Building Design and Material Selection
Avoiding the Landfill
- Salvaged brick and stone: Using reclaimed brick and stone has become so popular in construction projects that businesses have emerged that are entirely devoted to collecting and providing such materials.
- Concrete containing fly ash: Fly ash is a fine residue created as a waste byproduct when coal is burned in electric power generation plants. Using the glass-like powder as a substitute for cement in concrete keeps it out of landfills and reduces demand for cement, the production of which generates significant carbon dioxide. Concrete containing fly ash is also stronger and easier to pump than that containing only conventional cement.
- Synthetic gypsum board or drywall: Like fly ash, synthetic gypsum is a waste byproduct of power plant coal combustion—in this case created when sulfur dioxide is removed from a power plant's exhaust flue gas. Such removal is required by law in many regions because sulfur dioxide contributes to acid rain. As with using fly ash in concrete, employing synthetic gypsum keeps this waste material out of landfills.
- Green insulation: All building insulation is inherently green because it improves energy efficiency. Cellulose insulation is considered even greener than conventional fiber glass insulation because it is made primarily from recycled newsprint. Another option is natural fiber insulation made from scrap denim, retrieved from clothing factories and otherwise bound for the trash.
- Sustainable wood: Wood is a renewable resource, assuming the forest it comes from is effectively managed to ensure its continued existence and replenishment. Several forest certification programs exist today that verify sustainability; the international Forest Stewardship Council is the best recognized. (FSC-certified wood is specifically referenced in the LEED rating system, for example.)
- Rubberized asphalt: Rubberized asphalt is a mix of regular asphalt and crumb rubber—ground up scrap tires. The material reduces tire noise and is less expensive than conventional asphalt; every lane-mile utilizes an estimated 2,000 old tires that would otherwise end up in landfills.
- Steel: Modern steel is made in one of two methods and, due to major cost savings of recycling steel over mining iron ore and processing new steel, both involve recycled content. Steel made through the electric arc furnace process in which an electric current is passed through scrap steel to melt and refine it, contains 25 percent to 35 percent recycled content. This type of steel can be flattened relatively easily and is used for items such as automotive body panels, exterior panels for major appliances and containers such as soup cans. Steel made through the basic oxygen furnace process, which combines molten iron from a blast furnace with pure oxygen, contains nearly 100 percent recycled content. Because of its great strength, this type of steel is typically used for items such as structural beams or plating.
Embodied Energy and Emissions
- Extracting raw materials
- Processing and manufacturing an item
- Transporting it
- Installing it
Table 3-1. Embodied Energy and Carbon of Common Building Materials
Asphalt (road and pavement)
Cement (25 percent fly ash)
Cement (50 percent fly ash)
0.43 to 1.5
0.94 to 3.3
Polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipe
- Buy local materials: The shorter distance that an item has to be transported, the lower its embodied energy and emissions.
- Buy materials with recycled content: Reusing an item or material invariably consumes fewer resources than using something new.
- Get back to nature: Goods made from natural components rather than man-made ones typically consume less energy and resources.
- Less is more: The fewer materials you use in construction, the less energy and carbon emissions that are involved.
Maintaining Air Quality
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination, dizziness, and nausea
- Nosebleeds (epistaxis)
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Vomiting (emesis)
- Memory impairment
- Damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system functions
- Cancer in humans and animals
- The size of the area you're ventilating
- How frequently you want to fully replenish the area with fresh air, known as air changes per hour
- The air moving capability of your fans, which is typically listed in cubic feet per minute (cfm).
- 15 feet x 15 feet x 10 feet = 2250 cubic feet.
- 2,250 cubic feet x 5 air exchanges = 11,250 cubic feet per hour.
- 11,250 / 60 minutes = 187.5 cubic feet per minute.
- 100,000 feet x 12 feet = 1,200,000 cubic feet.
- 1,200,000 x 12 air exchanges = 14,400,000 cubic feet per hour.
- 14,400,000 / 60 = 240,000 cubic feet per minute.
Choosing Efficient Fixtures and Appliances
- Lighting: Design office areas to maximize daylight, reducing the use of powered lights (and typically increasing the comfort and productivity of building occupants). Install timers and motion sensors so lights automatically shut off during times when employees are not present. Fluorescent T12 bulbs are the ubiquitous choice for ceiling lights, but thinner T8 and T5 bulbs use less energy—25 percent to 50 percent less by various estimates. (T indicates the tubular shape of the bulb; the number represents the diameter of the bulb in eighths of an inch.) Light emitting diode (LED) lights are used rarely in office buildings but can provide even greater energy savings.
- Office electronics: Choose energy-efficient office equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program addresses computers, copiers, digital duplicators, fax machines, printers, and even water coolers. An excellent source of information about computers and monitors is the online Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which evaluates those devices according to 51 environmental criteria including material selection, packaging, energy efficiency, and to what degree a product's component parts can be reused or recycled at the end of its useful life. The tool is available at http://www.epeat.net.
- Power strips: In many workplaces, computer peripherals such as monitors, printers, and speakers are left on perpetually, even during nonbusiness hours. Several electrical power strips are on the market nowadays that detect when a primary device (that is, your computer) is either not present or not drawing power and then cut power to the other sockets that peripheral devices are plugged in to. This avoids desktop items drawing power when not needed, without having to rely on people to manually unplug them at the end of each workday.
- Kitchen appliances: Ideally your Data Center isn't located in a building that also contains a cafeteria or break room, due to the increased potential for a fire or water leak to occur. If it is, however, you can at least choose energy-efficient appliances.
- Plumbing fixtures: Even if your Data Center is located within a dedicated building that contains no office space or other regularly occupied areas, it will likely include one or more restrooms. Waterless urinals forgo the 1.5 gallons to 3.5 gallons (5.7 liters to 13.2 liters) of water per use of conventional toilets, typically saving tens of thousands of gallons (liters) per year. Auto-sensing sink fixtures can also reduce water, as do low flow shower heads if the building happens to include employee shower facilities.