By Courtney Morin ’10
The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant to Kristen Sanford Bernhardt, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Virginia Tech professors Annie R. Pearce and Michael J. Garvin to help improve understanding in the construction industry of how designing a sustainable building impacts the building’s cost.
Sanford Bernhardt and her collaborators plan to develop and test a model that will, at the earliest stages of design, more accurately predict the Total Cost of Ownership of a green facility. According to Sanford Bernhardt, unlike traditional facilities in the public sector, when developing a green facility, the price tag is usually elevated to account for “sustainability costs.”
“The cost estimation occurs during the conceptual design phase when funding allocation is sought. This premium or cost margin results in green buildings costing more, which reinforces the perception in the construction industry that green construction is not cost competitive,” says Sanford Bernhardt.
Sanford Bernhardt and her student researchers are working with graduate and undergraduate students and faculty at Virginia Tech. The students who have been involved so far are civil engineering majors Stephanie Mason ’10 (New York, N.Y.) and Mosi London ’10 (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Cara Lyons ’11 (New Holland, Pa.) will join the research team this summer.
Sanford Bernhardt hopes that the results of her research will “further the goals of sustainability in public sector capital projects by providing a more realistic and accurate picture of the relationships between investment and outcomes, and generating the knowledge that is needed to direct limited resources where they can do the most good.” In addition, Sanford Bernhardt plans to construct a “sustainability game and kit” to be used in secondary school classes and undergraduate math and science courses.
The impact of this project is already evident in Sanford Bernhardt’s new Values and Science/Technology course on the sustainability of built systems. “I have been bringing the background for the research into the course and, as the research progresses, we may be able to use the model and/or the game in the course. The game, once it is developed, could be used in any course that addresses sustainability issues,” she says.