Get rid of “expensive” concept of Green building

“Green Building execution does not always need a tons of money; it can actually be green with a low price!”- An assertion of Mr. Do Huu Nhat Quang, Co-Founder of GreenSpace Consultancy Company, an expert having many years of experience in Green Building Certification Consultancy.

Constructing Green Building to save energy and protect the environment is increasingly popular and has become a construction trend in the world. In Vietnam, this trend was initiated in 2007, and so far the phrase “Green Building” has become familiar with many investors. However, the extra cost of making it a Green Building still makes investors hesitate.

Is the extra cost of doing Green Building really as expensive as many people think? How to build a Green Building economically? Reatimes interviewed Mr. Do Huu Nhat Quang, Co-Founder and Business Development Director of GreenViet Consultancy Company – one of the leading companies specialized in LEED, LOTUS, Green Mark and EDGE certification consultancy, to clarify the issues related to Green Building costs.

Reatimes: Green Building today is gradually becoming a trend that many investors are looking forward to. However, most of them are still wondering about the extra cost of Green Building, aren’t they?

Mr. Quang: Green Building execution does not always need a tons of money; it can actually be green using a low investment cost!

There are many Green Building solutions which are very flexibile when applied to different projects. Some houses in the countryside of Vietnam already met many of the Green Building requirements. A folk house in Malaysia also got the highest certification level of LEED PLATINUM.

However, combining Green Building standards with modern aesthetic perspective can lead to significant cost increased. A 30-floor-office-building in the city center uses glazing facades, which require the use of high insulating glass to meet energy saving requirements, resulting in an increase in cost for instance.

This kind of glass can be partly replaced with other better insulation materials to save more energy and reduce cost.

Reatimes: So, what kind of building materials are often used in Green Buildings, and how economically efficient are they?

Mr. Quang: Currently, these following materials are commonly used for Green Buildings: highly-recycled steel and waste materials suitable as cement replacement for the structural frame.

For building envelop, AAC and Low-E glass are used as well-insulated materials. LED lighting, water-saving fixtures are also popular in Green Building.

However, Green Buildings do not require all materials to be “green”. The more important point is to combine solutions and materials together, meeting Green Building criteria.

Green materials and equipment often have high performance, resulting in low operating cost. Most of the extra costs of investing in green materials and green solutions have an average payback period of 2-5 years. For example, a rainwater collection system of factory only takes 3 years to pay back, and later make profit.

Reatimes: What are the differences in investment costs between a normal building and a Green Building?

Mr. Quang: There are some factors influencing the extra cost of investment in Green Building. Two main important factors are certificate level (silver, gold or platinum) and initial investment rate of the building.

The higher the certification level, the more requirements need to be implemented and thus cost more. In our experience, the normal rate of construction costs for Green Building is 2-5%.

However, if the initial investment was already high, the construction consultants could balance items to meet Green Building requirement without raising initial budget.

A high-end apartment building in Ho Chi Minh city earned LEED Silver certification without changing the investment cost. Similarly, another high-end office building will receive LEED Gold certification by the end of this year without significantly increasing costs.

In addition, experiences and understanding of Vietnam construction market of a consultancy company are also the determining factors. Experienced consultants can support investor in selecting Green Building solutions that are most appropriate to the reality and budget. The consultant can then help the building achieve the desired certificate level while guaranteeing comfort for building users, all with a reasonable cost.

Reatimes: In order to have a cost-saving Green Building, where should we start, sir?

Mr. Quang: We should start right from the design stage with the involvement of the green consultant and all related parties such as architect, structure consultants, electrical engineers, operation engineers, etc. Passive solutions should be prioritized at this stage.

During the stage of implementing design stage, design consultant agencies need to analyze the cost and profit of different solutions for the main items, especially Green Building requirements, to find out the optimal cost solutions that meet Green Building requirements.

After completing construction, it is necessary to conduct the commissioning for the items related to electricity- and water-saving to ensure that the system is operating as originally designed.

A simple example is that faucets can have very high flow rates compared to design because they have not been calibrated properly, resulting in the inability to save water as the original plan despite extra cost invested in this category.

Vietnam can obviously use local traditional materials in Green Building, a good example of which is bamboo. If treated well, bamboo can be used for a long time. Architect Vo Trong Nghia used bamboo in one of his designs and after 10 years, bamboo is still in good conditions.

Using bamboo can contribute to many items in Green Building. First, bamboo is considered a local material because we can find bamboo in many areas in Vietnam. Bamboo is also a fast renewable material, which can be planted and used in a much shorter time compared to wood. Therefore, the use of bamboo can also indirectly limit deforestation.

Reatimes: Sir, is designing a Green Building more difficult for architects than the ordinary one?

Mr. Quang: Of course designing Green Building requires more considerations and simulations than normal. The analysis covers for each specific item, from lighting or natural ventilation to the overall building.

Therefore, doing Green Building requires architects and related parties to understand the properties and costs of materials as well as innovative solutions, and simultaneously to work closely together during the design process in order to ensure the quality and comply with Green Building standards. Green Buildings requires architects to invest more on knowledge, information and time compared to when designing normal buildings.

The most important thing when designing a Green Building is the involvement of all parties involved in the project, especially Green Building consultants, right from the design stage, even during  the stage of making investment plan. The main reason is that the green solutions, especially passive solutions, are very effective and sustainable.

For example, defining the right direction for the project and the building envelop will help save significant energy consumption later as well as increase thermal comfort for users without spending too much initial cost. Involvement of all relevant parties also helps to shorten the implementation schedule, as it does not have to be reworked many times, thereby increasing the investment efficiency of the project.

Reatimes: Thank you!

Mai Duong