Building Green Doesn't Have to Cost More

It is a common perception that building green costs more. This is because a green building typically requires higher initial costs during the design and construction process. While the higher initial investment pays off over the lifetime of the building, the increased cost upfront remains a deterrent. The tendency to focus on initial costs instead of long-term costs is exacerbated by the fact that in many situations the party developing the project is not planning to maintain it over the long term; therefore, the notion of a long-term savings is not particularly compelling. However, there are an increasing number of green building projects that save money over the long term without requiring significantly higher initial costs. The Artists for Humanity EpiCenter, designed by Sommerville-based Arrowstreet Design and located in Boston’s Fort Point district, is a good example.

The EpiCenter’s green building features will be described in more detail in an upcoming post, but the basic design strategy was to create a simple functional building that used energy and water as efficiently as possible, took advantage of recycled materials, and maximized daylighting.

Here is a description of the project costs, according to project architect Pat Cornelison and sustainability engineer Mark Kelley : “The costs per square foot to construct commercial buildings vary widely across the U.S., but it is well established that Boston is one of the more expensive locations in which to build...costs for academic buildings of all types (green or not), ranged from $180 to $430 per square foot across the country. The construction cost multiplier for Boston is 115% compared to the average, so we might assume that the lowest cost for Boston would be of the order of $207 per square foot. The actual cost for the complete AFH EpiCenter including soft costs, was a respectable $208 per square foot.” That figure includes the initial costs of the 49-kilowatt, grid-connected, roof-mounted photovoltaic system , currently the largest PV array in Boston. The addition of the PV array made the project eligible for nearly $800,000 of grant funding from the Massachusetts Greenbuilding Initiative, which reduced the out-of-pocket costs of the building to $177 per square foot . On top of that, the estimated operational energy costs of the EpiCenter are $0.56 per square foot , significantly lower than average , and representing a cost savings of 82%.