Complete Property Market Updates of Singapore

June 10, 2008

Going green to stay in the black

Filed under: Construction News,General — Propertymarketupdates @ 2:38 am

A NEW species of building is sprouting up in our concrete jungle. And in the near future, the proliferation of this species may render the term ‘concrete jungle’ an anachronism.

‘Green buildings’ are taking root across our cityscape and redefining our living and working environments. They may serve the same functions and generally occupy the same forms as conventional buildings, but they do so with more energy-efficiency and greater regard for the environment in terms of the materials and construction methods used.

While the impetus for this new building paradigm was ecological, it has since taken on an economic dimension as well. And it is the latter consideration that is fuelling the commercial viability of the trend. Industry experts say that companies which make their office buildings green will eventually add more black to their bottom line in energy cost savings.

And the government, with its new green thumb, is actively helping to prune the industry of unnecessary waste.

From April this year, the authorities have made it mandatory for all new buildings to be certified with the Green Mark, a scheme under the Building and Construction Authority that ensures structures are environmentally friendly.

Besides that, the authorities are giving cash incentives to builders who achieve certain standards set out under the scheme. To attain the certificate, new building plans are graded on five areas – energy efficiency, water efficiency, environmental protection, indoor environmental quality as well as green features and innovation.

According to the director of local energy-audit firm G-Energy Global, Vincent Low, getting certified should not be the main focus of building planners. In his experience, builders sometimes approach the Green Mark as though it were a test, trying to score easy points in less challenging areas (50 out of 100 is the pass mark).

But this, he says, is myopic and defeats the purpose. They need to appreciate the spirit of going green in the first place. While bureaucratic standards may require them to score a certain amount of points in an overall assessment, builders need to look at the big picture – saving their clients money in the long run through cutting energy consumption. And there are various ways to do this.

Construction materials and processes also determine how green a building is. During construction, how much material from existing structures is recycled for use in a new building is a factor in the Green Mark assessment.

As is how conscientious contractors are in preserving trees and greenery on site. Specialised materials and paints that do not harm the environment also add to the score.

Energy-saving functions A green building is more energy-efficient than a grey one because of technologies and design elements that enable it to adapt to the behaviour and changing needs of its occupants without compromising functional quality and comfort. It does this by dynamically tracking human and environmental factors, then moderating the allocation of resources to parts of the building that require them. Less energy is wasted.

According to G-Energy Global’s Mr Low, if properly designed and managed, a green building can save up to 30 per cent in energy. This is something that developers need to focus on when deciding how much to invest in typically more expensive green materials and technologies.

Such a level of energy-efficiency translates into significant operational cost savings in the long run. The government has, in fact, set up a $10 million fund to subsidise up to 50 per cent of the cost of companies that wish to audit the energy efficiency of their buildings.

But the ‘long run’ is an issue that must be reconciled with this move to green technologies.

With his years of experience, the past-president of the Singapore Institute of Building, Yan Kum Seng, has noticed that buildings here are generally torn down or renovated after just 10 years. He believes that installing green components makes sense only if buildings last for at least a couple of decades. If not, spending on more expensive technology designed to save money in the long term won’t make any sense.

But according to Chan Kim Kai, the manager of Temasek Polytechnic’s Intelligent Building Technology course, a building need not employ sophisticated technology for it to be green. Changi Airport Terminal Three (T3) is a good example. It employs technology and simple but effective design in order to save energy.

Sophisticated sensors are used in the ceiling louvres that react to sunlight and adjust their angle automatically to let in an optimal amount of natural light and a minimal amount of heat. This results in less energy spent on artificial lighting and, because it also keeps heat out, less is spent to cool the interior.

There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly hi-tech about the air-conditioning vents in the departure hall, apart from the fact that they are placed as close to the ground as possible. The simple but thoughtful design element is their energy-saving efficiency – because they are close to human level, the ventilators do not have to be on full blast for occupants to feel their effect.

Another simple feature with significant benefits – which T3 shares with several other green buildings – is a ‘green wall’. Surfaces that are covered with greenery tend to absorb less heat and thus help keep the internal temperature cool. And of course, they look great too.

But well-considered basic design touches will only take a building so far. It will still require technology to deepen a building’s shade of green. Centralised controls that regulate lighting, air-conditioning, water-flow, waste management and security, ensure that every ounce of energy and resource is expanded to its fullest potential.

Colour of money These features do not just make buildings green, but also ‘intelligent’. Indeed, a building that responds intuitively to facilitate the human and organisational activities of its occupants, while saving money at the same time, warrants such a term.

And with regulations now calling for all buildings to encompass green components, the intelligent building industry is growing, as Singapore becomes an attractive market for companies that specialise in building materials and equipment.

One such example is Baur Asia, a Swiss company that markets European building materials and precision equipment. Having set up shop here a year ago, it is using Singapore as a regional hub. According to Eleonore Taillens, its business development manager, the prospects are attractive and the company has achieved good growth so far. She says that companies here are generally enthusiastic about adopting newer technologies and materials, even though they may initially cost more. They understand the cost-saving aspect of such investments.

One area of the industry caters to customers with special needs, typically physically-challenged people who need customised equipment to negotiate conventionally-structured spaces.

With government regulations that require buildings to be outfitted with specialised devices to facilitate accessibility by the physically handicapped, this is another niche industry that is expanding. IGV is an Italian company that designs and builds specialised elevators. These lifts, known as hydraulic vertical platforms, can be retrofitted with relative ease into existing buildings to make them compliant with those regulations.

According to Nicole Wong, the marketing manager of Lift-Mech Engineering, a Singapore company that markets and installs IGV products, this is particularly useful for heritage buildings that may have renovation limitations. Without a lift, such a building may not qualify as handicapped-accessible.

Compared with conventional lifts, which require a pit of up to 1.5m-deep to be dug, hydraulic vertical platforms need only a depression of 150mm to be installed.

Ms Wong also reveals that for the first time, such a lift was recently approved by the Housing and Development Board to be installed in a maisonette for an occupant who has trouble climbing stairs. The lifts are also relatively energy-efficient, requiring the same amount of energy as a washing machine.

With innovations such as these and interest growing in the intelligent and green building industries, Singapore is quickly becoming a hub for such products.

The burgeoning local construction industry, which is expected to generate US$55 billion by 2011, is one sure sign of the opportunities that lie ahead for industry players.

Another sign is the BEX Asia Exhibition that takes place here later this month. It is expected to bring together not only the latest construction technologies and materials from around the world, but experts from various industries as well.

Green, as they say, really is the colour of money.

Source : Business Times – 13 May 2008

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