Constructing Energy-Efficient Commercial Buildings

Constructing Energy-Efficient Commercial Buildings

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Energy-efficient commercial buildings are increasingly appealing to businesses for their financial, health, and environmental benefits. In fact, LEED commercial buildings lower maintenance costs by 20%, the United States Green Building Council reveals. When constructing an energy-efficient commercial building, it’s important to consider elements such as air filtration, vapor retarders, and air barriers.

Air filtration

The increasing demand for high-efficiency commercial air filtration systems is largely driven by the growing awareness of the dangers of air pollution. Sick building syndrome, in particular, is a health condition caused by poor indoor air quality, found in roughly 30% of all new and remodeled buildings. High-efficiency air filters force indoor air through a fine filter to trap and eliminate unwanted particles (like pollen, dust mites, textile fibers and tobacco smoke). Commercial high-efficiency air filters should capture airborne particles of roughly 0.3 microns in size. MERV ratings (or minimum efficiency reporting value ratings) serve as a grading system to evaluate a filter’s effectiveness at blocking out smaller and smaller particles. The higher the MERV rating, the better the filter. However, since the HVAC unit also has to work harder with higher ratings to cope with increased blockage, the ideal air filter and MERV rating should factor in the unique needs of each specific building. An 8-13 rating is recommended for industrial workspaces and commercial buildings.

Vapor retarders

Vapor retarders are another important element of energy-efficient commercial building design: they restrict air and moisture flow so it doesn’t penetrate a wall system and lead to mold growth and structural damage. However, vapor retarders must be positioned correctly — a decision that should be made early in the schematic design phase. Aluminum and reinforced plastic are common moisture-resistant materials for rigid retarders; these retarders are mechanically attached with potentially sealed joints. Alternatively, flexible retarders may be made of plastic film, coated felts and paper, or foils; it’s essential that the joints in these retarders are sealed with a second material.

Air barriers

Air barriers are key for minimizing air leakage through building cavities, protecting structural integrity, and reducing energy use. When moist air collects on cold surfaces inside a wall structure, water vapor results. In turn, this water vapor absorbs into building materials, causing structural damage over time. For example, steel components can rust and weaken, while wood can rot and deteriorate. Air barriers ideally positioned on the exterior of the building envelope manage air flow and reduce air leakage, therefore minimizing the risk of moisture collecting inside wall structures. Moreover, reducing air infiltration with a continuous air barrier decreases energy use by as much as 36%, a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reveals. Energy savings are significantly higher in colder climates, which translates into money savings — especially in regions with expensive and lengthy heating requirements.

The demand for eco-friendly commercial buildings is continuing to grow. Air filtration, vapor retarders, and air barriers are important construction elements that ensure buildings are as energy-efficient as possible.

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