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Going Green? Think Tilt-Up

By: Ed Sauter

The past few years have proven that the green and sustainable design and construction movement is here to stay. Not only have owners shown increasing interest in reducing life-cycle costs of their facilities, but design and construction professionals have also improved green building practices to make it more cost-effective and efficient. Savvy owners and design professionals are continually evaluating which construction method would help them accomplish their green goals for a project. Site cast Tilt-Up construction is rising to the top as one of the optimal construction methods for meeting these initiatives.

Going Green

Green structures have many benefits to the environment, economy and the community. They reduce the effects of natural resource consumption, help improve the bottom line, enhance occupants’ comfort and health, minimize strain on local infrastructures, and improve the community’s quality of life. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that buildings consume 39 percent of all U.S. energy at a cost of over $200 billion per year – more than any other sector of the U.S. economy, including transportation and industry. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) analysis of commercial buildings that earned the Energy Star Label showed that energy costs were 40 percent less compared to buildings operating at average energy performance.

The United States Green Building Council defines a green building as one that is “designed, constructed and operated to boost environmental, economic, health and productivity performance over that of conventional buildings.” Further, a green building’s negative impact on the environment is significantly reduced or eliminated in the following five areas: sustainable site planning, safeguarding water and water efficiency, energy efficiency and renewable energy, conservation of materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

In order to quantify this definition, the Council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system as the standard for green building. The Council defines LEED as “a voluntary, consensus-based national standard to support and validate successful green building design, construction and operations.” LEED covers many different types of buildings and construction, including new construction, additions, existing buildings, commercial interiors and homes. Buildings are ranked as certified, silver, gold or platinum based on how they perform in the following six areas: site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, environmental quality, and innovation and design.

But how does this trend relate to the Tilt-Up concrete industry? Simply using concrete on a project can dramatically help achieve a strong LEED rating, offering up to 21 points, according to the Portland Cement Association (PCA). A minimum of 26 points are needed to achieve basic LEED certification. Of all the building materials, concrete has the lowest embodied energy. Plus, it can contain many recycled materials and can be recycled itself. Since concrete is manufactured locally, transportation costs are reduced. In other words, concrete uses less total energy from extraction of raw materials, transportation and production. And, since the panels are cast on site, an even greater savings is realized. Further, Tilt-Up is extremely versatile and reusable. And, once the structure is completed, concrete’s thermal mass properties, reduced air infiltration and more energy-efficient insulation systems allow it to keep providing green benefits. Concrete’s reflective surfaces save energy by reducing temperatures by 5 degrees, cutting air conditioning usage by 18 percent and requiring less power to light the area at night.

What about Sustainability?

The Tilt-Up concrete industry also has the opportunity to capitalize on the sustainable design movement, which is one of the key components of green building. According to the World Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED), sustainability is “a form of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” In other words, sustainability is essential to being good stewards of the earth. As such, green builders and designers must account for the impact their building has on future generations.

Once again, the mere use of concrete goes a long way in achieving sustainability, thanks in large part to its durability. Structures built with concrete tend to last two to three times longer than buildings constructed with other common building materials. In addition, the same qualities that make concrete a viable green material, such as thermal mass and reflectivity, also help make concrete structures sustainable by providing constant energy efficiency throughout the building’s life cycle.

How Can Tilt-Up Help?

Tilt-Up can achieve LEED credits in several categories. First, in the Energy and Atmosphere category, Tilt-Up can earn points with energy performance. A common misconception that arises in many discussions is that energy efficient is synonymous with green. We are all aware that Tilt-Up is an energy efficient solution, so the trend in debates about Tilt-Up’s green attributes is to provide the standard laundry list of this construction method’s energy efficient characteristics. However, energy efficiency is only one component of green design. To truly be a green solution, all elements of the LEED project checklist must be considered to include sustainable sites, materials and resources, as well as innovation and the design process. Energy efficiency accounts for only 17 of the possible 69 points for a LEED registered project.

According to Mukhtar Giader, P.E., S.E. at Opus Architects and Engineers in Minnetonka, Minn., Tilt-Up design and construction professionals can employ several strategies to improve performance in this category. “Improving the exterior wall R-walls by adding insulation, taking advantage of the concrete thermal mass and using special exterior wall paints that help absorb or reflect solar energy can assist in earning a LEED point,” said Giader.

The second category to consider is Material and Resources. Points are available for building reuse, construction waste management, material reuse, recycled content and regional materials. Giader points to several tactics including:

  • Take advantage of the inherent durability of existing Tilt-Up buildings and remodel them for reuse. LEED credits can be achieved by preserving as much of the building as possible, including the exterior walls.
  • During remodeling for reuse, recycle any discarded wall panels as site fill or pavement sub-base material.
  • Relocate wall panels for reuse.
  • Use materials with recycled content such as reinforcing steel bars and concrete mixtures containing fly ash, ground granulated blast-furnace slag (GGBF) or possibly silica fume.
  • Use materials that are produced within a 500-mile radius from the building. Since Tilt-Up panels are cast on site, this credit is relatively easy to achieve.

