Sustainable Design

RDG Planning & Design

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  • RDG Planning & Design is a leading urban design company with offices in Omaha, Neb., Des Moines and Ames, Iowa, Sustainability isn't an additional service at RDG; it's part of every project. From the start, its team considers the impact on people, communities, budgets and the environment to arrive at the best possible balance. The result goes far beyond lower energy bills to improving health and air quality, increasing productivity and using resources more efficiently.
Wednesday 04/27/2011
Building a Sustainable Development Plan in Des Moines

By Michael Andresen

This column typically focuses on case studies of built projects - strategies implemented, lessons learned, metrics, etc. As a change of pace, this week's article places focus on "planning" activities as an important first step to our built environment.

Around the country, there is a growing trend of cities requesting proposals for Sustainability Planning. These plans are typically broad in scope, covering a wide variety of services, goals, and agendas. The city of Des Moines, Iowa has recently begun such a process. The following description outlines the stakeholders, funding mechanisms, and goals related to this project:

The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is leading a consortium of local stakeholders to develop a regional plan for sustainable development (RPSD). The project is being funded with $2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program and with nearly $1.1 million from leveraged local funds, which are derived from in-kind staff resources and from complementary planning endeavors being conducted in the region.

The grant is intended to support metropolitan planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of:

1. Economic competitiveness and revitalization;

2. Social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity;

3. Energy use and climate change; and,

4. Public health and environmental impact.

Bethany J. Wilcoxon, Associate Transportation Planner for the Des Moines Area MPO says, "The regional plan for sustainable development represents a new direction for the MPO. While the MPO traditionally focuses solely on transportation, this project provides the organization the opportunity to explore new topics, including land use, housing, economic development, and environmental concerns."

The formulation of the RPSD will provide the chance to link a long-range regional transit plan and a strategic plan for economic and workforce development. Additionally, the RPSD will suggest updates to existing plans in order to align all regional planning efforts. The RSPD will cover a time horizon that stretches to 2050 and will relate the findings of other studies and plans to the overall multi-disciplinary vision, goals, and initiatives underway in the greater Des Moines metropolitan area.

"We know that the bar has been set high and that all eyes will be watching us as we navigate through this three-year project. However, we have a superb team in place, including the project Steering Committee, local staff members and partners, and the consultant team, and are confident that this group will help us engage the public to craft a successful plan. We also are hopeful that a new level of collaboration will spring forth from this project", adds Wilcoxon.

The central Iowa consortium Steering Committee includes the Des Moines Area MPO; Dallas, Polk, and Warren counties; Carlisle, Des Moines, Johnston, Urbandale, and West Des Moines; the Greater Des Moines Partnership; the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines; the Center on Sustainable Communities; and, the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority.

A special thanks to Bethany Wilcoxon for providing the project description as well as for sharing her thoughts and vision regarding the direction of the project. As this project develops, future columns will identify important steps in the planning process, successful strategies and implementation, as well as data collection and metrics related to "evidence based design".

Posted in Design on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 5:26 pm. Updated: 8:57 am. | Tags: Sustainable Building Practices , Sustainable Development Comments (0)

Wednesday 04/13/2011
Quick Tips for Material Conservation

By Michael Andresen

In our column last week, we promised to provide a report identifying material conservation strategies specified for the restoration of three buildings currently on the National Register of Historic Places. The three buildings are:

• Morrill Hall, Iowa State University - Ames, Iowa (25,000 sf)

- Built in 1890

- First LEED® certified building on a state university in Iowa

• World Food Prize Hall of Laureates - Des Moines, Iowa (45,000 sf)

- Built 1903

- Was originally the Des Moines Public Library

• Historic West Des Moines City Hall - West Des Moines, Iowa (3,000 sf)

- Built 1905

- Has been everything from a fire station to a bakery

A number of conservation strategies were used on these projects as part of the restoration process. One major strategy implemented on all three projects is known as a Comprehensive Waste Management Plan (CWMP), with Morrill Hall being one of the first projects in which RDG Planning & Design utilized this sort of approach. Working with the contractor, the waste management plan on Morrill Hall resulted in an 89 percent diversion of waste from the landfill - that equals over 1,000 tons of waste and also resulted in project cost savings for the owner.

