Stop the myth

The popular Discovery Channel program, MythBusters, uses modern-day science to demonstrate what's real and what's not. On any given program you're likely to find the two stars of the show, who are special effects experts, trying to break out of jail with dental floss or analyzing if double-dipping chips really does increase the spread of germs.

While the show is good for great laughs, it usually has little impact on one's life. One myth that impacts many leaders' lives (and the lives of their clients) is that it costs more to use green principles for planning, design, and construction. Believing this folklore to be true results in fewer people reaping the rewards that sustainability offers. Examples of green benefits include lower ongoing utility expenses, a healthier environment for clients and staff, and a reduction in the impact on the environment. This is one myth that long-term care professionals can't afford to believe.

The incorporation of an existing stream as a focal point dissects the two primary elements of the building-administration and living quarters-at the motherhouse for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

At a glance…

The author believes “green” construction doesn't cost more and actually saves money (now and later), contributes to the health of staff and residents, and makes a positive impact on the environment.

Inaccurate message

Sadly, it is still too common to hear the inaccurate message that green construction costs are always higher. They can be higher; but if the design and construction professionals are sustainability experts, they can create exceptional green buildings for less cost than a conventional building. Owners who automatically reject green principles on a higher cost assumption may well be missing out on great opportunities. If approached wisely, sustainable construction costs should be less, with an added benefit of lower ongoing operating costs for the entire life of a facility.

Green construction cost savings are the product of hundreds of thoughtful decisions from the start of a project. These thoughtful solutions are developed jointly by the owner and by knowledgeable design and building professionals. A critical foundation to the entire project is the initial research to determine exactly what is needed to right-size a structure. Then, numerous other decisions follow to ensure minimizing waste and being certain the best products for the specific project are selected.

Although the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, chose not to register their renovation and addition project, their facility met the criteria established for a LEED Gold rating.

When it comes to reducing waste, all involved parties must be actively engaged. In one recently finished project that is pending LEED® certification, 99.5% of all construction waste materials were recycled or reused. So not only was much less waste sent to the community's ever-growing landfill, but the overall expenses to the project were reduced.

In addition, all stakeholders must be willing to optimize Value TradingSM. This is the process of paying for added features of higher value by choosing or eliminating features of lesser value. Ultimately, this can improve the overall performance and quality of the building while staying within the allowable project budget.

Value Trading reaps rewards

A great example of Value TradingSM was demonstrated as we considered energy modeling options for the HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) system in a 2006 project. A trusted expert who had consulted on similar project teams, stated that he felt like the prescribed chillers might be larger than necessary. Simulation models were established, considering occupancy trends, the often-frigid climate, and additional building-specific factors.

The conclusion was that the larger chillers would only be required in extremely rare and unlikely instances. Also, it was determined that the temperature might flow up only 2 degrees above an optimum temperature of 75 degrees if all of those rare circumstances occurred. When the building owners were presented with the facts that the smaller chiller might be even more efficient, reduce demand charges from the utility provider, and cost less, they quickly stated, “We'll take that small, calculated risk.” In the three years of operation, they have yet to test the capacity of even the smaller chiller. This provided more funds for additional features.

The extensive remodeling to their existing home provides the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minnesota, with an updated, homelike environment that allows for aging in place

Numerous options and choices appear around every corner of a design and construction project; but proper planning and wise decisions yield smart savings and sustainable solutions that destroy the folklore that green construction costs more.

Myth busting

At Hoffman LLC, we did our own myth busting. We set out to disprove or verify the myth ourselves by looking directly and objectively at the data. In numerous cost comparisons, the data proved that our highly sustainable senior living projects were delivered at a price significantly below those using conventional design and construction practices. In fact, after adjusting for inflation (as adjusted by the Producer Price Index for Materials and Components for Construction), these facilities were delivered at 12% below the peer group cost. In even more recent projects in other industries, the cost difference has been even greater, with cost savings between 25% and 29%.

Now, you too can be a myth buster. Who doesn't like being right, saving money (now and later), contributing to the health of staff and residents, and making a positive impact on the environment? So, while you may never have your own TV show, you can stop the myth by influencing others and making great decisions to plan, design, and build green-saving money all along the way! D

Paul J. Hoffman ( is owner and president of Hoffman LLC (, a Wisconsin-based planning, architecture, and construction management firm that has aggressively advocated for sustainable design and construction since the 1990s, long before “green” became the new American fashion statement. Mr. Hoffman is currently Vice-Chair of the Building Division of the Associated General Contractors.

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Design Environments for Aging 2010 2010 March;():16-18

Topics: Articles , Design