Green Building Is Big Business

Brick can play an important role in sustainable design.

Colin Powell Middle School (Photo courtesy Legat Architects)
Colin Powell Middle School (Photo courtesy Legat Architects)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that up to 48 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change are a result of building construction and maintenance projects. That’s a much larger percentage than most Americans believe. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 40 percent of Americans blame auto emissions for global warming, while only 7 percent attribute the causes to the built environment.

Interior of Colin Powell Middle School (Photo courtesy Legat Architects)
Interior of Colin Powell Middle School (Photo courtesy Legat Architects)

Despite this misconception, more business owners, developers and consumers are calling for more energy-efficient buildings and sustainable structures. Americans don’t want to just drive “green” cars; they want to live more environmentally aware, green lives. And they’re backing up these desires with their wallets. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the green building industry is worth upwards of $12 billion. A significant portion of this growing trend can – and should be – masonry construction. In this article, we’ll explain how masonry materials are inherently green and how they can be incorporated into green building techniques. Additionally, we will profile various projects where masonry was used to help earn LEED credits.

As you likely know, the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. According to the council: “LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.”

The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) says masonry can help with meeting LEED certification requirements “because of its many unique green attributes, several of which mirror the basic LEED program categories and include indoor environmental/air quality, daylighting, local material supply, heating and cooling features, and its renewable resource status.” But masonry goes beyond the basic requirements “by aptly addressing such bonus or ‘incentive’ features as acoustic performance, increased fire safety, and the lowest life cycle costs. Masonry can satisfy the complete program,” the MCAA says.

Further, according to the AIA’s Environmental Resource Guide, the actual “embodied energy” (the energy required for raw material extraction, manufacturing and transportation) of the typical brick is about 14,000 BTUs, which is much less than the embodied energy of most other building materials, including concrete, glass, steel and fiber-cement products.

Brick should be a natural choice for builders in all categories who are concerned about sustainable design or who are trying to earn LEED certification. The raw materials in brick are chemically inert; brick is fire-resistant and recyclable; and brick offers insulating benefits, lowering heating and cooling costs for owners. Additionally, many brick and other masonry products often are manufactured and distributed locally, minimizing fossil fuel consumption from transportation (and the resulting emissions). Moreover, brick from older construction projects can be salvaged and reinstalled elsewhere, which saves landfill space. Many designers, builders and contractors already have caught on to the marketing benefits of selling brick as a green material.

Christine Subasic, P.E., LEED AP of The Masonry Society told Masonry in 2004 that the same benefits to the community of protecting our environment benefit the contractor as well. “Practices such as recycling construction waste can lead to a reduction in contractor costs as opposed to paying tipping fees at a landfill. In addition, the positive publicity that LEED-certified buildings receive extends to all members of the design team,” she said.

To assist the team in achieving LEED points for a masonry building, Subasic added that it is the contractor’s responsibility to see that the specifications necessary to obtain the LEED certification are followed.

Patricia Hohmann, owner of Hohmann & Barnard, agrees. “The mason contractors’ role in this is to get themselves educated about what needs to be done in order to help promote a healthy living environment for every structure they’re building,” she says, adding that contractors need to have a working understanding of why they are putting up a green building.

Colin Powell Middle School includes a pond-based geothermal system. (Photo courtesy Legat Architects)
Colin Powell Middle School includes a pond-based geothermal system. (Photo courtesy Legat Architects)

Green schools

Speaking of education: In a show of solidarity and support for green building, particularly when it comes to improving our education system, the nation’s mayors – through the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) – support a resolution that urges Congress to provide funding of K-12 green school demonstration projects, as well as support new research funding to better understand the environmental, economic and health benefits of green schools.

“Studies show that children in green schools are healthier and more productive because of improved indoor air quality, lower levels of chemical emissions and a generous provision of natural day lighting,” said Mayor T.M. Franklin Cownie of Des Moines, Iowa, at the 75th annual meeting of the USCM in July 2007. “The benefits of cleaner indoor air quality – a key emphasis of green schools – have been linked to lower asthma rates, fewer allergies, reduced absenteeism and increased teacher retention rates.”

LEED Credits

The goals of the USGBC’s LEED certification process are to improve the environmental performance and economic returns of buildings, while also improving and protecting the health of occupants. Buildings are LEED-certified if they can be shown to attain at least 26 points (out of a possible 69). The certification awards system is further refined into three categories: Silver (33-38 points), Gold (39-51 points) and Platinum (52 points or more).

The LEED rating system for new construction and major renovations (LEED-NC) is divided into five categories, each with numerous credits to acknowledge sustainable building practices, plus a sixth category to recognize pioneering designs that exceed the LEED credit requirements or that address sustainable issues not covered by the rating system. The categories are as follows:

  • Sustainable Sites (14 available points)
  • Water Efficiency (five available points)
  • Energy and Atmosphere (17 available points)
  • Materials and Resources (13 available points)
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (15 available points)
  • Innovation and Design Process (five available points)

To learn more about the LEED system and the certification process, visit the USGBC’s website at The council offers several local and regional workshops on the rating system throughout the year.