Due to the success we had on the Morrill Hall project, we have now applied CWMPs to many of our recent projects and have been averaging a diversion rate of over 80 percent. Some tactics that are commonly executed as part of a CWMP consist of:

• Sorting and salvaging scrap metals to be recycled into new products

• Sorting and crushing brick and stone to be stock-piled for re-use as aggregate

• Utilizing local energy recovery plants - uses waste to generate energy

• Utilizing local comingled C&D Recyclers - separates waste materials for recycling

If you do not have a local C&D recycler, don't worry! It is possible to engage construction waste specialists, such as Waste Management, to develop solutions to minimize waste, increase diversion rates and recoup value from your materials. In fact, this option was implemented for the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. The project team managed the waste stream by separating and diverting waste on-site, while also identifying unique opportunities for materials re-use and economic savings.

Beyond basic C&D waste recycling, some other options for creative, innovative re-use of materials include:

• On-site reuse of materials, such as crushed concrete for use in stromwater management improvements or excavation backfill

• Salvaging products like doors and hardware for reuse in your project or for donating to local restock stores so others can benefit from them

• Specifying agreements with product suppliers to collect and re-use scrap materials like gypsum board and roofing membrane - two products that would typically end up in the landfill

On the Historic City Hall project, the owner not only salvaged and refinished reclaimed architectural elements like doors, ceilings, wood flooring, trim and millwork, the owner also purchased salvaged items from local restock stores instead of purchasing newly manufactured materials. This strategy helped to reduce construction costs, as well as benefit the historic character of the building.

So what have we learned in this series of posts?

• When considering environmental impacts, it is far better to build on an existing site than to start new. You can take advantage of existing infrastructure, while also helping to maintain the history of a building or location.

• Implementing a comprehensive CWMP reduces the amount of construction waste from demolition activities, helps preserve the historic context of a building, reduces the demand for new resources and products, and potentially reduces a project's overall construction material costs and schedule.

• There are a variety of options available for material choices, including purchasing new products (life cycle choices), purchasing salvaged products, as well as adaptive reuse of materials already on-site.

If you choose to follow these few simple strategies, your next project will be well on its way to economic, cultural, and environmental success.

Michael Andresen is a sustainable designer with RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, and serves as a lecturer for the Iowa Department of Economic Development with a specific focus on sustainable development.  To date, Michael has managed the sustainable design process on over 2,000,000 square feet of new construction, including 14 LEED projects – four of which have achieved LEED Platinum Certification.  Michael is a past chair of the USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Committee, and has been recognized as a content expert by the Green Building Certification Institute; participating in item writing for the national release of the 2009 LEED Exams.

Posted in Design on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 8:53 am. Updated: 9:14 am. | Tags: Adaptive Reuse , Historic Preservation , Construction And Demolition Materials Comments (0)

Wednesday 03/30/2011
Modern Challenges - Historic Values

By Michelle Sacco

As any designer knows, all projects have their share of problems and challenges. Each project has multiple pieces: clients' needs, design issues, cost restrictions, code challenges, contractors, public opinion, etc. When one embarks on a project of rehabilitating or restoring an historic structure, an additional set of challenges present themselves. Does this make these types of projects less desirable? No, quite the contrary. Buildings built decades ago have numerous stories to tell, lessons to be taught and beauty to behold. Without these structures our built environment would be a dull architectural canvas.

In an era when it is often cheaper to throw out old, broken or seemingly useless items, our society often thinks little of the ability to take the time to analyze something used, fix it and reuse it. Thankfully the tide might be turning, with a growing interest in being greener and kinder to our environment. What could be more "green" than preventing multiple tons of building material from entering a landfill? What could be more "green" than preventing the need for the manufacture and transporting of new materials? What could be more "green" than eliminating the need to develop a site that was not previously developed? By selecting an historic building for their project, the owner has instantly made these healthy choices for our environment. Just glancing through the LEED checklist, one can see the broad impact that these choices will have on a potential LEED project.

