Government center, U.S. Foods facility in Buda incorporate sustainable features
With much of the state still in the grip of a historic drought, many corporations, including some in Hays County, are turning to environmentally friendly building techniques to conserve natural resources.
"Businesses are aware of the many benefits of green building, from healthier, more productive employees to financial rebates and incentives," said Effie Weaver, chair of the board for the U.S. Green Building Council Central Texas-Balcones Chapter.
The international gold standard for green building is LEED certification. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design aims to verify the performance of a building and site to ensure sustainability.
LEED provides a framework to help builders identify and implement practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.
Green building has grown in popularity in recent years. According to Weaver, Texas has tripled the amount of environmentally sustainable building space in the past three years. The state now encompasses more than 50 million square feet of LEED-certified construction.
"The goal of LEED is to use space, water and energy more efficiently," Weaver said.
The program is designed to address all phases of a project, from planning and design to construction and operations and maintenance, and looks at five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
The program works on a point system, and different levels of certification—certified, silver, gold and platinum—can be obtained depending on points earned. Projects must first meet a prerequisite baseline and then receive points for each sustainable element included in a design, such as showers and bike racks to encourage alternative means of transportation.
"Our main priority in Central Texas is water usage," Weaver said. "Therefore, we have made more points available to promote a higher level of water conservation. Projects earn points for xeriscaping, using reclaimed water for irrigation or installing low-flow toilets, to name a few."
The U.S. Foods building in Buda was designed with LEED certification in mind and will be the first LEED-certified building in the company.
"We began looking at LEED certification about a year before we began construction," U.S. Foods Austin President John Fowler said.
The 305,000-square-foot facility sits on 42 acres and is twice the size of the company's previous site on Springdale Road in Austin.
"It also is three times the cubic square feet, yet we've reduced our electricity demand by half, thanks to the energy-efficient refrigeration systems we installed," Fowler said.
The CO2 cascade refrigeration system uses carbon dioxide as a refrigeration fluid in place of ammonia, reducing environmental impact and increasing energy efficiency. The site also increased energy efficiency by adding dock doors that prevent air leakage and sensor-based lighting throughout the facility.
"We care about the area's natural resources," Fowler said. "Water is scarce. We wanted to do what we could to reduce our demand on electricity and water."
Green building has a positive effect for Buda, too.
"LEED certification means that U.S. Foods will have less impact on our environment and local resources," said Chance Sparks, director of planning for the City of Buda. "They'll be more efficient with resources, which is great news for the community."
The recently completed Hays County Government Center includes several green building features.
"We incorporated most of the [green] features in the initial design, and with competitive bidding, there [was] very little effect on cost up front," Hays County Communications Specialist Laureen Chernow said.
One of these expenses was condensate capture for irrigation, the process of collecting water that normally drains from an air conditioning unit and using it for irrigation.
According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a central air conditioner unit for a home can collect 5–20 gallons of condensate water per day, equal to more than 300 gallons per month in the summer. A building the size of the Hays County Government Center can collect even more.
"This moisture is always available for reuse and avoids water bills and water restrictions. From both a desire to be good stewards of the environment and save money, [the added cost] was a good way to go," said Chernow. "It will pay back fairly quickly."
The Center is not LEED-certified, but with good reason, she said.
"To actually become LEED-certified would have cost more, and we opted not to go to that extra expense," Chernow said. "Every time we look at designing [or] building a new government office, we'll look at which sustainability features make the most sense from an environment/cost standpoint.
"With often just a small increase in upfront cost, the savings to the county taxpayers and the environment can be substantial over the long run."
To learn more about green building and LEED certification, visit www.usgbc.org.