More Eco than Meets the Eye
Renovating a Typical Office Space to be Ultra Efficient

Green Space Today
David Brooks

When it came time to move our offices to a new space, we used the opportunity to complete an ultra-efficient and healthy office, which is now on track to receive LEED Platinum Certification. It might look typical at first glance – no austere design, no extreme architecture – but every decision, from the design to the materials, was made by following several overarching principals:

 

 

  1. Everything we did had to make sense both design-wise and financially. We did almost nothing just for LEED. We evaluated payback on energy improvements and we weighed the cost of each LEED point to see if was worth it.
  2. We adhered to standard design that would be energy-efficient; we did not use esoteric design materials or layouts.
  3. We repurposed any materials possible or donated what we didn’t need to try to minimize waste.
  4. Just like any business, we had a budget and a timeline. But since we also consult on green construction, we wanted to incorporate a variety of products, materials and designs so we could try them for ourselves. Ultimately, we built our office so potential clients who visit could say to themselves, “I could do that.”

Renovation vs. New Construction
McGuire Engineers is in the business of renovations – we have a long history of restoring historic buildings, especially museums – but we renovate conventional spaces as well. When it was time to move office spaces, we specifically chose a space we could renovate vs. new, “green” construction.

Overall, reusing existing buildings is more sustainable. However, renovation can be just as wasteful if not done properly. If a company throws out all their furniture, or guts an existing space without saving as much as possible, the negative impact on the environment is much more profound.

Several key areas of focus helped us stay on-track to stick to our principals:

  • Energy efficient lighting. Lighting played a major role in the renovation. Energy-efficient lighting fixtures are easy to find, but we multiplied their efficiency through placement and lighting controls. Instead of creating executive offices along the perimeter of the office that typically monopolize window space, the main employee workspaces are in full view of the windows, letting in an abundance of natural light. On cloudy days or evenings, employees use individual task lights which require less wattage than overhead lights. Other lights are placed near white walls to create a “mirror” effect which multiplies the brightness the lighting provides. All lighting is controlled in zones and on timers or motion sensors. We also incorporated cutting edge light emitting diode or LED fixtures which have the advantage of long lamp life and the ability to dim throughout their full lighting range.
  • Minimizing waste. Instead of buying new furniture, we used as much as we could from our old space and donated the rest. To freshen up the look of the file cabinets, we found a local vendor to re-paint everything in low-VOC paint. We even reused the existing ceiling tiles. We considered replacing the HVAC system in our new offices for higher LEED compliance, but ultimately, the cost and the waste of ripping out the old system outweighed the advantages.
  • The right materials. The carpet tiles we used are 100 percent recycled, and low VOC-paint covers the walls. Key focal areas, like the lobby entrance and the conference-room credenza are made from Plyboo®, a sustainable plywood made from bamboo.
  • Energy monitoring and controls. We added an entirely new system to monitor our water usage on our supplemental cooling unit, the first in the building. Previously, the building owners were unable to measure water usage and charged tenants based on their installed cooling capacity regardless of how much water they used. Our new system is serving as a test model. Additionally, we are testing wireless pneumatic retrofitbsb thermostats which will improve comfort and potentially reduce energy and maintenance costs.
  • Better air. Making our office comfortable for employees was also a key goal – a more efficient workplace and healthier employees always makes sense. Our ventilation exceeds standards, and all our materials are low- and no-VOC materials. Plenty of potted plants – at least one per person – improve air quality.

The response to our offices has been extremely positive, and it makes it much easier for us to work on energy-efficient and low-impact designs for clients when we can show how we’ve been able to do it ourselves. We are using an extremely low 0.78 watts per square foot, which exceeds ASHRAE’s standards by 28 percent, and our efforts are evident in our energy bills. We’ll continue to make small improvements over time, as new technologies and ideas make filter through the engineering and construction community.