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Building in Good Faith - Green Building Resource for Religious Institutions

Planning & Decision-Making

Life Cycle Analysis and Assessment

Green building projects are most successful--in terms of managing construction costs, balancing aspirations with financial reality, and fulfilling your community's expectations--when accompanied by an additional kind of budgeting known as "life cycle analysis and assessment" (LCA). LCA offers one of the greatest benefits of green building. You need to understand LCA to make your green building project successful.

How It Works

Because you have many different green options from which to choose, each one needs to be evaluated financially in two ways: 1) Up-Front Cost - in comparison with the initial construction cost of the conventional method, technology or material that it would replace; and 2) Life-Cycle Cost - comparing how including certain features in your building will impact your ongoing operating costs when compared to conventional building approaches.

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of conducting this kind of analysis. For example, if you don't think about Life-Cycle Cost you could build your building and save 0-4% on initial construction costs but saddle your institution with higher operating costs for 50 years. This would make your initial "cost-saving" efforts an expensive mistake.

Here's why. First, by conducting a Life Cycle Analysis, you will begin to think in terms of a "payback" period. That is, you will be able to calculate how long it will take for the operational savings of your green building effort to "pay back" any additional up-front cost. You will then be able to decide how long a "pay back" you are willing to accept for your project. Many businesses accept payback periods of 5 years or less - meaning that if an up-front investment will pay for itself out of savings within five years (through greater energy savings associated with efficient lighting, for instance). Religious institutions - because they are committed to their facility for the long term - can responsibly accept a longer payback period - up to ten years or even longer.

Whatever the case, your institution needs to understand this concept of lifecycle costs before you make decisions about what green features to integrate into your project. Simply put, you can't make financially responsible decisions about your building project without conducting a life cycle analysis.

Such analysis will also begin to give you a clearer sense of the ways in which green building approaches can lower the ongoing overall operating cost of your building.

The Importance of an Integrated Approach

Finally, life-cycle analysis helps you take an integrated approach to your green decisions. For instance, when you're considering the use and cost of energy for heating and cooling your facility, you will need to look not only at energy systems themselves, but also at alternative ways of insulating your spaces, how your building is oriented to the sun, the placement and dimensions of eaves, the use of cork or darkly stained concrete floors which can absorb winter sunlight and reduce your heating needs, the placement and functionality of your windows, and the use of sensors and controls to help you manage your building's energy use efficiently.

Taking this integrated approach gives you the best chance to identify the green features that are a good fit for your situation. Remember that you want to understand the difference between the up-front costs and operational savings associated with the different choices you may have. For example, you may find yourself able to save upfront construction costs by insulating more aggressively, thereby lessening the size of your heating system and reducing ongoing operational costs through reduced energy use. Such an integrated approach is especially important when you analyze the larger green investments you might make, such as a geothermal heating and cooling system or the installation of an array of solar photo-voltaic panels.

For information and tools to help you conduct a life cycle analysis for your project, see http://www.nrdc.org/buildinggreen/links/default.asp#lifecycle. Alternatively, there are consultants to whom you could turn for such analysis. Each organization's needs and capabilities will be different. An experienced green architect should be able to help you make these decisions wisely and well.

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