Restoring, rehabilitating or renovating is not for the faint of heart, however. In addition to the typical challenges that a new project will go through, additional problems and coordination issues will arise. While structures built a hundred years ago were naturally earth friendly due to their reliance on the environment for much of their heating, cooling and daylighting needs, this presents a challenge when adding all of the many amenities that we feel are necessary for a comfortable building of today. Another difficulty is understanding the existing conditions before construction has begun, causing many design solutions to be made in a relatively short timeframe. A successful project is often dependent on the designer thoroughly knowing the building, and understanding the design intentions of the original architect or designer.

In addition to fulfilling the clients' needs, the designer's ideas and the codebook's regulations, an additional factor is often the local preservation groups that govern many funding opportunities for owners. Historic projects require a great deal of respect if they are to remain a genuine reflection of history. These preservation groups (often government officials) are focused on preserving the integrity of the building; including these decision makers in the initial stages of the design process is a key factor for a successful project.

While a blank slate may be more appealing to some designers - and will inevitably provide fewer challenges - the satisfying feeling of saving a building from destruction as well as the landfill and restoring its former beauty is undeniable. The idea of throwing these buildings away would be a huge detriment to our society as well as our history and our culture. These buildings tell the story of who we are, where we have been and how we got here. They are now ready to show us what we can become.

Next week's column will provide a detailed report of several conservation strategies (product choices, construction costs, environmental impacts) implemented in the restoration of three facilities on the National Register of Historic Places.

Michelle Sacco, LEED AP, has a Bachelor of Architecture from Iowa State University, with a minor in History. Michelle is the LEED coordinator for the Restoration Focus Market at RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, Iowa where she works on a wide variety of restoration projects, including the Iowa State Capitol, the World Food Prize - Hall of Laureates and the Historic City Hall of West Des Moines. Michelle is involved in a number of outside architectural related committees, including the Architecture in the Schools Committee for the Iowa Architectural Foundation, where she serves as both co-chair and secretary.

Posted in Design on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 4:05 pm. Updated: 5:56 pm. | Tags: Rdg Planning & Design , Historic Preservation , Adaptive Reuse Comments (0)

Wednesday 03/23/2011
Waste Not, Want Not!

By Michael Andresen

The selection and use of materials in any building project provides the opportunity for several fundamental sustainable concepts: material reuse, life cycle costs, and waste management.

When discussing the built environment, the restoration and adaptive reuse of existing buildings are perhaps the most responsible choices you can make. If, however, you are faced with a situation that does requires construction modifications, please consider salvaging and repurposed materials whenever possible. Using this strategy will help reduce the amount of construction waste from demolition activities, help preserve the historic context of a building, reduce the demand for new resources and products, and potentially reduce a projects overall construction material costs and schedule.

Another consideration when working on a project is the selection of new materials with a long life expectancy. Over time, products and materials with low life cycle costs help reduce a significant amount of waste associated with facility remodels and also reduce operational costs related to on-going facility maintenance and management. A good example is the Iowa State Capitol building restoration project. Click on the photo of the capitol to see before and after pictures of changes that were made to replace the original terracotta pier and clockstone with more durable limestone.

Even with appropriate material selection and reuse, construction activities create a lot of waste. That is why implementing a comprehensive construction Waste Management Plan (WMP) during the construction phase can help to limit overall environmental impact. A WMP helps to redirect the majority of construction waste away from landfills and into a variety of alternative uses including; energy recovery plants, recycled into new products, or perhaps salvaged and reused.

Projects that choose to execute a WMP will learn that it takes the cooperation of many entities to accomplish the end goal. Whether its construction and demolition debris recyclers and material salvage companies or local recovery power plants and specific product manufactures with reclaim programs; it is their participation that accomplishes the successful diversion of a majority of construction waste from the landfill into a renewed or repurposed life.

Upcoming topics will take a detailed look at the restoration of multiple buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. We will examine comprehensive construction WMPs that resulted in over 90 percent of demolition and construction debris being diverted from landfills. We will also take a look at material selection choices that are based on life cycle cost assessments and their financial impacts.

