based architectural firm, likes to use recycled materials and renewable products on his projects. Recently, he has designed a self-storage project that will feature a green roof, which is installed over a traditional roof with a roof barrier and a water retention system. Then, a growing medium and plant material are added. The plants can create a variety of styles and colors.
    "I did some research, and it actually doesn't add very much to the cost over a standard roof," Carrell says. "This is because you can use a screw-down roof with a green roof without worrying about moisture penetration, because it has a barrier over that roof anyway." Overall, the cost is maybe 10 percent more than standard roofing. And one of the benefits of a green roof is that it can retain as much as 50 percent of stormwater runoff. "The plants actually retain many of the impurities we typically would have to get rid of before it leaves the site and we actually store water up there."
    Moreover, because the plants cause water to transpire off the roof, it cools the entire area and can create a cooler microclimate in those areas with green roofs. The most beneficial aspect for owners, however, is that green roofs keep the temperature down inside the building itself. Carrell prefers to integrate photovoltaic panels with these living roofs. "The problem with photovoltaic panels (along with the added cost), is that they wear out a lot sooner than a typical roof tile," he says. "Whereas a traditional roof lasts 30 years, the life span on a photovoltaic is 10 to 15 years. But, if you integrate photovoltaic with a green roof, you will actually increase the life span because the green roof is helping keep the panels cooler."
    Another green building feature Carrell is interested in is the use of "earth tubes" to cool air and cut down on energy use. Instead of a big fan and condensor and compressor and stuff, a small fan is used to move air through the building. Below the ground, the earth's core temperature is about 55 degrees. By taking the air tube down below that point-about eight feet-and using a fan to pull air up and through the building, it cools the air down.
    The highest and most widely recongnized standards of green building are those in compliance with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This system provides a range of standards for environmentally sustainable construction that addresses six major areas: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; indoor environmental quality; and innovation and design process.
    LEED certification is obtained after submitting an application documenting compliance with the requirements of the rating system. Even with tax credits and assistance from government entities and power companies, building to LEED standards is much more costly than traditional methods and therefore is not frequently seen in self-storage projects. But many sustainable projects are being built to performance standards rather than the certification process, saving developers the high costs of certification while reaching the same objectives.
    Lawmakers are also getting on board with green building. Recently, Minnesota became the seventh state to formally recognize the Green Building Initiative's (GBI) Green Globes environmental assessment and rating system by passing legislation to make GBI's "Next Generation Energy Act of 2007" a state policy. Other states that have passed similar initiatives are Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In addition to state initiatives, over 400 mayors of U.S. cities are striving to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol standards for their municipalities.

Will Self-Storage Go Green?

