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The Color of Metal is Green: The sustainable material's role in the green movement

Green-Architecture-iStockphotoA recent phase of testing by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory showed what many in the metal architecture and construction industry already know: There is a significant benefit to using dynamic metal roof assemblies to reduce energy use when compared to a single component shingle roof.

Sponsored by the Glenview, Ill.-based Metal Construction Association, data collected from winter 2009 through mid-summer 2010 revealed significant improvements in the thermal performance of the attic when the roof consisted of metal panels integrated with PV laminates, phase change materials, rigid insulation and above sheathing ventilation.

This is just one example that adds to metal's inherent sustainable, or green, benefits.

"Metal is a valuable building product, because of the things it's always had going for it. It's lightweight yet strong, wind resistant, fire resistant. All these things make it perennially popular. I think metal would always find a place in any growth in the building industry," said Kristin Dispenza, architectural/LEED coordinator for BMG Green, a division of BMG aimed at helping clients indentify, develop, promote and sell their green technologies, equipment and products to the right customers.

Specifically, Dispenza continued, metal has partnered early with technologies that support the green building industry, such as photovoltaics.

"Metal lends itself to some of these photovoltaic laminates," she said. "It's flat and strong and smooth. When it comes to highly reflective paints, metal roofing manufacturers teamed up with the manufacturers of reflective paints and have made a real difference in reducing the energy costs of buildings, because they've managed to get the solar reflectance to keep the inside of the buildings cool. Metal roofs are huge right now because it works well with those technologies."

Taking Green for Granted

While it may seem like the term green is on the tip of everyone's tongues these days, sustainable design is simply not something most architects do as standard practice, according to William J. Worthen AIA, LEED AP, director, resource architect for sustainability, with the American Institute of Architects.
"Of course, if asked, every architect would likely say they do their best to be green, but from my experience working with a wide variety of firms and building types in many climate zones, sustainability is still a specialty expertise, not a core competency and basic design concept we consider when starting every new project," Worthen said. "First-cost, low-bid, cheaper, faster delivery methods and a fundamental lack of building sciences and energy/performance knowledge is really at the core of why architects see many of the green or energy issues something that engineers do, not architects. That is going to be changing."

Worthen said the new international green construction code at the International Code Council was in its second round of public comment at the time of this article's publication, and that a green building code would be a game changer.

"In many ways, when green building moves from third party rating systems to code, the green building movement as we know it is over, or at least the green building movement is going to notably change and start to address much more challenging issues," he said. "The challenge is that when green building requirements become code every architect is going to be expected to understand how to use and achieve what until now were green items that were not generally required unless LEED was part of the project's goals by the owner."

Integrating Metal

If green building is, indeed, established as an official part of building code, the next step will be integrating metal. In Washington, D.C., it is the job of E. Thomas Coleman, senior counselor for the Livingston Group and lobbyist for the Metal Construction Association, to educate lawmakers on the role metal can play.

"I think the facts speak for themselves. We've had some pretty good studies coming out of the department of energy [referenced at the beginning of this article]," Coleman said. "My job is to make sure the policy makers and their staff are aware of that and understand it, and can translate it into policy proposals and support. The average member of congress doesn't that much about cool roofs or metal roofs or the use of metal construction. I think the grabber is that they are energy efficient and sustainable."

According to Coleman, everything is a bit stalled because of the November elections and a lame duck congress is not likely to move on any major legislation. However, there are bills that have not yet been made into law that may benefit metal in the future: The Building Star Energy Efficiency Act of 2010 is intended to assist in the creation of new jobs by providing financial incentives for owners of commercial buildings and multifamily residential buildings to retrofit their buildings with energy-efficient building equipment and materials and for other purposes; and the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 is intended to establish a rebate program for residential retrofits.

Coleman said the first step, though, is to extend the tax credit the American public currently has for putting cool roofs on their homes.
"Both the [Building Star and Home Star] bills would put a lot of people to work," Coleman said, "with the great advantage being building new energy-efficient homes and buildings. The more focus on energy-efficient buildings, the more focus will be on metal."