The following post is by James Jenkins:
There’s been a lot of controversy over the expense and effectiveness of LEED certification. The controversy is affecting the perception of LEED, driving governments to remove laws requiring certification for publicly funded projects and pushing organizations that used to pursue Gold at a minimum to pursue Silver as a maximum. It’s a disturbing trend that is ill-informed.
SMR Architects rendering courtesy of PHG
Using a different solar thermal system saved money that was spent on upgrades for the Williams Apartments. The Plymouth Housing project opened in 2013 and is certified LEED platinum.
Many projects achieve LEED certification without any impact to their construction budget. Of course there are registration and certification fees that cannot be avoided but those costs are generally inconsequential. The costs to achieve LEED that do get noticed are the ones that change the design. Often times the contractor is not expected to change the outcome of LEED certification as many of the decisions and features were included during design. However, the contractor can contribute significantly by taking an active and educated role in the LEED process.
Design Document are not Absolute: Work with and educate your entire team and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
On a project we recently completed for Celgene we were able to achieve 30% Recycled Content, well beyond the initial 10% that was indicated on the LEED Scorecard. By identifying all scopes of work that could contribute Recycled Content and working directly with our subcontractors to help them understand what we were looking for and the documentation we needed to support it we were able to substantially increase the recycled content and contribute an additional 2 points to the project. Collaboration and education were key to accomplishing this.
Know the Intent of a LEED Credit and Get Creative: Many LEED Credits are achieved using one of few technologies or methodologies but sometimes simple, creative solutions can be used with little added cost.
At Northeastern University’s Seattle Campus we initially dismissed achieving LEED CI EA Credit 1 for HVAC Zoning because two private offices shared a single VAV box and the cost was determined to be prohibitive to add an additional one. The fact that we were so close to meeting the criteria kept nagging at the team. One day someone asked why we couldn’t control a damper using the occupancy sensors already installed for the lighting. It turns out that we could! While, not a typical way to achieve the credit the USGBC agreed that this simplified occupied/unoccupied status of providing ventilation to the space sufficiently met the zoning criteria.
Understand the Goals, Build it Effectively: If you understand the end goal, not the specific technology, you can find better solutions at a lower cost without affecting the project.
Plymouth Housing’s LEED Platinum Williams Apartments included a solar thermal system in the design. Initially, the project assumed that evacuated tube collectors would be used on the project, indeed the attractiveness of this newer technology and the capacity to produce higher temperature water appears to be the best option. However, looking at total cost combined with efficiency led us to a different conclusion. In our research, on a flat roof where the angle we could set the collectors was infinite the efficiency of the two systems were nearly identical and the costs roughly the same for the same heating capacity. However, the evacuated tube collectors needed twice the roof area, twice the racking, more connection points in the roof and longer piping. The flat plate collectors were the lowest first and life-cycle cost. The savings between these two systems allowed us to include upgrades elsewhere that further enhanced the sustainability of the project.
As you can see, these examples did not involve spending large amounts of money but raised the certification level for each project. There are more than enough examples of LEED by addition and these are the projects that give opponents of LEED something to argue. These projects prove that LEED can be a tool of inspiration, when used as such pushes everyone on a team to do more with the same, or less, resources.
James Jenkins is the in-house Sustainability Manager and Net Zero Specialist for BNBuilders in Seattle. James has completed dozens of LEED projects and three Living Building Challenges.