- Introduction to Green Building Projects
- LEED Certification
- Building Systems, Techniques & Strategies
- Claims & Litigation Case Studies
- Deep Thoughts
- Codes & Standards
- Research & Links
1. Introduction to Green Building Projects
This is a brief introduction to the design, construction, maintenance, and management of Green Building projects, which are sometimes also referred to as “sustainable”, “high-performance”, or “passive.”
“Green Building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) refers to both a structure and the application of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.” (Wikipedia)
The intention of Green Building is to reduce the environmental impact of building projects by:
- Lowering energy and water use;
- Using environmentally preferable materials;
- Increasing durability, which allows buildings to last longer before requiring rehabilitation or replacement, which saves resources over the building lifecycle;
- Reducing waste during construction and operation & maintenance;
- Reducing toxins;
- Improving the indoor environment for occupants, including air quality (IAQ); and
- Creating neighborhoods designed to lower environmental impact and improve human health.
The point is that buildings consume something like 40% of the energy we use, and making buildings more resource-consumption-efficient in every way, including during constructing, using, repurposing, and even decommissioning, is a good thing.
Green Building is about more than design and construction. Maintenance and management of Green Building projects is, arguably, more important than the design and construction process since the total cost of ownership (TCO) of building projects and facilities over time is always many times the cost of design and construction. The Green Building movement recognizes that facility and property managers require extensive training in making the investments in Green Building design and construction worth any additional expense on the front end.
There are many available Green, Sustainable, High-Performance, or passive building certifications. The most popular in the U.S. is from U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, commonly referred to as LEED.
2. LEED Certification
“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of Green Buildings which was Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council." (Wikipedia)
The LEED rating system is owned by U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which began in 1993 and is now an organization with more than $60 million in annual revenue, 200,000 LEED certified individuals, 92,000 total projects, 39,000 certified projects, 1.6 million registered or certified homes, 6,000 certified schools, 2,900 certified local government buildings, and 1,000 certified state government buildings. A division of USGBC is Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which administers LEED, performing third-party technical reviews and verification of LEED-registered projects including technical reviews to ensure the building certification process meets the highest levels of quality and integrity.
LEED Professional Accreditations
- LEED Green Associate requires the candidate to study and take a test.
- LEED AP (Accredited Professional) requires the candidate to study and take a harder test.
- LEED Fellow requires the candidate to show at least 10 years of exemplary impact with LEED, be nominated by a LEED professional, and have a team of endorsers who will write about the candidate’s contributions.
LEED Certification Levels for Building Projects
- Certified: 40-49 points.
- Silver: 50-59 points.
- Gold: 60-79 points.
- Platinum: 80-110
3. Building Systems, Techniques & Strategies
LEED Certification Prerequisites
- Sustainable Sites: Construction Activity Pollution Prevention
- Water Efficiency
- Outdoor Water Use Reduction
- Indoor Water Use Reduction
- Building-Level Water Metering
- Energy and Atmosphere
- Fundamental Commissioning and Verification: USGBC and the LEED certification materials use the term “Commissioning” (Cx) to describe a quality assurance (QA) process, to ensure the plan for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and renewable energy systems and assemblies that is submitted to USGBC for certification is executed in the field.
- Minimum Energy Performance: There are multiple paths to ensuring the energy performance designs will meet current standards from ASHRAE and other specified standards.
- Building-Level Energy Metering
- Fundamental Refrigerant Management: Don’t use chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-based refrigerants… Phase-out existing use.
- Materials and Resources
- Storage and Collection of Recyclables
- Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning
- Indoor Environmental Quality
- Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance: Meet minimum requirements for ventilation and monitoring.
- Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control: Prohibit smoking in or within 25 feet of the building.
LEED Certification Points for Building Projects (110 points total)
The outline here is from the LEED v4 Checklist
- Integrative Process (1 point) Think hard and analyze the energy and water-related systems from the earliest phase of design, including to inform the owner’s project requirements (OPR) and basis of design (BOD).
