Incorporating sustainable elements into your design and construction process can not only make a positive environmental impact but can also elevate the services you offer your clients.
But how do you know where to start? And are there specialists that can help you navigate the world of sustainable commercial construction?
This article explores five key points to consider when it comes to sustainable design and how a Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Engineering Designer can support your sustainable construction goals.
What Is Sustainability in Design?
In a nutshell, sustainable design in architecture involves the building materials, methods used, materials sourced, and design choices in general for your project.
By taking these factors into account, you’re helping preserve natural resources and potentially cutting energy consumption by a significant amount.
That’s a win for the environment and a win for your business.
An essential part of sustainable commercial construction is working within your client’s budget to make their eco-friendly design dreams come true. But oftentimes clients don’t know exactly what it takes to incorporate sustainability into their project.
For example, is it feasible and cost-effective to use solar panels in your designs? Are there different recycled materials that would work best in your particular region (e.g., wood or stone)?
These types of questions can serve as guiding points during your client conversations to ensure you’re achieving sustainability in every aspect of your commercial construction project.
What To Consider For Sustainable Commercial Construction
1. Minimizing Environmental Impact
Minimizing environmental impact is at the top of our list because eco-friendly and sustainable designs seek to produce less waste and benefit the planet. If you’re under contract with a property owner, work together with them to set sustainability goals before the project starts. These goals can include percentage of energy saved, whether or not the building will be self-reliant for energy, what materials you can use that are upcycled or eco-friendly, and more.
While sustainability has become a more widely talked about and researched topic in recent years, the reality is that raw materials have been rising in cost and certain eco-friendly materials are not cost-effective. However, the payoff of having a sustainable commercial building will be greater than the initial cost, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of job creation, waste reduction, and longevity of our planet.
Additionally, many city and state governments give out tax breaks, grants, and other incentives for sustainable building practices. For example, if your building is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, you can receive financial, permit, or other benefits from most state governments.
2. Using Renewable Resources
Sourcing materials ethically is one thing; finding renewable resources is another.
When it comes to renewable resources, you’re really looking for things that can be naturally replenished in a short amount of time. In some cases, this could mean finding recycled items to upcycle in your design. It can also mean choosing a material like steel, for example, instead of wood or concrete for framing. Steel frames generally cost 5-7% less than wood or concrete frames. Aside from cost, steel is also more durable and resistant to elements that can negatively affect wood or concrete.
No matter what your ultimate architectural plan is, working within your specific locale is vital when it comes to making eco-friendly choices.
3. Incorporating Green Infrastructure
In 2019, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act. This impacted the way we utilize runoff from stormwater and created more opportunities to actually filter and absorb stormwater where it falls.
Incorporating green infrastructure in your sustainable design projects can significantly impact the water and soil quality in your area. Anything from a small park outside your office building, a garden in the courtyard, a rain barrel that funnels water into another part of your building, or a row of trees to welcome guests into your space can impact the way water is efficiently used.
This is where an MEP Engineer can be your most valuable asset. They know the city codes, and their knowledge and expertise can help you intelligently use this exterior water runoff in your sustainable design.
4. Enhancing Energy Efficiency
Efficient heating and cooling can make all the difference in your sustainable commercial construction. For example, you’ll want to make sure all of your wiring, lighting, and appliances are energy efficient. Using elements like LED lightbulbs can improve your building’s energy efficiency. Aside from energy efficient lighting and appliances, you can also reduce the cost of heating and cooling by using modern double-paned windows in your designs. Using double-paned windows can bring down the amount of heat gained and lost through windows by 25-30%.
This is also an area to explore alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar power. These sources can often be implemented at small- and large-scale, so your architectural plans can take size of building, location, and budget into account before deciding which one is right for your client.
5. Optimizing Water Use
While we touched briefly on this in the Incorporating Green Infrastructure section above, optimizing water use is a key factor in eco-friendly design.
As you’re building out your basic mechanical, electrical, and plumbing plans, consider which plumbing fixtures minimize water use and allow for low flow as much as possible.
In addition, account for any city regulations when it comes to stormwater runoff and utilize it within your commercial design.
Sustainable Design: Hiring an MEP Engineer
Sustainable design takes careful planning, thoughtful questions, and a passion for minimizing environmental impact.
MEP engineering is a vital part of the process — from start to finish. From the proper placement of plumbing and ductwork to ensuring all safety and energy codes are followed, MEP engineers help everyone stay safe and can help you save time and money along the way.
Pro Engineering incorporates sustainability into our MEP designs, including alternative energy sources, like wind and solar power, and water conservation and recycling.
With over 35 years of experience, our qualified experts can partner with you as you build out your sustainable commercial construction plans and elevate your client offerings.
Reach out to us today to see how we can help you with all of your mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design needs!