Green Building / News

LEED Pay Off Debated by Industry Contractors

October 10, 2011
KEYWORDS contractors / green / LEED
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LEED logoIn the green movement, the most measureable aspect is the LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — certification program.

Building owners striving for such certification — be it for cost saving energy efficiency, or recognition of being green, or both — seek to accumulate up to 35 points depending on the level of certification.

Somewhere in the mix is HVACR with a dozen or so points (enough to tip the scale from one level of certification to a higher one) directly related to heating and cooling equipment.

There is a need for HVACR contractors skilled in fitting into the mix and able to do their job amidst other trades while under the watchful eye of the general contractor and at the same time wading through more than the normal amount of paperwork.

Is it worth it? Well, it depends on who within the HVACR sector you talk to.

Jeff Phillabaum, president of Hill-York in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has been involved in many LEED projects, said, “We view it as another project that we can do. We don’t specifically search out LEED projects to do, but if the opportunity presents itself for us to provide our services for a LEED project, we are prepared to do so.” He noted one of his most recent projects was a multiuse municipal building that earned Gold certification.

Hugh Joyce, president of James River Air Conditioning Co., Richmond, Va., called it, “A great learning process” and something that fit into his “passion for building a better building.” One of his favorite projects was what he described as a solar cottage that garnered LEED Platinum.

Among the projects the Lee Company of Franklin, Tenn., worked on was the renovation of a pharmacy building and auditorium at Lipscomb University. Michael Saunders, director of industrial development for Lee said it was done “due to the desire to be good stewards of God’s creation.”

And while many projects focus on HVAC, the LEED program is gaining attention in the supermarket sector, where refrigeration is as much a part of the equation as air conditioning.

Among those involved in that aspect are Brad Morris, manager of engineering for the Giant Eagle food chain, and Marc Mondor, principal at evolveEA, a company involved in sustainable buildings.

During the September Food Marketing Institute Energy and Store Development Conference, Morris described LEED “as a design improvement mechanism for store development. LEED has served as a catalyst for organizational greening and a mechanism for understanding first cost and payback periods for green initiative.” He noted LEED certification for Giant Eagle stores in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh.

The Giant Eagle projects remain somewhat unique in the supermarket sector as LEED has not been widely embraced there. According to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, a market research firm, “green building initiatives move away from LEED certification.”

In a report to FMI members based on a survey of store owners, she said that while less than 20 percent have LEED certified stores and about 10 percent are planning to seek the certification, 54 percent just prefer to have “green buildings without certification.”

She said the top three reasons for taking a pass on LEED certification are to avoid LEED fees, not seeing the benefits, and time constraints.

Paperwork

One thing all contractors and engineers noted was the large amount of paperwork. Said Phillabaum, “The papers and templates that have to be created are substantial. We estimate that it takes as much time to provide the required paperwork as it does to design the HVAC for the project.”

Matthew Todd, LEED accredited professional for Entek Corp., Longview, Wash., noted, “Design documents have to carry a great deal more information [than non-LEED projects]. And the commissioning process does, without question, add labor and paperwork.”

For Joyce that could be a plus. “There is lots of communication, paperwork, and third-party verification. All of which is good for maintaining quality and integrity in the efficiency and durability of the end process.”

And sometimes the ability to wade through paperwork allows for better dealing with LEED requirements. Said Saunders, “There is a tremendous amount of paperwork for LEED projects versus non LEED projects. With the company I work at, though, most of the requirements for certain areas of the project are already a standard part of our construction project in pre-commissioning of our projects.”

Control

The more control an HVACR contractor can have, the better. Joyce’s favorable view of LEED comes from the fact that his company “ran all aspects of the project.”

Phillabaum noted that with the municipal building, “since it was design-build, we had a lot of input on design factors for the building envelope. This includes signing off on the glass type used, insulation values, lighting wattage, etc.”

Saunders said, about one of his LEED projects, “At the time, the HVAC was one of the major contributions in the overall project — the systems, the commissioning, and the input on the thermal loads of the building.”

Said Todd, “In one project, we had quite a bit of input. In most others, the points were determined by the LEED shepherd on the project, and we did as we were told.”

Getting Involved

In general, those who provided comments for this story said contractors should consider getting involved in LEED projects if they are able to — and be aware of
the challenges.

Said Phillabaum, “Be aware of the LEED requirements for the type of project you intend to perform work for. Be prepared to have additional time spent on the paperwork. If you are involved in the design, then plan on spending significantly more time to prepare the documents and templates. If at all possible, hire someone to do the modeling for the project.”

There is also the viewpoint that seeking a certain number of LEED points should be based on what is best for the project rather than trying to accumulate as many points as possible. At the FMI conference, Bruce Karas, vice president for environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola refreshments, said, buildings within his company (which has 900 sites in 200 countries) factor in LEED based on “what things make sense for us.” He gave the example of not seeking points for having a bike rack at a facility that is not accessible by bicycle.

For Saunders, it requires knowing why you are getting involved. “Be careful of just getting LEED to say you are getting LEED. You can still design a very energy-efficient facility without having to pay to get a certification. Also, once you get the building set up and operational, you cannot stop there. You have to continue to commission and check and balance the system or the work performed to begin with will have been in vain.”

Publication date: 10/10/2011

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