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Green Buildings Tide Washes In Savings For Agriculture

Green’ may be the word for environmentally friendly. But when it comes to building and retrofitting agriculture buildings, the big green that really packs a wallop for producers is dollars.

Energy has risen to become of the top three costs of Canadian agricultural production today, translating into tens of thousands or more annually in heating, electric and other energy bills for individual producers. Green building and retrofitting is an option that can dramatically slash those costs and others — keeping a huge chunk of green in producers’ wallets and strengthening both their bottom line and sustainability.

The concept of green building is about far more than just conservation,” says Jason Price, a Project Manager with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “Today in agriculture it can play a huge role in business success and competitive edge. The past couple years have really hammered home just how big an advantage factors like energy efficiency can be.”

Residential housing has lead the charge for a green building movement now gaining momentum at a fast clip worldwide. As more agricultural producers consider a ride on this green wave, their timing couldn’t be better, says Price.

“The interest in agriculture is set to takeoff at a time when more cost-effective options and strategies are coming on stream than we have seen in many years. At a time of tight margins in agriculture, green innovations are an area where there is a lot of room to improve and a lot of savings producers can take advantage of.”

THINKGREE NEFFICIE NCY, THINK LONG-TEM

Energy is the big fish in the green building wave. Buildings designed or retrofitted to boost energy efficiency and take advantage of cost effective alternative energy options can realize strong annual windfalls in lower energy bills. A range of other cost saving green building approaches include steps such as addressing water efficiency, using renewable long lasting building materials, and designing waste reduction and efficient waste management approaches.

A lot of a producer’s success in capitalizing on green building opportunities comes from having the right mindset, says Price. “The key is to put green efficiency right at the top of your decision making process. Most options are just common sense and the solutions are straightforward and cost effective.”

The best time to choose green efficiency options is at the design and construction stage, says Price. “This saves dollars and time. If you implement during building, the job is done and typically doesn’t take any more investment compared to traditional options. It can even be cheaper. And often producers can get rebates through incentive programs that promote adopting green practices.”

Thinking long-term is a critical part of choosing wisely, he says. “Even with a retrofit that may take substantial investment in the beginning, if you take into account you’re going to operate that facility for 10, 20, 30 years or more and the green steps are going to pay off over a few years, you can see that’s a pretty good investment.”

keeping up with new and improved options is also important. “Part of the equation is that farm buildings last for so long. The building lasts longer than the technology. So it’s to be expected that you’re going to have retrofits and changes eventually. Keeping up with where the technology allows you make decisions that capture the most benefit and do what makes sense for your operation at the right time.”

BIG SAVINGS FAST

The saving can add up quickly, says Price. For example, for many livestock operations, a mere one percent improvement in energy efficiency alone means $1,000 extra every year. Ten percent means $10,000 and 20 percent means $20,000.

Saving of $10,000 to $20,000 per year or more are well within reach for many facilities that are built or retrofitted to include green efficiency measures, says Price. Large operations can double or triple those numbers.

“A lot of the green building approaches address what we would call ‘low-hanging fruit,’” says Price. “In other words, these are relatively simple issues to address that right away can bring very substantial savings.”

Some options take more investment and take longer to pay off, but still make a lot of sense, he says. “Producers can look at time-frames that work best for their situation. Typically, most farmers looking at green efficiency options can find a balance of quick steps that pay off right away and other improvements that can be pursued later at a pace that makes sense for their situation.”

MANY OPTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

A basic checklist of green considerations for designing or retrofitting agricultural buildings includes a number of core areas. Among these: using efficient, renewable building materials, adopting energy efficiency measures and considering alternative energy options; and adopting efficient systems and materials for lighting, ventilation, space heating, water heating, water pumping, feed management, and waste management.

Options for the building envelope are many and range from using efficient windows and insulation to incorporating a solar wall. Advances in alternative energy, along with related incentive and rebate programs, make options such as small scale solar and wind, earth energy, biomass combustion, biogas and others more practical and cost effective than ever. Efficient waste management design can save not just hard cost but help meet emerging environmental standards and save countless man-hours to handle and manage. Efficient water systems can get more out of every drop, capture and utilize rainwater and maximize in a variety of additional ways to slash cost.

