Buildings in the United States consume 36 percent of our nation's total energy,
according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). As the appeal
of building green continues to grow in response to rising energy costs,
owners and developers continue to look at new strategies for pursuing
high performance design. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)'s LEED,
or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Green Building Rating
System is the predominant certification program in the US. LEED is powerful
both in keeping design teams focused on the most important aspects of
high performance design and by recognizing the achievements of teams who
successfully certify their projects through this rigorous third party
A high performance building's potential benefits include increased market
value, lower operating and maintenance costs, improved occupancy for commercial
buildings, and increased employee satisfaction and productivity for owner-occupied
buildings. LEED certification, based on compliance with a rigorous rating
system and verification by an independent third party, provides a well-recognized,
nationally accepted standard for high performance buildings. And, although
the average additional cost of certification is two percent, the extra
expense is frequently recovered through improvements in occupant productivity,
faster lease rates and increased market valuation.
In order to successfully achieve LEED certification, a strategy toward
constructing a single, well-integrated building system is best. A holistic,
or "whole-building," approach starts with an inclusive high
performance design team, which considers all environmental, energy efficient,
and sustainable aspects as they pertain to the individual building.
In any holistic approach to building design, key concepts to consider
are: open and frequent communication among team members, commitment to
achieving a high performance end product, budgetary limits and opportunities,
and benchmarking of success.
Open and Frequent Communication
Strong leadership is critical to a successful high performance building
project. The first step is assembling a high performance design team,
whose members are committed to thinking ahead and collaborating. These
members include the building owner; the commissioning agent; architects,
engineers, and consultants; the facilities manager; and building occupants.
It is important for the team to set goals early, and to communicate frequently
to ensure a fully integrated design. By continually integrating their
efforts, architects, mechanical engineers, and other consultants often
develop unanticipated synergies as they work towards their original goals.
Throughout the design process, the team ideally uses the LEED rating system
as a guide for making design decisions. LEED provides the requirements
that must be met in order to attain certification; how those requirements
are met is left to the discretion of those involved in the building's
design and construction. In a whole-building approach, many considerations
must be reviewed and balanced before making selections. With ongoing communication
and cooperation among team members, environmental and certification goals
are evaluated equally for the building design as a whole.
Commitment to High Performance
All members must be committed to high performance objectives throughout
the entire design process, ideally beginning before the site is even selected.
Using the LEED score sheet is a helpful tool in creating a framework for
decision-making. The full design team, however, must be on board to evaluate
what types of design and construction strategies make environmental and
financial sense for the conditions of their project.
Many owners consider LEED certification for their projects because it
is so positively recognized, but other reasons exist to pursue certification.
For schools, high performance buildings teach by example and instill a
sense of pride in the students. LEED certification can lead to improvements
in both student and faculty recruitment for higher education facilities.
In government, LEED certified buildings exhibit responsible stewardship
of taxpayer dollars, especially over the life of the building. In general,
high performance buildings improve work-force productivity through greater
interior comfort, including better air quality and use of day lighting.
A committed team successfully incorporates the elements that lead to these
results throughout the integrated design process.
Budgetary Limits and Opportunities
The LEED fees for registration and certification review do slightly increase
the initial project cost; however, for strategically designed buildings,
that cost is easily recouped by the long-term operating cost savings and
increased productivity associated with high performance buildings.
For USGBC members, registration for all buildings is $450. Certification
review fees are based on building size. The design-phase certification
review fee for buildings less than 50,000 SF is $1,250; 50,000-500,000
SF is 2.5 cents/SF; and over 500,000 SF is $12,500. The construction-phase
certification review fee for buildings less than 50,000 SF is $500; 50,000-500,000
SF is 1 cent/SF; and over 500,000 SF is $5000. Fees for non-members are
slightly higher. The design and construction review fees are additive
and both phases of certification review must be completed before a building
can earn a LEED certification.
In order to coordinate high performance goals with the realities of a
fixed budget, it is important that the team look for solutions that can
each solve more than one challenge. This is easier said than done. During
project meetings, team members must analyze all of a project's high performance
opportunities and work to engage in holistic design solutions while explicitly
avoiding the trap of immediately linking design decisions to specific
dollar amounts. While exploring various solutions, both financial and
environmental synergies between them often become evident.
For example, the use of energy modeling is a LEED-encouraged strategy
that may, at first glance, appear costly. Energy modeling, however, can
lead to design decisions that can be quite cost effective. A project's
energy model allows the team to explore the relative importance of materials
such as glazing or insulation to the long term operating costs of that
building. Optimizing the building's shell design based on energy modeling
should lead to reductions in the long term operating costs of the building,
and very well may also lead to first cost savings, as well.
Storm water management also offers plenty of opportunities for integrated
design. For instance, including a cistern to collect roof run-off water
can look like an expensive line item, but it may reduce the amount of
infrastructure the civil engineer must include for stormwater management
elsewhere in the budget. In addition, the water collected in the cistern
can then be used for irrigation, toilet flushing, and cooling tower makeup
water, thereby reducing the project's life-long potable water bills.
Once the most appropriate set of design solutions is established and agreed
upon, the project team can determine the overall budgetary impacts of
those strategies. The team can also correlate the design recommendations
to an anticipated LEED score. It is important to point out, however, that
a project's scope and size cannot predict its dollar cost in achieving
certification levels. A LEED Gold building may cost less than a LEED Certified
building, on a “per square foot” basis, because there are
so many factors that affect construction pricing. The use of LEED as a
design guide and a certification program does not need to be a major cost
driver, especially when the ultimate goal is a well-integrated high performance
The LEED score sheet is a helpful tool that the team should complete early
in the design process, and update periodically throughout design and construction.
Early goal setting facilitates later review of anticipated achievements.
Using the score sheet as the record of the team's intentions, the team
can spot-check throughout the design and construction process to ensure
the project remains on target. And because, even during integrated design,
individual team members have specific responsibilities, the score sheet
also reminds each member of those responsibilities. There may be some
shifting and realigning of goals based on changing conditions during design
and construction; the score sheet is a very convenient and central location
to record those changes.
High performance buildings offer owners many powerful benefits ranging
from higher market value to more satisfied and productive employee occupants.
Pursuing LEED certification may also contribute to a building's increased
value through award recognition.
Integrating goals of achieving energy efficiency, water conservation and
exemplary indoor air quality, among others, forms the best path for a
team to follow in planning for each high performance building's particular
set of conditions. A holistic approach to designing a high performance
building can produce long lasting economic and operational results.
While a building can be considered green without achieving LEED certification,
the result is something like auditing college without earning a diploma.
LEED provides a critical tool for benchmarking the performance level achieved
by a particular building, while also demonstrating where the building
industry as a whole is headed in sustainability and energy efficiency.
Bryna Dunn, Moseley Architects
George Nasis, Moseley Architects