With so many consumers on the green bandwagon, self-storage developers are beginning to realize that building green may be good marketing. "It can be good PR," says Carrell. "The local paper here ran an article on a guy who got LEED certification on his building. They made a big deal out of it."
    The Austin market is similar. "Recognizing that in some areas you would get a reasonable payback on these green features and in other areas you wouldn't, we haven't had a self-storage owner yet willing to accept enough points to build what would be called a "rated" [green] building," Godsey says. "But if we did, we could play that up and get good mileage out of that locally with it being the first self-storage facility that was rated."
    "The green trend will ultimately change the way the industry builds," says Dave Cook, president of Tacoma, Wash.-based Tech-Fast Self Storage Buildings. "We have clients talking about solar panels and creating more energy-efficient approaches to electrical and climatized areas of the building. It hasn't really changed the way we do business, but you will see changes in the code requirements of some municipalities."
    Carrell believes self-storage will be slower to go green than other types of construction. "Just because self-storage is so inexpensive to build in the first place," he says. "It's hard to get people who want to get in with little investment to look at the long-range goals. It's hard when they're trying to squeeze every last dollar out of their project."
    While some municipalities are going green, Godsey sees conflicting mandates from those that want green building but also want curb appeal. "There was a time when municipalities weren't thinking about natural landscaping and what's best for the land," he says. "They just wanted to build it lush and happy no matter how much water it used; so we start to expose competing rules in a jurisdiction."
    MST came up against this very situation in San Marcos last year. "They were requiring all these sprinklers for irrigation around a light industrial development," Godsey says. "We went to them and asked why the city was requiring all of this on an expansion project when the existing facility was getting awards and credit points from the city of Austin for not sprinkling their existing landscaping."
    When Godsey asked the city for clarification, they said, "You're right. We want you to use xeriscaping."
    MST was able to pull the entire irrigation system out of the design and have nothing but hose bibs located 100 feet from any plant. "They realized that they had competing clauses in their codes and they needed to correct it," Godsey says. "We have older people who want everything to look nice, and now we have younger, educated people who are saying we have to conserve our water. We just play it in the middle and say, 'You guys figure it out and tell us what you want.'" Typically, the more environmentally responsible action wins.
    "Since the beginning, the only people doing green buildings were the people who were really passionate about the environment," Godsey says, "until recently when we could actually show a payback with today's high energy costs. It's the nature of our society that economics has driven every major cultural change for good or for worse, and it will drive the green building change also.
    Godsey goes on to explain, "The general population certainly believes that we're in trouble, but many developers are wealthy people and they don't feel any pressure. The only avenue I have with this is to show them how I can help them rent faster or save money after they're rented up. Then, they're interested."
    While the wealthy may not be under pressure, the local governments certainly are. "They're the ones that have to provide the energy, and they have to provide it affordably," Godsey says, adding that public health concerns also factor in.
    Carrell believes costs will make it a slow change. "The biggest problem I run into is that the clients don't want to do it because it costs them a little more money," he says. "But I see it becoming more and more competitive with the new materials. I try to sell it to them. Eventually, I think people will realize that it's important and they'll want to get involved in it. Everybody needs to do something."
    While few can argue that point, self-storage is driven by economics. Hence, when green building makes the best economic sense, the industry will embrace it-perhaps sooner than we think.

Green Building Terms

Acceptable Indoor Air Quality

Acceptable indoor air quality refers to an environment in which there are not known contaminants at concentrations leading to exposures that pose a significant health risk.

Carbon-neutral refers to counteracting the release of carbon dioxide or maintaining the balance between producing and using carbon. An example is balancing carbon-dioxide emissions by growing plants to use as fuel, or planting trees in urban areas to offset vehicle emissions.

Daylighting is a method of illuminating building interiors with natural light so that the use of artificial lighting is reduced in the daytime. Strategies include the proper orientation and placement of windows, the use of light wells, light shafts, skylights, relective surfaces, and shading, and the use of interior glazing to allow light into adjacent spaces. Indigenous Materials

Because the use of indigenous materials reduces transportation, building materials that are mined or manufactured in an area close to where building will take place are preferred. Low-E Windows

Low-E glass has virtually invisible metal or metallic oxide layers that reduce the U-factor by repressing radiant heat flow. Low- and No-VOC Paints and Finishes

Low-VOC paints and finishes do not contain volatile organic compounds that outgas and lower the quality of indoor air. Passive Cooling

The building's structure (or an element of it) is designed to permit increased ventilation and retention of coolness within the building components. The objective is to minimize the need for mechanical means of cooling. Photovoltaic Panels (PVs)

Photovoltaic devices use semiconductor material to convert sunlight directly into electricity. Power is produced when sunlight strikes the semiconductor material and creates an electrical current. Post-Consumer Recycled Content

Post-consumer material is a material or finished product that has served its intended use and has been discarded for disposal or recovery. Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is an energy resource that is replaced rapidly by natural processes. Some examples of renewable energy resources are sunlight, wind, and geothermal. Sustainability

Sustainability means meeting our present needs without compromising the needs of future generations. The sustainable approach recognizes the interaction between natural and technological systems and seeks to minimize the adverse impacts of human activities on systems that support all life. Xeriscape

Xeriscaping is landscaping for water and energy efficiency and lower maintenance. Xeriscape principles include good planning and design; practical lawn areas; efficient irrigation; soil improvement; use of mulches; low water demand plants; and proper maintenance.

Tammy LeRoy is Editor of Self-Storage Now! and the Associate Editor of Mini-Storage Messenger magazine.

This article is provided courtesy of MST Constructors, Inc. with the permission of Mini-Storage Messenger magazine & MiniCo, Inc. All Rights Reserved. It is not intended for further reproduction/distribution without the exclusive permission of MiniCo, Inc.