What’s more, green schools actually can be quite cost effective to construct. A study from investment advisor Capital E reports that a typical green school requires just a 2 percent increase in cost, but saves $100,000 per year in energy costs alone, which is enough, the study says, to hire two new teachers at such a school or to buy 500 new computers, or to purchase 5,000 new textbooks.

Matteson, Ill., Elementary School District 159 didn’t need any convincing to design with LEED guidelines when it began to plan and build a new middle school in 2001 that would hold and educate students from four communities. That school, Colin Powell Middle School (CPMS), opened last year for 1,000 students and 200 staff members. According to the architectural firm for the project, Legat Architects Inc., of Waukegan, Ill., the district’s demands included an educationally responsive design, high-performance technologies and programmatic sensitivity.

The themes that inspired the design for the facility are openness, innovation and respect for nature. To incorporate these themes, Legat chose to use steel frame construction with face brick veneer, as well as steel beams and roof joists, along with tilt-up precast concrete for the gymnasium. The building is composed of three triangular wings that feature glass walls for the classrooms (“daylight harvesting”) and high-touch materials (face brick and precast concrete) for the interior walls. Additionally, a 3.3-acre pond-based geothermal system reduces energy costs for the school by about 20 percent ($70,000 per year, the district estimates) compared with conventional HVAC systems.

“The layout responds to site features, solar patterns and internal circulation requirements,” says Jay Johnson, project manager with Legat.

Materials played a key role in reaching the programmatic and sustainable objectives for the school, says Greg Spitzer, senior designer at Legat. “The brick complements the adjacent city hall to create a campus setting,” he says. “The brick supports the energy efficiency achieved by daylight harvesting and geothermal systems, creating a truly sustainable campus.”

Green public spaces

Federal- and state-funded projects are among the most common construction jobs to go green. In fact, at least some sustainable design often is required for these projects. Not surprisingly, the biggest U.S. cities – where a larger percentage of building construction starts and renovations are found – tend the lead the way in terms of the number of green buildings.

In New York, for example, the city’s first green LEED-certified (Gold) landmark is nearing completion. The $31 million renovation of the brick-walled Lion House at the Bronx Zoo (already a New York City Historic Landmark) combines preservation, exhibit design and viable habitat creation for foreign species (soon to play host to a recreation of Madagascar’s habitat).

A model of the renovated Bronx Zoo Lion House, a LEED-certified (Gold) landmark. (Photo courtesy of Hohmann & Barnard)
A model of the renovated Bronx Zoo Lion House, a LEED-certified (Gold) landmark. (Photo courtesy of Hohmann & Barnard)

Originally built in 1903, the Lion House is the largest of the historic Beaux-Arts buildings in the zoo’s Astor Court area. No longer suitable as a lion habitat, the renovation project has concentrated mostly on interior redesign, as well as reinforcement of the brick exterior. Much of the demolished and removed materials from project have been reused or recycled. The project team includes FXFOWLE Architects, the structural engineering firm Anastos Engineering, and general contractor M.A. Angeliades.

The team also includes Hohmann & Barnard, which is supplying the renovated Bronx Zoo Lion House with its #170 Lox-All Adjustable Eye-Wire product – a truss style adjustable joint reinforcement with eyes and pintles, and a Seismiclip Interlock System to reinforce outer wythe. The steel used in this product is made from recycled material. The project also incorporates H&B’s stone anchors (made from post-industrial recycled materials) and Mortar Net flashing for which H&B is one of the country’s largest distributors.

Inside, the 43,000-square-foot project features adjustable skylights to let in natural light and minimize energy use; a geothermal heating system, balanced with a fuel cell system, the zoo’s cogeneration plant and condensate waste heat, among many other green features. According to the New York City Department of Design and Construction, “the building itself lives and breathes” through these sustainable features, and is “projected to use 57 percent less energy than the ASHRAE 90.1 standard.”

In addition to the new habitat creation, the Department reports, the Bronx Zoo will use the renovated exhibition as an educational tool to demonstrate the value of sustainable design.

Green neighborhoods

On a larger scale, one of the latest LEED milestones concerns a brand new concept: neighborhood certification. Under this program, which is jointly designed by the USGBC and other organizations, whole communities are evaluated from the perspectives of smart growth, modern urban design concepts and green construction as opposed to the single building approach. As of August 2007, 238 new developments, encompassing 39 states and six other countries, had joined the pilot program.

During the next several months, these projects will seek certification and help to test the Neighborhood Development system. The USGBC and its partners (the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Congress for New Urbanism) will use the program to learn more about how LEED for Neighborhood Development works with real-life projects before approving a final version of the system for a full public launch sometime next year.