One additional category to consider is the Innovation and Design Process. Early collaboration between the design and construction team can lead to innovative ideas and solutions for meeting green goals. Encouraging research and creativity can aid achievement for this point. Many Tilt- Up professionals have become LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED AP). This earns the project a point and demonstrates a firm’s commitment to green initiatives. LEED Accredited Professionals also provide a competitive advantage.

Giader notes that many of these strategies are easily achievable without adding much cost to the construction budget. “In addition, the Tilt-Up method of construction uses very little forming materials and typically does not require temporary heating,” said Giader.

Green Success

For all of the aforementioned reasons, Houston, Texas-based SpawGlass Construction selected Tilt-Up when they set out to construct a new “green” office building. In the project’s initial stages, the 20,000-square-foot SpawGlass office was designed to be a basic Tilt-Up structure. However, once Houston-based Kirksey Architecture came on to the project, they suggested taking the design to the next level, creating what would become Houston’s first LEED-certified building, and only the fifth in the state of Texas. The existing Tilt-Up plan provided not only a sustainable building method compatible with LEED guidelines, but also allowed for fast-track construction. The build

ing was completed in a mere seven months.

In addition, the economical benefits of Tilt-Up allowed SpawGlass to invest more dollars upfront in energy-efficient technology (such as occupancy-sensor lighting, water-efficient faucets and an energy management system) that will pay off with long-term savings. Other energy-saving features include native landscaping and a combination of vegetated swales and bio-retention basins to reduce stormwater runoff; low-E windows to reduce heat gain, glare and energy loss; and bathrooms equipped with dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals.

Reflective white tilt walls and a light-colored roof also further the building’s efficiency, and the structure makes use of abundant glass (via architectural features such as glazed aluminum curtain walls at the main entry and glazed aluminum clerestory windows at each floor bay) to provide natural daylighting for the interior. Approximately 78 percent of construction waste was recycled, and the project made use of recycled (44 percent) and locally manufactured (51 percent) materials wherever possible.

The benefits of SpawGlass Construction’s decision to go green have been numerous. Not only did the building receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Silver LEED Certification, but it has also been honored with several other awards, including a 2006 ABC Excellence in Construction Award, and it was named Texas Construction magazine’s Best Private/Corporate Building of 2006. In addition, the building’s energy-efficient features are expected to net the company 30 percent in total energy savings, as well as provide a 50-percent reduction in irrigation and a 34-percent reduction in interior water use.

Above all, though, the new building has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the employees of SpawGlass Construction. The structure was designed so that each work station would have an abundance of natural light and views of the outdoors, and amenities such as bicycle storage and shower facilities promote a healthy, active lifestyle for all employees. The open floorplan reflects the company’s commitment to socialization and collaboration within the workplace.

“The work environment has decreased absenteeism and increased production,” says John English, Spaw- Glass’s senior vice president. “People want to work here.”

Moreover, SpawGlass Construction’s example of sustainable design has established the firm as a leader in the field, and, continuing to partner with Kirksey Architecture, they are working to propagate the green building trend throughout the Houston area.

Another example of Tilt-Up success for a green project is the 125,000-square-foot Ecoplex Parking Garage in West Palm Beach, Fla. shown above – a 2008 Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA) Achievement Award winner. Time and money proved to be the major factors when deciding to convert a precast parking garage design into Tilt-Up: Not only would keeping the design precast further delay construction (of an office building and hotel) by 18 months, but also the use of Tilt-Up would save the owner more than $1 million.

During the design phase, Woodland Construction of Jupiter, Fla. relied on its considerable experience with Tilt-Up to conceive a design that included double-tee decks and ramps with a 2-inch concrete topping applied after erection for a smoother finish than traditional “pretopped” tees. However, the use of double tees required Woodland to carefully coordinate the erection of the Tilt-Up walls, creating an exterior bracing structure that wouldn’t disturb erection of the double tees. To help achieve the owner’s green-building goals, Woodland worked with the ready-mix supplier to ensure the concrete mix contained recycled materials, and also verified that all reinforcing steel used was recycled. The five-story structure features an earth-toned palette to blend in with the surrounding landscape and is crowned at the entrance by a massive spandrel panel. With a Silver LEED rating, the Ecoplex parking garage is the first green parking structure, as well as the first Tilt-Up parking structure, in the city of West Palm Beach.

The Future is Green

As the Earth’s resources continue to be depleted, all industries must play a part in increasing the sustainability of its work functions. Today’s buzzwords are more than a passing fad, and site cast Tilt-Up construction is an effective means to leaving a lighter footprint.

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.