The LEED rating system has faced some serious criticism over the last several years for the actual building performance vs modeled performance. While I do support the LEED rating system as a tool to create better buildings, I see the point of the criticism. LEED is a simple points based system that can be used to get certification on poorly designed buildings just the same as well designed buildings. The other part of the equation is that if the building management team does not understand how to operate the new systems in the building it is likely that the building will not perform as modeled.
I don’t blame LEED for creating a system that has flaws, I blame those that want LEED to be a system that creates a fail safe way to measure performance. LEED is just a tool, you have to use it right. A lot of the criticism that I have read is solely focused on energy efficiency. LEED does more than just look at energy, it also looks at site development, water use, indoor air quality, and embedded energy of products used. LEED has created a market for recycled content material, locally sourced materials, and FSC wood products. All of these items have a major impact on the quality of the building. Some of these products are used to gain a point and are not durable, some of these product perform as good or better than alternatives. In any case LEED usage is pushing for new development of materials that will benefit us all in the long run.
While we have only done a handful (7) of LEED projects, I do think I understand the way to use LEED as a tool to create better value for our clients. At Better Living we created a building that uses rainwater for a sprinkler system that allowed the building to be built (the well did not produce and would have killed the project), we found a solution to the air makeup requirements that actually cut energy use rather than adding to the energy use. We found local material solutions that reduced transportation costs and diverted 95%+ of all construction waste from the landfill. Using LEED as a tool not only delivered an energy-efficient building, but gave us a platform to show our client the value added.
As an architect, I pride myself in being able to help people save money, live healthier, and conserve resources. I have used the terms, green design, sustainable design, and eco-friendly design to describe what I know how to do for my clients. The knowledge I have about these issues has been gained through years of research, attending education sessions, and trial and error. I did not just jump on this band wagon when the topic became a trend, I have been working on these issues since I entered the profession in 1999. Am I doing enough with the opportunities I have been given? Here is a list of projects that should factor into my environmental grade.
First LEED for Homes Certified project in Virginia back in 2006. This home reduced the size of the HVAC system by 2/3 over a traditionally built house. That makes their electric bills VERY low each month!
This LEED NC Certified industrial building, Better Living Mill Shop, reduces potable water consumption through capturing 95,000 gallons of rainwater from the roof. They furthered reduced their water use through efficient fixtures, cutting usage by 40%. This project diverted 95% of all construction waste from the landfill, used 52% recycled content products, and 34% local materials. But the biggest gain was the 47% reduction in annual energy usage through the use of a transpired solar collector and energy-efficient design elements.
This renovation project in Crozet was looking for energy efficiency and comfort. Through some simple design elements and a great team effort, we reduced their energy consumption by 40%, even after adding a state of the art kitchen addition and a second floor bedroom to the home. The air leakage in the home was cut by 55%, the insulation was upgraded, and the HVAC system was replaced. This home received the Home Performance with Energy Star certification. This late 1800’s home renovation project was so impressive, we received a visit from United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who wanted to see the work done.
We have also done Net-Zero energy design. This home in northern Albemarle has been occupied for a couple of years now and they have a total energy bill of $25 (the hook up fee). Along with many passive design features, this home has high performance insulation, windows, HVAC, and appliances.
Looking for proof that we can make a difference on a modest budget. This home had a budget of $1,100 for energy-efficient upgrades. The annual energy savings = $368. With the tax incentives in place at the time, the project was cash positive in one year.
I am working hard to be better, to help our clients save money, live healthier, and conserve resources. If you want to be part of our environmental story, feel free to give me a call (540)437-0012. I am happy to answer questions, design solutions, or just give you advice.
At a recent presentation I was giving on green design and construction, one attendee was very concerned with my endorsement of the LEED green rating system. LEED is a third-party green certification for buildings that measures multiple aspects including energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and water conservation. It was his contention that LEED was flawed because you can get a point for bike racks and there is no requirement for energy efficiency. First off, this statement is entirely inaccurate. You have to design and build an energy-efficient building to achieve LEED Certification. You do however, also get points for encouraging the use of bikes, conserving water, and even using FSC wood. While there remain flaws with any points based system, the LEED system does in fact create buildings that are more energy-efficient than a code minimum building (the worst possible building you can build by law).
Yes, I have heard of the buildings that don’t perform as modeled in the LEED energy modeling softwares. The energy models used for LEED certification looks at the energy use in a perfect scenario, facility managers that know and understand how to run the system, and building occupants that use the building as is typical. The problem with many of the energy efficiency / water efficient strategies is that the enhanced comfort features are different. The facility managers need to be trained on how to operate the different systems. They are not necessarily more complicated, but simply are different. For instance, in a home with a continuous supply of hot water will save money on energy used to heat water – IF – you don’t use more water. The problem is that people often begin taking longer showers, as they now have a continuous supply of hot water.
We worked with Better Living Mill Shop to create their facility in Zion Crossroads. We did not design the building specifically for LEED Certification, but did achieve certification through our design decisions. We reduced energy use by more than 40% over a code minimum building. We reduced water use through capturing rainwater off the 24,000 sf room.We used a high level of recycled content material and local materials – because they were the appropriate materials for the project. We used common sense solutions to create the best value design for our client. LEED was simply a validation method that added value for the facility owner.
LEED is simply a tool to help measure your success against your goals for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. If you use LEED as a mandate for green building, then you should also mandate specific points within the system that you feel are the most important. If bike racks are not important, don’t mandate that point. If energy efficiency is the goal, mandate a higher level of points for those specific strategies. We need to increase our goals for energy efficiency, if not for any other reason, then because we all deserve to save money through reduced energy use, water conservation, and using local materials.
LEED (Green design) and construction does not cost more, quality costs more. When weighing cost vs value in green design it is important to evaluate quality requirements.
In a meeting yesterday it was pointed out that LEED certification would cost more because it is very difficult. The conversation revolved around getting the sub-contractors to do the things that the LEED program requires. For instance, they are not allowed to stack / store all the HVAC ducts within the construction space. They have to bring a trailer to the site to store the materials to be in compliance with LEED standards. The result, the material is not “lost”, abused, dirty, and beat up upon installation. You could save money by allowing the material to become “lost”, abused, dirty, and beat up prior to installation, but do you want a lower quality product?
It costs more to do it right. It costs more if the contractor takes pride in their work. “Because that is the way we always do it” is not a valid answer. The lowest price is often lower, because of less skill, care, or quality. LEED does cost more in some cases, but typically, it adds value to the project. Yes LEED has major flaws that need to be overcome. LEED 2009 is beginning to address those issues. However, we need a standard to measure quality, and LEED is a good start.