Michael Andresen is a sustainable designer with RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, and serves as a lecturer for the Iowa Department of Economic Development with a specific focus on sustainable development.  To date, Michael has managed the sustainable design process on over 2,000,000 square feet of new construction, including 14 LEED projects – four of which have achieved LEED Platinum Certification.  Michael is a past chair of the USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Committee, and has been recognized as a content expert by the Green Building Certification Institute; participating in item writing for the national release of the 2009 LEED Exams.

Posted in Design on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 3:22 pm. Updated: 3:52 pm. | Tags: Deconstruction , Adaptive Reuse , Recycling , Construction And Demolition Materials , Life-cycle Assessments Comments (0)

Wednesday 02/09/2011
Water - High Grade Resource, Low Grade Uses

By Michael Andresen

Water is a necessity of life and far too many of us take it for granted. In reality, it requires a huge amount of energy and planning to pump, filter, treat and convey water from its various sources to its final use. For many facilities, a majority of water use can be attributed to irrigation and flushing toilet fixtures. These uses don't require the same level of treatment as drinkable water, so why do we expend all that energy and planning to treat water to this drinkable level only to (literally) flush it away?

Rainwater harvesting is a technique that has been around for thousands of years and there are many ways to accomplish this. Simple rain barrels are the most cost-effective way to collect and conserve rainwater for personal uses such as gardening or home and yard maintenance. For commercial applications, single and multi cell detention and reclaim systems are used, and are commonly referred to as cistern systems. This is for rainwater harvesting that requires water to not only be collected and stored, but also filtered and treated to meet applicable health codes.

These systems also require a mechanism to deliver water from the container to its end use. To accomplish this, a rainwater cistern can be connected to electric booster pumps that convey the water from the cistern storage tank to a building's flush fixtures or irrigation systems. In some instances, these systems can also be designed to detain, treat, and convey stormwater runoff during heavy rain events.

The volume of the cistern can vary widely depending on its expected performance and the size of facility it is supporting. A cistern can be designed to simply supplement potable (drinking) water use, or it can be designed to offset the entire water demand. To compliment rainwater harvesting, consider pairing with a low-flow fixture strategy. Low-flow fixtures can help reduce water use for waste conveyance by up to 40 percent, thus reducing the demand on cistern storage.

When you take into consideration occupancy loads and building use along with the local climate and its precipitation rate, a rainwater harvesting system can help to offset a majority - if not all of the remaining load. This is, of course, at the discretion of Mother Nature. Periods of low rain or dry spells will impact the amount of water available for use. But, by researching historical weather data, insufficient water periods can be planned for and cistern designs can be modified to accommodate specific climatic concerns.

In addition, systems can be tied to domestic water lines to ensure a cistern will never go dry - it will pump in additional water when the cistern falls below a pre-set level.

Michael Andresen is a sustainable designer with RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, and serves as a lecturer for the Iowa Department of Economic Development with a specific focus on sustainable development.  To date, Michael has managed the sustainable design process on over 2,000,000 square feet of new construction, including 14 LEED projects – four of which have achieved LEED Platinum Certification.  Michael is a past chair of the USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Committee, and has been recognized as a content expert by the Green Building Certification Institute; participating in item writing for the national release of the 2009 LEED Exams.

Posted in Design on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 12:32 pm. Updated: 12:51 pm. | Tags: Stormwater , Rdg Planning & Design , Water Reclamation , Rain Barrels Comments (0)

Wednesday 01/26/2011
Integrating Green Infrastructure While Reducing Costs

By Ryan Peterson

As our economy continues to rebound, many cities are facing a diluted tax base and major spending cuts. Budgets are in poor shape and communities are making tough choices regarding whether to fix their infrastructure or maintain important staff positions.

In light of these very real circumstances, one Iowa community has found a way to incorporate green infrastructure that is actually projected to save the community money, while also doing its part to help improve the local water quality.