“The strong launch of this rating system is part of a potential sea change in how communities develop and grow,” says John Norquist, president and CEO of the Congress for New Urbanism. “The conventional transportation and development practices of the past 50 years made creating green communities impossible; automobiles were needed to get everywhere. The LEED for Neighborhood Development system serves as a guideway for developing compact, walkable, well-connected communities with a holistic approach to sustainability.”

Heating Green

Masonry Design MagazineMasonry heaters are firing up green building practices. A masonry heater is a unique type of masonry fireplace that is able to burn wood cleanly. By rapidly burning a large batch of wood (up to 60 pounds), the heater stores the heat in a masonry thermal mass. The masonry then radiates heat gently into the building for up to 24 hours or more from a single two-hour firing.

Several aspects of masonry heaters tie in directly to green building, including greenhouse gas reduction, low output capacity and radiant heat:

• Greenhouse gas reduction
Wood is a renewable fuel, particularly if harvested as part of a sustainable forestry operation. The downside of burning wood is air pollution. Wood is potentially a clean fuel. Pollution from wood burning is almost entirely the result of incomplete (smoldering) combustion. It can be greatly reduced by improved burn methods, and masonry heaters achieve this by burning the wood rapidly in a hot fire and then using the masonry mass to store the heat. Chimney flues have been known to stay clean for 20 years and longer with proper operator practice.

• Low output capability
In a large, 8,000-pound heater, the heat from a two-hour burn of 60 pounds of wood can be radiated into the building over a span of 24 hours, at roughly 10,000 BTUs per hour. In many locations, this is a typical heat load for a superinsulated building on an average day. Other cordwood burning appliances have difficulty targeting such low heat loads without resorting to smoldering (dirty) combustion.

• Radiant heat
A typical large heater will have about 100 square feet of radiating masonry surface at about 150 degrees farenheit. This is widely regarded as a comfortable and healthy type of heating, similar to what is obtainable with a hydronic floor. There is minimal air movement, and a reduction in dust circulation.

Norbert Senf is president of the Masonry Heater Association of North America.

Last year, Bob Jones, VP of the National Association of Home Builders, reported to Congress that since the 1990s, U.S. homebuilders have built and certified as “green” more than 100,000 homes. That number is steadily increasing as more green building materials enter the marketplace, and as more builders now realize that consumers are willing to absorb the initial higher costs to purchase an environmentally friendly home. In fact, a recent survey from Green Builder Media and Imre Communications reports that buyers are willing to pay 11 percent to 25 percent more for a green house.

The survey queried more than 250 residential builders across all homebuilding markets, from affordable to luxury to multi-family and developer categories. Fifty-one percent of respondents said their customers pay additional premiums for green homes. The survey also reports that 96 percent of respondents intend to incorporate more green building materials and processes into their business.

“Builders are buying green products because they feel it’s important to both the environment and their businesses. This shift in behavior and purchasing patterns confirms just how significant the green building movement is,” says Sara Gutterman, CEO of Green Builder Media. “As demand increases for green products within both the consumer and trade market, manufacturers will respond by accelerating research and development, which benefits both the environment and homebuyers.”

However, just 51 percent of builders in the survey report using green products or practices regularly. According to Imre and Green Builder Media, the primary reasons builders provided for not using more green products were price and availability. “This suggests that manufacturers have an opportunity to penetrate the market with new cost-competitive product lines, and also that there is market share to be gained by these manufacturers by providing a wider selection of product choices,” they say.

Enter companies, such as Hohmann & Barnard, which has innovated numerous anchor, reinforcement and flashing products that enable masonry walls to endure and perform efficiently as intended by the architect and owner. Additionally, most of the company’s masonry-related products are manufactured from recycled materials, which can add more LEED points to a masonry structure.

“A good 60 to 75 percent of our product line has something to do with some sort of recycled content or renewable content, Patricia Hohmann says. “We kind of pride ourselves on being at the forefront of the whole green movement.”


In July of last year, the USGBC announced that it had reached the significant 10,000-member mark – a fact that indicates just how big the green movement has become. “The achievement is a significant milestone in the growth and development of the green building movement, because it demonstrates a broad conviction that our built environment can improve the health of our planet, our economy and our communities,” says Rick Fedrizzi, president, founding chair and CEO of the USGBC.

The industry is learning that brick can be a vital part of this growth because of its green manufacturing process and sustainability. Furthermore, many industry representatives, such as John Mattke, chairman of the Natural Stone Council’s Committee on Sustainability, which is working to develop green guidelines for stone quarrying and fabrication, believe that someday the green way of constructing and maintaining our infrastructure will simply become the normal way.

“Things take a long time to develop, but after a while, it just becomes part of the fabric of how things are done,” Mattke says. “There is a lot of work to be done yet, but as fast as [green building] is moving, I think it definitely will be just the way buildings are done.”

– Originally published in Masonry magazine, Nov. 2007