DURHAM, NC — The shift toward more environmentally responsible construction practices is slowly gaining speed.

Construction sites are beginning to employ techniques and materials that minimize damage and long-lasting effects to the environment while still trying to maximize energy efficiency. Construction companies are beginning to hire specialists in different fields in order to meet standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council for “green certification.”

The council has established a point system to certify buildings as environmentally sound. The certification is graded and maintained by the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Program. Construction projects receive points based on the efficiency of rainwater runoff and building material selection in addition to indoor air quality and energy efficiency, all of which can affect the overall environmental impact of a building or community. Ratings range from Silver to Platinum.

One company that has committed to the program is Lee Air Conditioners Inc. of Durham, NC, which provides HVAC systems for laboratories, offices, and homes. Lee AC, which has an in-house engineering department, has employed a new construction concept called “environmental sustainability.”


“We are excited to be an integral part of a project that promotes the awareness of sustainability, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and environmental awareness,” said David Brese Jr., executive vice president of Lee AC. “We take energy efficiency and indoor environmental health very seriously. As a design-build contractor, we are placed in a position to engineer affordable systems that maximize human comfort and operating efficiency.”

One example of such an effort is the Community Church in Chapel Hill, which hired local contractor Resolute Building Co. to construct an additional 6,500-square-foot space for its church that would meet LEED requirements. Lee AC was hired by Resolute to design and build a mechanical system that would generate a large portion of the points toward LEED certification.

Lee AC is responsible for designing and installing an HVAC system that consumes minimal energy, filters the indoor air, reduces the emission of dust and gases related to the construction process, and minimizes the release of refrigerants.

In the final stage of planning in mid-June, engineers were looking at a packaged system capable of producing about 35 tons of cooling. By using an energy recovery wheel, engineers were hoping to create that amount of cooling with a 25-ton system. They were also looking at using hot gas reheat for humidity control. While the engineers were aware of R-410a as a refrigerant, that refrigerant was not yet available for use in systems as large as those being considered for the project. So the project will use R-22.

In both original construction and upgrades, meeting “Green Building” certification standards can be expensive. Currently, there are no monetary incentives offered by the federal government. How-ever, following the standards of the LEED Program optimizes long-term payback in the form of energy-cost savings, according to Brese.

For more information, visit www.leeac.com (website).

Publication date: 07/01/2002