Located in Eastern Iowa, and situated in the Iowa River watershed, Belle Plaine is a small community with a thriving downtown. Due to aging infrastructure and a multitude of handicapped accessibility issues, the city embarked on a streetscape project about two years ago that will ultimately replace the failing infrastructure, provide a face lift for the community and grant handicapped accessibility to the majority of downtown businesses.

During the preliminary design phases of this project, the initial solution proposed was to include a traditional grey infrastructure system using reinforced concrete pipe for much of the storm sewers. The design also included colored concrete, decorative lighting and landscape plantings to enhance the downtown's image.

As the design evolved, however, it became apparent that Belle Plaine not only had the opportunity to enhance it's streetscape, but to do so in a way that helped the environment. Traditional pavers were replaced with permeable pavers, landscape planters became stormwater planters and grey pipe was replaced with perforated tile. These changes resulted in significant project costs savings (as shown in Figure 1) and reduced the quantity and improved the quality of stormwater runoff.

As more communities begin looking ahead to creating their own revitalized downtowns, or replacing their existing infrastructure, Belle Plaine will serve as a sterling example of how incorporating green infrastructure can improve the overall look of a community, enhance the environment, and save taxpayers a few dollars.

Next week's topic will focus on the use of rainwater capturing techniques to supplement domestic water needs often associated with irrigation, flush fixtures and stormwater detention.

Ryan Peterson is an environmental designer and landscape architect with RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, Iowa. As an award-winning designer and project manager, Ryan is a leader in the design and creation of sustainably focused and ecologically based projects throughout the Midwest. His keen understanding of the construction process allows him to take theoretical ideas and seamlessly integrate them into the living environment. Ryan's experience includes the design of complete streets, campus landscape architecture, green roofs and urban stormwater management systems. In addition, Ryan served as a State of Iowa Sustainable Education Provider for communities hit by the devastating floods of 2008.

Posted in Design on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 4:32 pm. Updated: 5:04 pm. | Tags: Rdg Planning & Design , Belle Plaine Ia , Permeable Pavement , Stormwater Comments (0)

Wednesday 01/19/2011
Water Conservation in Urban Environments

By Michael Andresen

In today's market, energy efficiency is often the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of resource conservation or environmental stewardship is discussed. This could be attributed to the fact that rising energy costs are widely publicized and easily quantifiable. Water conservation on the other hand, is sometimes wrongfully overlooked as being a less important issue.

Water conservation strategies have dual focuses today; reducing water use by a building's occupants, and effectively managing stormwater on-site. For the occupants, water use reduction is achieved by specifying low-flow and ultra low-flow fixtures. This is an easy and cost effective strategy to reduce a facility's water consumption by nearly 40% when compared to traditional designs. Fixtures are competitively priced, readily available and have an immediate impact on a building's water use. As an example, code compliant urinals use one gallon of water per flush while ultra low-flow urinals can use as little as one pint (1/8 of a gallon).

When planning for stormwater management, it is important to consider two challenges; controlling the quantity of run-off, and providing opportunities for quality improvement through the treatment of run-off prior to entering a storm sewer system. For new construction projects and developments, stormwater retention requirements are the norm. Within any urban development effort, there are multiple opportunities to slow the quantity of water leaving a site and to improve its quality in the process. Effective stormwater strategies can reduce the rate and quantity of site run-off; reduce the demand on existing infrastructure; and potentially reduce a project's utility costs and municipal fees.

This topic will continue next week with an in-depth look at case studies incorporating a variety of water conservation measures including: rainwater harvesting, vegetated roof, rain gardens, permeable paving, and native plantings to achieve an overall cost savings for stormwater infrastructure.

Michael Andresen is a sustainable designer with RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, and serves as a lecturer for the Iowa Department of Economic Development with a specific focus on sustainable development.  To date, Michael has managed the sustainable design process on over 2,000,000 square feet of new construction, including 14 LEED projects – four of which have achieved LEED Platinum Certification.  Michael is a past chair of the USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Committee, and has been recognized as a content expert by the Green Building Certification Institute; participating in item writing for the national release of the 2009 LEED Exams.

Posted in Design on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:16 pm. Updated: 3:56 pm. | Tags: Rdg Planning & Design , Water Conservation Comments (0)

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