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Friday, June 14, 2024

Designing for the Building Life Cycle

Building design at what cost? Life-cycle decisions add up to a whole lot.

By Megan Duffy

Life cycle costs of design decisions made prior to moving in are a major form of criteria often overlooked during the design process. Many large-ticket items like passive cooling, energy studies, or more efficient lighting are straightforward decisions. Of course you want LED lighting. But what about the cost of daily routine maintenance? Your design decision can have a huge bearing on the daily operations cost.

You’ll typically need to elevate four different methodologies to understand the full cost impact. These include:

>    Initial cost
>    Replacement cost
>    Maintenance cost
>    Total life-cycle replacement cost


Vinyl composition tile (VCT), for example, requires waxing and sealing every year. While it is extremely durable and inexpensive to install, the life-cycle cost of the maintenance can be up to 17 times the original investment. At $1.50 per sq. ft., VCT’s initial cost for 100,000 sq. ft. equals $150,000 at the time of construction, but the life-cycle cost will be closer to $2,550,000 over the course of 30 years. That’s $85,000 to maintain the product every year.

Let’s look at no-wax luxury vinyl tile, at $5 per sq. ft., in comparison to VCT. If you have 100,000 sq. ft., of a $500,000 initial investment at time of construction, with a life-cycle factor that is four times the initial cost, the life-cycle cost over the course of 30 years is $1,000,000. That is a yearly maintenance cost of $33,000.

Over the course of 30 years you could theoretically save millions of dollars by installing flooring that does not require finishing. This issue has huge resonance in healthcare and maybe less application in office design. You can see how this could easily be magnified across a large building and become a significant part of the operating budget.

These initial decisions typically get challenged in value engineering when projects are over budget. As the project moves forward, design criteria need to be in the forefront not only in the minds of the architect/designer, but also the client and contractor.


We suggest reading the IFMA, International Facility Management Association, when looking at long-term investments. This is a total cost of ownership management framework document. It has some great metrics and cost models to help determine where your project metrics might sit in relation to your project’s goals and characteristics.

Most importantly, include the building facility manager or a team member who understands the cost implications of the design criteria and is responsible for the outcome of design and its relation to life-cycle costs. These team members can be invaluable in the process.


Megan Duffy has over 15 years’ experience in the commercial interior design industry. She believes superior project outcomes result from the successful marriage of architecture and interior design, placing equal emphasis on function and form. As Senior Interior Design Lead at DLR Group, Megan takes pride in her role as a seasoned designer and mentor and takes on every project with enthusiasm and confidence.


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