A New Kind of Green

By Christina Fisher and Chris Butlak. | September 28, 2010

When Bank of America (BofA) embarked on a project to remodel the 19th floor of its downtown Charlotte headquarters, the company decided to commit to sustainable and healthier workspaces and obtain gold LEED® certification. A program of the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification program whereby projects obtain points by implementing environmentally friendly, green building practices. For general contractor RT Dooley Construction Company of Charlotte, North Carolina, this meant extensive, detailed planning prior to demolition or, more accurately, deconstruction of the interior.

"The LEED requirements made the team reevaluate how we approach our typical high rise interior demolition projects," said Chris Butlak, project manager with RT Dooley. "Our typical demolition methods had to be viewed as antiquated procedures."

RT Dooley teamed up with demolition and recycling expert The Linda Construction Co. and met with the plumbing, mechanical and electrical subcontractors on the job. With everyone committed to the LEED process, the team had several preconstruction meetings that initially left them with several challenges:

  • To creatively find a way to recycle or salvage materials;
  • To assign roles, staging areas and develop a detailed sequencing plan; and
  • To document and weigh all of the material removed from the building.

Before the first wall came down, RT Dooley supervisors measured every square inch of space on the floor. This data was entered onto an Excel spreadsheet to determine the weight of the entire project prior to deconstruction. These figures became important later in the project as work proceeded.

Next, RT Dooley made a list of every component on the floor from light switch cover plates to sheetrock. The team then developed a responsibility matrix that established who would be responsible for each component on the list. These components were then quantified by goals and sorted into three major categories: salvage — 50 percent; recycle — 25 percent; and landfill — 25 percent.

"On a typical demo job you have steel and concrete, which are easily sorted and weighed," explained Butlak. However, "on a renovation project, you have different materials — sheetrock, ceiling tiles, doors, demountable partitions, ductwork, etc. These things are more difficult to recycle."

For those items that could not be recycled, RT Dooley had to determine if they could be salvaged and then find a market for them. Butlak kept Linda Construction heavily engaged during this process.

"We went further than we have before on a demo-recycling project," said Gary Olnowich, vice president of The Linda Construction Co. "We even used recycled pallets to haul (material)."

"Gary had a lot of creative ideas," added Butlak. "For instance, we broke down the mechanical boxes in the ceiling, salvaged the metal, and donated the components and gears to (BofA's) engineering department so they could use them for maintenance. We also gave thermostats to the maintenance department for replacement in other parts of the building."

Jim Kirby, project architect with Perkins+Will, added that the team also met with Diane Davis, waste reduction specialist with Mecklenburg County, who put them in touch with vendors for the salvaged material and other sources for recycling the demolition waste.

The team found a home for virtually all the recyclable or salvageable material except the drywall, which could not be recycled because of the paint and wall covering on the paper surface. While the paper could have been stripped away to recycle the gypsum, site constraints made this too difficult to do. Instead, the team used some of the drywall for packaging material.

As the team deconstructed the 19th floor, the components were disassembled, sorted, palletized and trucked to the appropriate market. Each pallet was photographed and weighed using a commercial scale. RT Dooley then issued a manifest for each pallet listing its contents, weight and destination. This detailed manifest followed the material until it reached its recipient, who signed for the contents. RT Dooley then kept a copy of the manifest for its records.

At this point, RT Dooley compared the weight of the pallet material to the weight calculations obtained prior to deconstruction, rectifying any discrepancies. Furthermore, each morning Linda Construction would verify that the previous day's manifests corresponded to the actual shipments in order to account for every pallet.

Although there was a learning curve to work through, both Chris Butlak and Gary Olnowich stress the importance of detailed record keeping on a LEED project. "Getting the paperwork right from day one was critical," said Olnowich. "If we'd waited or lost a day, it would have been murder to do the paperwork."

One of the challenges on the project was working in an occupied building, so RT Dooley arranged the project schedule to minimize noise during normal business hours. To keep the project organized and moving efficiently, Olnowich established a sequencing plan for deconstruction, which allowed the subcontractors to follow each other in order. During the day, materials such as metal, wire and light fixtures were disassembled and sorted into staging piles. The materials were then palletized and weighed. After business hours, a second shift arrived, took the pallets down to the loading dock and loaded the trucks. This cleared the floor for work to resume the next day.

When RT Dooley and Linda Construction began the project, BofA expected them to divert 50 percent of the deconstruction material from the landfill for one LEED credit; the team far exceeded expectations. "Right now, we're at 78.9 percent either salvaged or recycled," said Olnowich. When all of the materials are accounted for and the paperwork is completed, the team expects to reach an 80 percent rate of recycling or salvaging and earn a second LEED point as a result.

RT Dooley's initial calculations show that the deconstruction process on this project cost approximately 20 percent more, which is attributed to the extra labor force needed to separate the materials. "If this was a normal demo job where you'd gut it and get out of the building, we could have done it in a week and a half, all at nights, in one shift," explained Butlak. "But the dollars you save from the landfill, which is one of the cheaper invoices, you're spending on labor." He adds, though, that despite the additional labor requirements, total labor charges for the job came 10 percent under budget, which was a savings for the client.

Working on his first LEED project has been challenging, but Butlak states that teamwork and communication were critical to the success of the job. "We walked into the project over-documenting and overanalyzing things, but this got everyone into a mindset from day one. It got to the point where laborers or foremen would come up and be concerned that items were being sorted properly. Recycling the ceiling tile, recycling the carpet — it's becoming mainstream now, and we're looking at recycling on future projects."

With the deconstruction phase complete, the BofA project has moved into design development and mockup review. "There are challenges with trying to design a LEED renovation in an existing building that was not built to LEED specifications," said Tonya Brandon, senior project manager with Trammell Crow Company, the owner's representative. "The design team, which is looking at sustainable design, is really being challenged to understand internally what they can do to meet the LEED requirements. (They are) looking at implementing what they call 'design chassis,' which is a new mode of planning and design for this building. There are a lot of things we need to test, innovations that haven't really been explored in this environment, which we're doing in the mockup phase."

RT Dooley is playing an important role on the design team and will continue on the project as construction begins. The design team is currently analyzing how best to obtain LEED certification. "You look at the points you can gain from the existing structure and existing elements," said Butlak. "You can gain LEED points by not disturbing the core and the shell (of the building), and if you don't disturb 50 percent of the interior walls, you can get another point."

The design team is also analyzing the existing infrastructure — lighting, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems — to determine whether they can be reused and incorporated into a LEED design or whether they will need to be discarded. For example, the core floor was left intact, but existing plumbing fixtures had to be removed because they did not meet LEED specifications and were not ADA compliant, noted project architect Jim Kirby. Aesthetic elements such as paint and carpet will be environmentally friendly.

As the project moves forward, every member of the team has been happy with the relationships they have formed, and they are excited about being part of this pilot project. "The premise of doing the 'right thing' has not only affected the client, designers and facility partners, but more importantly the workers in the field," said Butlak. "(They) are talking about it on the job, planning ahead and realizing that this is my family I'm protecting, my kids."

In fact, Butlak states that the BofA project has sent a "shockwave throughout our organization. We have realized that recycling is cost effective and simple. There are techniques we've learned that are now becoming everyday practice — as well as being the right thing to do."

Editor's Note: For more information on the U.S. Green Building Council and the LEED certification process, please visit www.usgbc.org.