June 7, 2012
Luck Stone incorporates sustainability into its new scale office.
When an increase in traffic created a serious safety issue at its main quarry entrance, Luck Stone decided to relocate the entrance of its Charlottesville Plant in Shadwell, Va., to the opposite end of the operation. The company leveraged this opportunity to incorporate green building practices into the construction of its new scale office.
The project supports the company’s commitment to evaluate all future projects to see if they should be built according to green building standards such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or similar green building certification programs. The new 2,000-square-foot scale office is Luck Stone’s first construction project built to meet certification for green building, in this case, through EarthCraft Light Commercial specifications.
“Luck Stone has always been an environmentally conscious company,” says Mike White, senior project manager for Luck Stone’s Environmental Design & Development department. “Our thinking has always been to go beyond the compliance to the minimum requirements of governing agencies.”
When planning the scale office project, the team quickly realized that LEED certification — which is more suited for larger projects — was fairly restrictive in terms of the amount of fees and documentation required for such a comparatively small project. At the time, EarthCraft, a regional green building certification program that had originally focused on residential green building, had identified the small commercial segment as being a largely under-served niche and was in the process of developing standards for this segment.
“They were developing a program called EarthCraft Light Commercial,” White explains. “We were one of the pilot projects for that program, so we worked with them back and forth, helping them to evaluate their program criteria and designing our building to meet those criteria.”
EarthCraft staff visited the site several times, reviewed building plans, and offered construction suggestions throughout the process. “They were great to work with,” White says. “They provided lots of communication and seemed to care about what we were doing.” While Luck Stone’s scale office was the first EarthCraft-certified office building in Virginia, EarthCraft has since finalized its Light Commercial certification program, which is now available for small commercial building projects to pursue region wide.
Whether pursuing certification through LEED, EarthCraft, or another program, green building programs have a number of common elements that address both the practices and materials used during construction. For example, storage of building materials to prevent water exposure and recycling of construction materials play a role in the construction phase. During the materials selection process, durability and recyclability of materials are important criteria. Energy and water efficiency of the completed building is another common facet of green building.
“EarthCraft is really big on insulation and moisture and vapor protection,” White notes. “When you finish an EarthCraft building, you have an airtight building that doesn’t allow any vapor or moisture to leak in.”
Green building cost increases were very minor, he notes, because construction is planned efficiently. One example of this is the concept of designing a building in 2-foot increments to eliminate waste during framing. Operating costs also may be lower due to sustainability strategies such as the use of fluorescent and LED lighting in lieu of incandescent lighting, combined with lighting controls to maximize efficiency.
“You add all of these things together and you’re saving energy and materials, as well as improving the quality of life of the people who occupy the building,” White says. “A lot of these practices are ones that the construction industry should have been doing for years anyway. The green building programs are making us think through how to do things in the right way.”
A number of these elements were incorporated in the construction of the new scale office. Rainwater is collected from the roof and a small parking lot, and is channeled into a bio-retention pond outside the building where the water collects and settles back into the ground, rather than being carried off in storm drains. Landscaping features native plants that require minimal fertilizing and no irrigation.
Durable, low-maintenance materials were used for the exterior of the building. Although exterior materials had a slightly higher initial cost, the low maintenance helps offset the investment in overall life-cycle costs.
Lighting played a major role in the scale office design. Lower wattage bulbs, with minimal fixtures, were used. A large number of windows allow daylight to flow through the building, and, on a bright day, the lighting controls are set up to allow only 50 percent of the lights to be turned on. Motion sensors are also tied to the lighting system so that the lights automatically shut off if a room is empty for more than 20 to 30 minutes.
Quarried material is shown off to full advantage in the office’s concrete floor, which has a ground and polished finish. Low VOC paints and sealants were used throughout the interiors. Energy Star appliances were purchased and tankless water heaters provide hot water as needed to the low-flow faucets in the sinks.
In addition to the changes in the construction process and material selection, green housekeeping plans are being piloted throughout the company. Several sites are testing some of the more environmentally friendly cleaning products, equipment, and practices to determine their efficacy.
With its first green building project under its belt, others may follow in the future. “We’ve pretty much decided that, while we might not do every project using green building certification, we will evaluate every building to see if it makes sense,” White says. “Even if we don’t pursue certification, we’ll still apply as many of the principals as make sense to that project.
“You don’t do it just for certification,” he adds. “You do it because it makes sense, and it’s the right thing to do.”