- Location and Transportation / Neighborhood Development (16 points) “To avoid development on inappropriate sites. To reduce vehicle distance traveled. To enhance livability and improve human health by encouraging daily physical activity.” Points are given for promoting aspects of the objective.
- Sustainable Sites (10 points) Assess the site before the design using a structured process and consider strategies including: Protect or Restore Habitat, Open Space, Rainwater Management, Heat Island Reduction (i.e. avoid giant, uncovered asphalt parking lots), and Light Pollution Reduction.
- Water Efficiency (11 points) While indoor and outdoor water use reduction and metering are prerequisites, points can be earned for low or zero irrigation designs, calculated savings of indoor water use from 25-50%, and management of cooling tower (HVAC system) water use.
- Energy and Atmosphere (33 points)
- In addition to having the longest list of prerequisites (see above), this category has the most point-value. The section mixes both energy savings with quality control (“Commissioning”); surely due to haw closely connected the two are.
- “Enhanced Commissioning”, a more complete and intensive QA / QC process, must be performed by a third party Commissioning Authority (CxA), and to receive maximum points the building envelope must be part of the commissioning plan and process, in addition to the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and renewable energy systems and assemblies required in the prerequisites.
- Energy related points can be earned for Optimizing Energy Performance even further than the minimum standards, Advanced Energy Metering, Demand Response through load shedding or shifting, Renewable Energy Production (like solar), Enhanced Refrigerant Management and Green Power and Carbon Offsets where 50-100% of energy use comes from a green source.
- Materials and Resources (13 points) In addition to the prerequisites, consideration should be given to Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction (reuse of existing buildings or materials), Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Environmental Product Declarations including the Sourcing of Raw Materials and Material Ingredients, and Construction and Demolition Waste Management.
- Indoor Environmental Quality (16 points) In addition to the prerequisites, design consideration should be given to Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies (like enhanced ventilation and contamination prevention), Low-Emitting Materials, composition and execution of a Construction Indoor Air Quality Management Plan, Indoor Air Quality Assessment, Thermal Comfort considerations, Interior Lighting strategies to promote comfort and well being by offering controls throughout, Daylight, Quality Views, and Acoustic Performance to limit noise.
- Innovation (6 points) Points can be earned for Innovation using a strategy not addressed in the LEED system or exemplary measurable performance in a addressed area. There is also one credit available for having at least one LEED Accredited Professional on the team.
- Regional Priority (4 points) Specific credit can be earned for issues important to the project’s region as identified by the USGBC regional councils and chapters and articulated in database of Regional Priority credits and their geographic applicability.
So the “accounting” on the costs of LEED Certification are either very high level or fuzzy. And as I mention in the Deep Thoughts section below, the costs are commonly downplayed and the calculable benefits are sometimes exaggerated. The science here appears to remain very soft. And few of the studies I have found appear to be by disinterested professionals with expertise in building economics.
Sources claim a range of additional costs for LEED Certification between 0-30%. The claim of zero additional cost seems, at first blush entirely absurd; the cost of registration and compliance alone is well above zero. The more common figures suggest a range between 2.5-8.5%, depending on the level of certification. I remain skeptical. In one of my case studies, the “additional cost” of the project over a reasonable square foot cost made the project 80% more expensive than a more common facility of identical size. And if you include the cost to make the repairs, then the project cost was 155% above the cost of a common facility (not +55%, +155%!). Granted, this was also a more beautiful building project than a more common facility; and much of the cost for a building that looked the same, would have been incurred even if the Green Building design & construction techniques and requirements were removed.
I acknowledge that the rigorous process that LEED Certification imposes, to think the project through at a painstaking level of detail, can lead to innovative design that could contribute to a net savings. I look forward to additional research into the economics of Green Building. Check back for more in the months and years to come.