“When you start looking at the possibilities, the opportunity for improvement is tremendous,” says Price. “There’s a lot of savings to be had for producers who take the time to look into each of these areas, consult with knowledgeable advisors and compare options. A

bit of time and investment up front can pay off substantially over the long run.”

Building design that helps deal with variables such as manure management and water spillages is a key area of innovation, he says. “Areas such as flooring design and watering and feed area design have seen a lot of progress. Those are improvements where the benefits really multiply out because they boost efficiency and productivity throughout the production system.”

PROGRESS BIG AND SMALL

Major impact retrofits can be as simple as switching from incandescent to fluorescent lighting. Changes that require ripping up concrete or tearing down walls take more consideration and careful planning. “In floor heating is an example of a great option to consider for a new building that can still be very good as a retrofit but is pretty invasive so you want to evaluate carefully in the context of your current situation. It’s a good, efficient way of heating a barn with livestock because the heat goes direct to the animals — like a ray of sunshine. It keeps the animals warm and comfortable, while less energy goes to heating up the air that goes out the window with the ventilation.”

Natural ventilation is another good option to consider at the design stage, he says. “That’s a more costly one to retrofit, but especially today can be a major energy saver. You can cut all of your electricity ventilation expenses out, and use wind and fresh air to clean the stale air out of the barn.”

Many options fall somewhere in the mid-range of significance for timing considerations and invasiveness. “Some of the poultry barns in Alberta have gone to a solar wall to offset some of their heating costs. That’s an option that can be retrofitted pretty easily, but there still would be some advantage to doing at the design stage. Most of the mid range options are ones that can be adopted anytime, but the sooner you do that the quicker your savings start to add up.”

Among the latest areas of innovation generating news are “cool roofs,” which involve everything from simple white paint to avoid cool air losses in summer to sophisticated roof design that essentially “breathes” to improve heating and cooling efficiency. Another fast progressing area is envelope insulation, using options such as insulated concrete forms that prevent inefficient thermal bridges.

“There are lots of new innovations coming out that are worth keeping an eye on,” says Price. “We now have university departments dedicated to environmental design, and more focus every year on the commercial side. This is going to be a major area of focus and progress for many years to come.”

It’s an area where the Agriculture Stewardship Division of ARD is also looking to play a larger role. One of the division’s key focuses is looking at the technologies and knowledge for green building design, particularly in the area of energy, and providing services to help the industry understand what these innovations mean to them and what kind of payback they may expect. This includes working directly with some of the innovators, to help develop and commercialize their ideas.

A WINNING COMBINATION

Overall, Price is convinced that as more Canadian farmers consider green building options, improvements in this area will come big and fast.

“Producers and green building, to me are a great match,” says Price. “For one thing, producers are stewards of the land and take pride in that role. For another, they are some of the best people at efficiency you can find. They have a yearly cycle, repeat the same jobs every year, and every year observe and make adjustments to be better the next. As farmers focus more on thinking green, I can see a lot of progress coming in just a few years.”

Farmers who look at change with an open mind stand the most to gain, he says. “One of the obstacles you can run into is being slow to get rid of or change something that works. It’s like the old refrigerator syndrome of years back, where people kept the ones they had until they wore out, even though they were big money losers from an efficiency perspective. The pace of innovation is increasing, so that means adapting to change quicker is more important.”

From a building perspective, this quickening pace is one of the reasons using renewable materials is more important environmentally, he notes. “We can change more frequently, with less waste.”

All of this means a clear take-home message for agriculture: Going with green building is not only good business; it’s one of the best ways to secure a successful future. “There’s no doubt where things are headed,” says Price. “Now is a great time to focus more on green building and get ahead of the game.”

Article courtesy of Meristem Land & Science, Calgary, AB. Phone 403-543-7420 or visit their Web site at www.meristem.com.

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