Look before you leap into LEED

As a teenager, I was always cautious and thoughtful about my actions. While many of the other kids jumped right into the lake headfirst to beat the summer heat, I always spent some time considering the possibilities. How deep is the water? How cold is it? Can I swim all the way out to the log boom? Eventually I got into the “swim” of things, but first I had to complete my analysis.

As the “green building” movement has gained momentum, I have much the same feeling I did watching the other kids dive into uncharted waters.  

I agree with the concept of green building and sustainability. I don’t agree with how the business and construction communities are working to achieve those goals.

For example, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program’s goals are admirable, but the reality is disconcerting.

Between 2000 and 2005, fewer than 300 buildings were LEED-certified with 2,184 projects registered but uncertified.

In my opinion, the LEED program has several problems, including its cost, focus on scoring “points” instead of green design and crippling bureaucracy. Architects and consultants sell LEED as a no-increased-cost process that pays for itself, which creates unrealistic client expectations.

Right from the start, green building projects simply cost more than conventional construction – but too often clients find this out after they are deep into the design process.

The world needs green buildings a lot more than green buildings need LEED certification. LEED does not guarantee green. In my opinion, most LEED-certified buildings are less efficient and more costly than buildings constructed using standard construction materials and methods.

 

I advocate a common-sense approach to going green. Here are a few of my suggestions:

•    bull;Build right the first time. Just using green materials and methods isn’t enough. It takes trained tradespeople to construct a quality building that is easily maintained.

•    bull;Rely on a good design/build contractor for a reliable, accurate analysis of the most cost-effective structural and finish systems based on today’s pricing. A building that is constructed correctly will sustain its energy efficiency.

•    bull;Utilize standard building material measurements to reduce waste. An estimated 25 percent of the lumber purchased for some projects is wasted.

•    bull;Get advice from design/build subcontractors who know what can be installed cost-effectively and provide the best life-cycle costing. For example, finishes such as masonry, permanently painted sheet metal and stucco with integral color can be maintained with a pressure washer and a window squeegee instead of painting every several years.

•    bull;Build smaller, more compactly and more efficiently. Good design with good space planning will allow a business to put more employees in the same square footage. Tall, single-story buildings are all the rage – to increase “curb appeal” – but just be sure you don’t have to heat and cool a lot of unused space.

•    bull;Consider the freight costs of selected materials. Tracking down a specific product that’s considered cutting-edge green technology then shipping it thousands of miles is wasteful, expensive and goes against all of the green-building criteria.

•    bull;Do your research. Sometimes green materials are not as durable as traditional products.

 

While I am glad that the public sector has embraced the LEED program, I recommend that private-sector building owners let public agencies use tax dollars to investigate new cutting-edge materials and methods.

Owners: lag back a little and consider all the ramifications of your decisions. Don’t let your eagerness or the advice of consultants lead you to poor choices.

Focusing on good design, minimizing initial construction costs and life-cycle costs leads to an energy-efficient, quality building that exemplifies “green” and is as refreshing as a swim on a hot summer day.

 

Ron Frederiksen is president of RSV Construction Services Inc. and chairman of the 2007 Columbia River Economic Development Council board of directors. He can be reached at 360-693-8830.

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