A little background: Ok, so I’m a recently accredited LEED professional (yes, prior to March 31, 2009– big whoop). Some colleagues/teammates whom I work with asked me to help out with “that LEED stuff for a proposal.” Oh joy!
First, I need to rant a bit. I found studying for the LEED exam extremely tedious; with no real “resolution” or “outcome” other than passing the test. I admit frustration with how the LEED study guides were written. It’s not really how I’ve practiced architecture for the last 14 years. Realistically I think that all good architects think inherently in the whole building approach. We know the “gives and takes” of building orientation, mechanical system trade-offs. The LEED exam was more about recalling facts by rote but felt a little isolated and not cohesive; maybe that’s a side effect of the nature of computerized testing. (Yes, I’m a product of Old School. I took the architecture exam over a 3-day period when it was all by pencil; it felt a little more “real,” like the practice of architecture, but I digress).
So, trying to explain the “what” of the MR credits to my colleague was the “easy” part… not having a clear answer to the “why” he asked, “but why are the percentages set at these levels; they seem arbitrary." My only response was “Perhaps they are, but USGBC is relying on project data since 1998 and these criteria apparently work best towards attaining the goal of sustainable construction."
Back to the main topic: So I was an owner's rep. on a project which started out with the Board’s lofty goals of “constructing a LEED certified classroom building.” So I said, “Excuse me guys, I think you’ll find that you’ll get more bang for the buck if we use LEED concepts and sustainable products/techniques and forego the project registration”; that was in 2003. Fast forward to 2007 when the Board hired an architect and a LEED consultant for the project and, surprise, preliminary budget numbers showed a $65,000-$85,000 premium to construct 17,000 SF of classroom building and attain LEED certification. Ultimately the Board elected to build sustainable, save the cost of enhanced commissioning, energy modeling, etc. and install ground source heat pumps as a part of the HVAC system. The final GMP cost showed the cost “savings” of not LEED certifying the project more than covered the cost of the geothermal system and related specialty HVAC equipment. If I hadn’t been so involved, I never would have believed it.
If the choice is a) building what the owner wants, b) building within the owner’s budget c) advising the owner what’s the best way to get from point A to point B (so far I’d suggest don’t be blinded by a plaque on the wall), continue to use your architect’s best judgment and design with all the tools you have available (LEED is another tool, not the end-all to end all). In addition to the good design, there are tons of great “tag line,” “one-liners,” and lessons that are easily accessible for discussion among the school kids, the parents, and professionals like us.
—Lisa Stacholy, AIA