March 13, 2014 | John Berendzen | Sustainability

Sustainability & LEED – Value vs. Cost

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a program started by the US Green Building Council to create a process whereby a building can be certified as following a strict set of rules that follow “green” or sustainable design and construction practices.  Therefore, a “LEED” certified building should be “greener” than a non-certified building, right?

There are a lot of good reasons to follow LEED when building, but there’s also a cost to certifying a project that many owners choose not to bear.  If your project falls into this category, you may opt to follow the LEED process but not go through the work of certification.  Here’s how we suggest you start.

First, prioritize the sustainable design challenges for your project, from most important to least.  For instance, if your project is located in a hot, dry climatic zone your most important issue may be enhancing your building envelope and optimizing your cooling systems.  If your project is an office environment in a leased space, providing appropriate daylight and views for staff may top your list.  To be effective with your sustainable design, identify your biggest challenges and set goals for how you might respond.

Next, take those problems identified above and research how LEED guides you to a more sustainable solution.  Here are a few examples of projects that used the LEED process without gaining certification:

solar analysis

For our recently completed Regulator Technologies Headquarters, we determined early in the project that minimizing solar heat gain on our envelope while providing excellent daylight and views for the building population were most important.  We began where LEED points you – by utilizing an integrated design process for the envelope (leveraging the entire design/ownership/construction team) and modeling the various alternatives the team proposed.

Our process leveraged LEED Energy and Atmosphere Prequisite 2 and Credit 1.  We began by looking at the solar path on our site, and oriented the building to keep the largest glazed areas facing north and south.  Our energy modeling looked at rotating our building along all the cardinal points, and the north/south alignment was most efficient.  We then proposed multiple concepts for minimizing the solar load on the south face.  These included multiple options for high performance glass, basic insulated glass, solar shade devices, no solar shade devices, white (high albedo) roof and substituting spandrel glass for vision glass in select areas.  By using the energy model, we were able to select a high performing glass (along with spandrel glass the most effective parts of the envelope for minimizing solar heat gain) along with solar shading and a high albedo roof.  Our model indicates that this design will save 38.2% over a basic design, with no solar shading and basic insulated glass.  We also estimated that the payback for these decisions was less than 3 years.

We choose not to go through the entire documentation process to see how many LEED points our final building would have gained in EA Credit 1 – this would have been nice to know but had not impact or return on investment.  By concentrating on our biggest challenge, we were able to leverage the LEED process to great effect at the lowest cost.

While we believe that LEED certification is a laudable goal, we realize that not every project can bear these costs.   As architects, we believe that all projects deserve a design process which explores a variety of design alternatives early in the project, and these alternatives should be grounded in effective, results oriented sustainable design.  So for your next project, if LEED certification is not achievable, consider using the LEED process as a guideline for creative, sustainable design.

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