Planning Commission Hears The Economics of Building Green

by SC Reporter Wendy McMullen

Founder of Trifecta Dr. Carolyn Languell

Building green is not just for the Birkenstock-wearing, granola-eating ladies. It’s for bankers and investors and financiers.

So said Dr. Jennifer Languell, Founder and President of Trifecta, when she spoke on the financial benefits of building for resilience and sustainability at this month’s planning commission meeting.

“You have to balance cost, and economics with environment,” she said, “if you can’t balance cost and return on investment, what you find is you don’t have a business any more.”

“Money is tied to rebuilding and whether it’s a government or a bank loan, they are going to require building green as part of that loan,” she asserted, reporting that her company, which focuses on designing cost-effective solutions for sustainable projects, is doing a lot of work with financial giants such as Prudential, JP Morgan and Bering.

“They don’t want to invest in a building or a project unless it’s going to have a contribution to their new environmental sustainability goals,” she continued. “We find a lot of times that funding partners are now requiring green building,”

She point to Miami’s 21 project which requires any building over 50,000 square feet be certified green.”

Florida’s building code, she said, is more energy efficient than the widely accepted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED program, she said, was oriented toward conserving heat in the colder areas of the country. A new building code is now becoming important in Florida. This code, called Fortified, was designed by structural engineers who had worked in the field.

“They know what parts of the house fail and how to reinforce them,” Languell said, referring to the decades of research conducted by the team instrumental in establishing the Fortified program

The Fortified code requires what she calls a “continuous load path in which the foundation is connected securely to the walls which are in turn connected to the roof so that that everything is tied together.

Languell argues that adopting Fortified standards would not only make buildings stronger and more resilient but also guarantee insurance discounts and that communities adopting them may require only a few additions and modifications.

One is to use ring shank nails to add additional support to the soffits and other critical areas. The ridges on ring shank nails act as little barbs or wedges that lock the nails firmly into the wood once it’s driven.

Another modification is to use peel and stick material and two layers of felt as a roof underlay. Current code in Florida requires only one layer of felt.

Even if you have an existing house that is not up to Fortified standards, there are elements that can be certified as Fortified and receive insurance discounts, Languell said.

“If you are re-roofing, there is a Fortified roof program. You can’t get your whole house certified but you can get your roof certified so you would be again guaranteed insurance and a discount although not as much as if you had done your whole house.”

Languell maintains that the saving in maintenance far outweighs the costs of infrastructure.

A section of Babcock Ranch’s 880-acres of solar energy panels.

As an example, she reports that Babcock Ranch, a green community built to the standards of the Florida Green Coalition, located north west of Fort Myers off Route 31, suffered less than $500,000 of damage in Hurricane Ian despite experiencing peak wind gusts of 127 mph.

“Were there upfront costs associated with it? Absolutely.” she told the commission.“ Is there a return on that investment? Absolutely.”

There were also no cuts in electricity. The town of Babcock Ranch is powered by an 880-acre solar field at a solar energy center run by Florida Power and Light on land donated by Babcock Ranch. It is the largest solar and storage system in the country.

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