Create and conserve: Smartly designed commercial structures do both

A solar foam roofing system on a Tampa Bay (FL) facility combines the energy efficiency of spray foam roofing with the energy generation of photovoltaics (PV). 
Photo courtesy Steve Rice

by Doug Kramer

Once a novel and expensive prospect, sustainable construction practices have now become commonplace. In the past 10 years, advances in materials and applications have propelled the industry forward and now allow one to not only construct better performing commercial facilities but to respect and protect the environment while doing so.

The increasing affordability of sustainable construction is undoubtedly a driver of green building. Other motivating factors include varied sustainable certification programs, government regulations and codes, as well as the increasing number of corporations with environmental responsibility mandates requiring facilities respecting the earth.

What has been interesting, however, in the growth of green practices, is the attention, and inattention, to technologies specific to the harnessing of energy in commercial structures. For example, the value of renewable energy generation technology, such as in the case of solar power, is both widely understood and indisputably important. The installation of the technology on both new and existing structures empowers and benefits owners and tenants, powering structures, unlocking long-term energy savings and benefiting the earth through the reduction of fossil fuel use for electricity and the pollution resulting from it.

However, other technologies optimizing the harnessing of energy in structures remain unleveraged. For example, the hyper focus on energy creation has forced many to overlook the importance of its counterpart—energy conservation. The hard truth is no matter how far one comes in clean energy generation, it will not mean much for building owners—and the greater community in the long run—if the energy is not utilized efficiently. What many do not realize is the creation and saving of energy must go hand-in-hand to really make a noteworthy difference.

One also needs to think about the building envelope itself. This is where one can leverage high performance materials to effectively seal the structure, preventing the loss of conditioned air and conserving the energy being utilized in the facilities.

It has been said the cleanest and cheapest kilowatt hour is the kilowatt hour saved. In fact, the return on investment associated with energy conservation to the owner and end-user is monumental, with up to 50 percent in energy savings now achievable over the life of a properly sealed facility. The financial benefits of energy conservation clearly line up with the environmental benefits and make a case for significant cost savings.

Builders, architects, and manufacturers must better educate others on the importance of energy conservation. While many are aware of the benefits of photovoltaic (PV) systems, they do not understand the equal need for proper insulation as a means for conserving energy generated by the solar system. There is a huge disparity today in the average person’s knowledge and understanding of how these two technologies work together to make a real impact on the Earth and drive long-term energy savings in a structure.

Additionally, policymakers should be encouraged to focus more on incentives for energy-efficient buildings. To date, the United States has predominantly supported incentives for the generation of solar and other power sources. Again, these are highly important, but without technologies for energy conservation, they do not provide a complete solution. Energy conservation should also be incentivized by government.

Finally, the industry must continue to push the needle forward in responsible, energy-efficient building practices. It has the power to shape the future of building and the health of the planet. Conservation is a complementary solution to energy generation and deserves an equal spotlight, as well as an emphasis in the structures being built now and in the future.

Doug Kramer is president of Icynene-Lapolla, a U.S. and Canada-based manufacturer and global supplier of spray polyurethane foam (SPF) and coatings. He is a member of the Spray Foam Coalition and a board member of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA). Kramer attended Penn State and University of Texas. He can be reached at

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