Author: David Smedick
A leading child education institution, Atlanta International School (AIS) is dedicated to providing top tier education to its students in a healthy, safe, and environmentally sustainable environment. When planning a new 17,000 square-foot Early Learning Center, the project design and construction team had explicit goals of incorporating sustainability into the building and site, but when considering green certifications, the team was concerned that some features and costs would become too burdensome on the budget. Early in the planning stage, however, the architects at Collins Cooper Carusi suggested that AIS work with the EarthCraft Light Commercial (ECLC) certification program.
ECLC offers a prescriptive green building approach to new or major renovation commercial projects in the Southeast up to 25,000 square feet in size; a market that is traditionally underserved by third-party certification systems. Unlike other green building certification programs, an ECLC project receives one-on-one project-specific technical assistance to the design and construction team and offers a minimum of three on-site visits that include point verification and diagnostic air sealing tests. The rating system itself awards three levels of certification (Certified, Gold, and Platinum) depending on the total number of points awarded and evaluates each project by 10 categories that impact sustainability:
- Site Planning
- Construction Waste Management
- Resource Efficiency
- Durability and Moisture Management
- Indoor Air Quality
- High Performance Building Envelope
- Energy Efficient Systems
- Water Efficiency
- Education and Operations
For AIS, there was excellent value added to the project as a result of the consultation with the ECLC team and the certification process. As with every ECLC project, the Early Learning Center design and construction team members met with their ECLC project manager and support team for initial design and planning review. At this meeting, the team became familiar with their ECLC Worksheet, which tracks the points attempted and completed by the project and is updated at each program milestone. This meeting allowed the ECLC team to provide technical sustainability advice specific to the design goals of the Early Learning Center. The team decided to invest in a spray foam insulation application along the roof line. The spray foam won the project points in the ECLC rating system, and allowed the ductwork and HVAC systems to be housed in the thermal envelope, which can reduce equipment stress and keep any air leakage within the conditioned area, thereby reducing energy consumption.
After building a thorough plan for ECLC certification, AIS commenced construction with the EarthCraft process fitting seamlessly into the schedule. Prior to the start of major construction, the ECLC project manager met on site with the general contractor, SG Contracting, and subcontractors to discuss EarthCraft goals and responsibilities. As the construction progressed, the ECLC team was invited for the first program-required site inspection at the “pre-drywall” phase.
The first ECLC site inspection is primarily focused on visual inspection of air sealing techniques prior to insulation installation, in addition to verification of points specific to each project. For AIS, the ECLC team was able to verify proper insecticide application, proper flashing and drainage plane and proper air sealing in areas like the joints between framing and sheathing. At the same time, the inspection team identified specific locations where air sealing could be improved, including electrical, ductwork, and plumbing penetrations in the exterior sheathing.
Soon after the first site inspection, the ECLC team returns to every project to conduct a thorough insulation inspection. The pre-drywall insulation inspection for the Early Learning Center at AIS involved evaluation of both spray foam insulation along the roof line and batt insulation within the wall cavities. The ECLC team worked with the site superintendent to identify areas of poor spray foam and batt insulation coverage. For both air sealing and insulation inspections, the ECLC team provided continued technical assistance and support in regards to specific suggestions and was able to confirm improvements were made.
One of the most exciting, valuable and informative pieces of the EarthCraft program is the final site visit. Near the end of construction, the ECLC team performs final visual inspection of project points and performs diagnostic testing with blower door equipment. Pressurization testing with a blower door gives the entire project team an opportunity to confirm air sealing techniques and identify any major envelope leakage problems that could negatively affect energy consumption during occupancy. The test establishes an envelope leakage ratio (ELR) for the building, which is measured by comparing airflow across the entire building envelope area.
The diagnostic testing of the Early Learning Center yielded excellent results. The ECLC rating system has a minimum requirement that the building test out at a 0.5 ELR, with additional significant point thresholds at 0.4 and 0.3. The Early Learning Center achieved a 0.22 ELR, well beyond the top performance threshold. The final site inspection for the Early Learning Center also included visual confirmation of ductwork installation that was consistent with design, energy efficient lighting fixtures, and water efficient dual-flush toilet and faucet fixtures.
By the end of the certification process, the Early Learning Center received ECLC’s first Gold certification. The construction team recycled 96% of construction waste. The interior lighting design results in efficiencies 10% below energy code requirements. The landscape irrigation system does not use potable water, and the HVAC equipment has a SEER of 16. Overall, the project met sustainability goals across the spectrum.