California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Sustainable (Green) Building: Project Design

Cost Issues

Effectively integrating sustainable design elements into projects during project development and design phases can minimize building costs. Conversely, if green design elements are considered late in the design process and designers have to "redesign" the entire project, overall costs can increase significantly.

Green Buildings Offer Cost Benefits

The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California's Sustainable Building Task Force, "finds that an upfront investment of less than two percent of construction costs yields life cycle savings of over ten times the initial investment."

Primers on Cost and Benefit Issues

First Cost

Some aspects of design have little or no first cost including site orientation and window and overhang placement. Other sustainable systems that may cost more in the design phase, such as an insulated shell, can be offset by the reduced cost of a smaller mechanical system. This concept is known as "right sizing" of infrastructure and mechanical systems. Material costs can be reduced during the construction phase by dimensional planning-a strategy to design for minimizing framing needs, carpet etc.

Life-Cycle Cost Method

Sustainable buildings can be assessed as cost-effective through the life-cycle cost method, a way of assessing total building cost over time. It consists of:

  • Initial costs (design and construction).
  • Operating costs (energy, water/sewage, waste, recycling, and other utilities).
  • Maintenance, repair, and replacement costs.
  • Other environmental or social costs/benefits (impacts on transportation, solid waste, water, energy, infrastructure, worker productivity, outdoor air emissions, etc).

Sustainable buildings are also considered healthy buildings and therefore can decrease worker illness costs. The Blueprint has several activities that aim to better incorporate life-cycle costing into the capital outlay process (Action Item 3).

Last updated: August 26, 2014
Green Building http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/GreenBuilding/
Greg Dick: Gregory.Dick@calrecycle.ca.gov  (916) 341-6489