Florida Could Loosen Up LEED Reliance–Does it Matter?

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A pair of Florida lawmakers is attempting to broaden green building compliance by loosening up reliance on LEED. If the bills are successful, state buildings could rely on lesser-known green certification programs such as Green Globes.

More than one particular certification standard can result in saving energy and saving money.

More than one particular certification standard can result in saving energy and saving money.

Most people are unaware that there is more than one certification program. The United States Green Building Council, which came up with LEED and issues points for certification is not the only player in the game. You can think of LEED and other programs like Green Globes kind of like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Dell, and Apple. Some companies offer more than others, but they all do basically the same thing in one way or another. It boils down to individual preference, and it seems like Florida (and other states and the Federal Government) might be best served letting architects, engineers, and Owners decide on the type of certification.
There does seem to be some self-interest in Florida on the part of the foresters there, but I commend lawmakers for attempting to use their own state’s resources for building projects. One opponent of the bill, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, says the forestry industry should move toward LEED because “there is a market for it.” Well, there isn’t necessarily a market for LEED but rather energy efficiency and sustainability through smart building practices. Without that desire, LEED simply wouldn’t exist.
While the USGBC is non-profit, it manages to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars annually mostly in certification revenue. So, you can see why it might be advantageous for them to maintain a perceived monopoly on the green building certification industry. And don’t get me wrong. I like LEED. After all, I’m a LEED AP. But there is more to LEED than just going online and racking up points for building materials and certain types of equipment. The building has to be designed and built collaboratively between a team of architects, engineers, contractors, and Owners. Otherwise, you can wind up with the most brilliant design, energy modeling that looks fantastic, but a building that fails to perform as the owner intended .
I often talk about collaboration. When is the last time you heard of a team of architects and engineers going to the job site to have frequent meetings with the contractor and subcontractors? It’s rare, and that needs to change.

So, we are going to change it.

Our approach isn’t original, new, or earth shattering, but it will bring about change. Simply put, we (our firm) recommend Architects, Engineers, Contractors, and Owners verify the work by whatever means necessary – call it Commissioning, whatever you like. Test, measure, check, inspect, train the equipment/system operators to make sure each critical project component works as it should.
From design to delivery of the building, collaboration is key to successful performance.

From design to delivery of the building, collaboration is key to successful performance.

And own it–Architects and Engineers shouldn’t sit back and quote the plans and specifications as if the Contract Documents alone are the gospel (it kind of hurts to say that). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying the Contract Documents have no weight, but the reality is that the constructed project (good or bad) sometimes doesn’t exactly match what’s in the plans and specifications. I know that’s not a shock, but design professionals have to get out of the hard copy/virtual project world. Talk to the Contractors and their Subcontractors during the job – find what’s working and what’s not. RFI’s, ASI’s, Work Change Directives, and Change Orders can be a pain, but take on some work now and fix a problem while you can still get to that open wall assembly. Or would you rather wait and have to spend $20,000 on exploratory demolition after the Owner’s occupied the space?
Contractors– you and your subs have to own it too. Don’t use the plans and specs (or lack of information therein) as a weapon to bludgeon the design team (even though it may be a lot of fun). If there’s a missing detail, or if something’s unclear, work with the design team to solve the problem. Don’t just fire off an RFI without a proposed solution. A good design professional can take objective criticism and will be open to a well reasoned approach to problem solving. Or would you rather wait and have to spend $20,000 on exploratory demolition after the Owner’s occupied the space? See a recurring theme here?
Owners–you need to make sure you’ve communicated what your project requirements are to the Design Team and to the Contractor. And that doesn’t just mean by hiring the Design Team to prepare plans and specifications and by hiring a Contractor. Who will operate your building/systems? What training will they need? What tools will they need to operate and maintain the building after the warranty period has expired?
Technology is great–I love it. I love these project specific websites where all the interested parties can go to view documents, collaborate–all of that. But we have to communicate more effectively. It seems that our effectiveness in communicating is inversely proportional to our available technology. As buildings and systems increase in complexity, we MUST improve how we convey our meaning – whether we’re discussing how to install windows, HVAC, lighting, and other critical components.
Assembling your design team and keeping it in tact will reduce costs.

Assembling your design team and keeping it in tact will reduce costs.

You may not want to hear what we have to say, but I promise this–we’ll give you our best recommendation, best solution and advice based on what we know. And if we don’t know, we’ll work to find the answer – and we’re not afraid to ask questions and dig to find the problem’s solution. We’ll use our insights from projects that have failed as well as the successful insights from the entire project team to provide ease of access for maintenance, reducing utility/structural conflicts before issuing the working drawings, analyzing capital costs versus life cycle ownership costs (who wants an inexpensively built LEED building that costs ten times as much to own?).

What are the benefits?

Fewer requests for information (RFIs)—that equates to less time and cost for the architects and engineers; fewer construction defects—that equates to less time and cost for everyone; fewer equipment operational problems after substantial completion—that equates to fewer service calls (gee, less cost and time) for everyone; improved occupant comfort; reduced energy consumption; reduced stress; and reduced legal costs. A win-win situation for the entire project team.

Want help coordinating your team to design and construct buildings that perform to their full potential? Send me an email, and I’ll be happy to give you a 30 minute consultation.

Chris White, P.E., LEED AP has been helping clients solve problems for 20 years. He is the most interesting engineer in the world. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisWhitePE.

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