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GSA Puts Green Building Materials to the Test

September 9, 2014 | 0 comments

To meet sustainability goals and move toward net zero energy buildings, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) implemented its Green Proving Ground program in 2012 to test new green building technology during its pre- or early-commercial stage.

Because working with unproven commercial products can be risky for commercial building owners and managers, the Green Proving Ground program tests new technologies first in its own U.S. GSA buildings to help commercial facilities professionals gauge which new solutions might work well in their own buildings.

The Green Proving Ground tests measure how easy the product is to install, compare real ROI to manufacturer claims, effect on occupant satisfaction, and ease of maintenance. The U.S. GSA team tests building envelope, HVAC, lighting, onsite power generation, and water-saving technologies.

Here are some highlights from the 2014 Green Proving Ground program product assessments:

Integrated Daylighting Systems
To determine whether energy and cost savings justify expanded deployment, 92 federal office buildings were retrofitted with active daylighting systems. Researchers then collected data to assess lighting conditions, energy savings, and overall cost effectiveness.

  • Energy savings: Average annual energy savings of 27%
  • Payback: Ranged from 4.3 to 17.6 years (based on predetermined lighting levels)
  • Drawbacks: Blinds/shades were partly or fully closed in 90% of the private office sites studied, preventing natural light from entering the space (note: window film could help solve this problem by controlling solar heat gain through the windows)

Vacuum Insulated Panels
The U.S. GSA retrofitted a leaky section of the Camden, NJ, post office and courthouse with vacuum insulated panels (VIPs) to improve insulating performance. The team also digitally modeled three types of facilities – small, medium, and large office buildings – to determine the impact of this R-50 roofing insulation on energy consumption.

  • Energy savings: Average annual electricity savings of up to 8% and natural gas savings of up to 10%
  • Payback: Varies by climate, but estimated at between 55 and 90 years, depending on building type; for the Camden, NJ, building, VIPs were 53% less expensive than modifying the roof to accommodate thicker materials
  • Drawbacks: More fragile than standard roofing panels, poor ROI, and VIPs cannot be modified once they’re fabricated

Synchronous & Cogged Fan Belts
The Byron G. Rogers Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was retrofitted with cogged V-belts and synchronous drive belts on both a constant volume (CV) and variable air volume (VAV) fan. These two fan technologies address the inefficiencies of standard V-belts. After a baseline was established at the federal building for standard V-belts, they were replaced with cogged V-belts, and then with synchronous drive belts.

  • Energy savings: Cogged V-belts provided 1.2% to 9.3% energy savings; synchronous drive belts offered savings of 2.3% to 20.1%
  • Payback: Synchronous drive belts demonstrated lower lifecycle costs than cogged and standard V-belts, with simple payback of less than four years
  • Drawbacks: Cogged V-belts install similarly to standard V-belts, but synchronous drive belts require sheave replacement; proper belt size is also critical to performance

To keep up with all of the findings from the U.S. GSA’s Green Proving Ground Program, visit this link regularly.

Are you more likely to purchase green building products that have already been tested? Are you doing similar testing within your building portfolio?


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