If a "green" building is under construction in Arizona, Charlie Popeck probably had a hand in it. The Mesa resident is president of Green Ideas, an environmental building consulting firm, and president of the Arizona chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Also, he is hosting a series of television programs on environmentally friendly home-improvement techniques called "Build It Green" scheduled for this fall by the Public Broadcasting Service.
Popeck’s latest project is the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building, a research center under construction at Arizona State University East in Mesa, on which he has served as a consultant. ASU officials expect that it will qualify for official greenbuilding certification under the council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
The program designates buildings that contain special features designed to save energy, water and other resources,
Only five buildings in Arizona have been officially designated as green buildings, but 60 more are in planning and construction phases, Popeck said.
"A lot of it just involves doing things that make sense," he said. "It doesn’t necessarily cost any more money."
On average, an environmentally designed building will cost only about 2 percent more to build than a standard building, but it can result in major operating savings over the life of the building, he said.
"It’s been determined that for every $1 invested in green construction, you will save $20 over 20 years," he said.
The new ASU East building, which was designed by the Jones Studio architecture firm, is an example of how buildings are being built to meet the environmental design criteria, he said.
The building will receive points for using decomposed granite to pave its parking lot instead of asphalt, which absorbs more heat. That will reduce the "heat island" effect around the building and reduce the demand for air conditioning in the summer, he said.
Also the decomposed granite will allow more rain water to seep through into the ground and reduce the water runoff from the property during rainstorms, he said.
More points will be won by providing bicycle storage and showers, encouraging occupants to ride bikes rather than drive to the building.
Also it will be equipped with waterless urinals, expected to save about 40,000 gallons of water a year. Only nonpotable water will be used for the landscaping, some of which will come from a hydrogen fuel cell power plant installed by Salt River Project next door.
Also 95 percent of the steel used in the building is recycled, he said. And construction waste such as plastic, paper and metal is being deposited in separate dumpsters to be used for later recycling.
"About 163 million tons of construction debris is put into landfills in the U.S. yearly, so you get LEED points for management of construction waste," Popeck said.
Construction materials used in the building are low in volatile organic compounds, and high efficiency heating and air conditioning units are being installed.
Also construction processes are a little different. For example, the open ends of ducts are kept wrapped during construction to prevent dirt from entering the ducts.
Finally, the design of the building itself will promote energy efficiency, Popeck said. The building is oriented on an east-west axis to minimize heat gain. Concrete outer walls are perforated by many small openings that will let in natural light but reduce heat gain.
"The concrete walls will provide a thermal mass to absorb heat and not let it into the building," he said. "It’s the same reason the old adobe buildings were so efficient. The walls were so thick that by the time heat had gotten through during the day, it was nighttime."
Job site superintendent Mike Kelly said the ASU East building has not been any more difficult for construction workers to build than conventional structures.
"Workers have to be trained to separate the waste materials, but it uses standard building techniques," he said.
With the cost of energy soaring, building efficiency has been receiving renewed attention in Arizona. Scottsdale has approved a program for all new city buildings to meet the environmental design gold standard, a more efficient rating than basic certification.
Gov. Janet Napolitano has signed an executive order requiring new state buildings to meet the silver standard on design, and ASU President Michael Crow has announced the university’s intention to have all new ASU buildings meet the silver rating.
Two Arizona buildings, one at Northern Arizona University and the other at Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, are on the drawing board that would meet the platinum standard, the highest rating possible.
Currently there are only four platinum buildings in the entire country, Popeck said.
David Schwalm, vice provost of academic affairs at ASU East, agreed the cost of sustainable buildings doesn’t appear to be very different, and he said future major construction projects at the campus will shoot for the silver designation.
"Once you commit to doing it, and the architects and contractors get used to it, I don’t see any real problems," he said.
But ASU East has not been able to upgrade buildings that it inherited when the property was part of Williams Air Force Base to green standards because the cost is too much, he said.
"We’ve done about all with those buildings we can do," he said, adding that most of them will be torn down in 10 to 20 years to make way for more permanent energy-efficient structures.
"We’ll get our money out of them," he said.
Anthony Floyd, manager of the Scottsdale green building program, also said green buildings only cost about 2 percent more, but he added that comparison doesn’t include additional costs if solar photovoltaic panels are used to generate electricity for the building.
Most of Scottsdale’s new green buildings will include solar energy, but the new ASU East building doesn’t.
But he added that the upfront costs or the length of the "payback" periods shouldn’t be used when evaluating the benefits of solar energy or other sustainable technologies.
Such analyses don’t consider such hidden benefits as the reduction in air pollution caused by reduced demand for electricity produced by fossil fuels, he said.
"We don’t look at the payback period when we put in swimming pools," he said. "We only stuck that onto certain things like green buildings and solar energy."