Feature Article - April 2010
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Shades of Green

Eco-Friendly, Budget-Friendly Facilities

By Dawn Klingensmith

Those costs differ from one project to the next, but Nicolow has written that if LEED certification is pursued from the get-go, teams can conservatively budget 2 percent for construction costs and $150,000 in soft costs for the lowest level of certification on up to Gold.

However, more than half of Green Building Survey respondents indicated that a LEED Gold rating increased project costs by 4 percent or more, while nearly 30 percent of respondents reported the costs of LEED Gold rating at significantly lower than 4 percent. The discrepancy may relate to stringency of local codes and the level of professional experience in various regions, as well as the varying degree of difficulty in achieving a LEED Gold rating on different types of buildings.

Projects that remain on or under budget and earn the coveted LEED certification are those that had clear goals established from the start and that integrated the green elements into the design at an early stage. "The biggest single thing I would tell people is to start immediately. Set your sustainability goals from the very beginning, and don't decide in the middle of the design process to pursue LEED" or a higher LEED certification, said Jim Brittell, a LEED Accredited Professional at the University of California-Irvine.

He speaks from experience. Working with the university's Design and Construction Services department, he has sought and achieved LEED Gold certification for five buildings on campus. "We had one project where the design team was charged with getting LEED-certified," he said, so building features meriting a Silver rating were specified. Well into the process it was decided that a Gold certification should be sought. At that stage, "We really had to scramble to come up with ways to earn the additional points," Brittell said.

When Is LEED Less Green?

LEED certification does not make sense for every project. And certain things that have been done in the name of LEED don't make sense, period.

No sooner had Yale University issued a press release stating it had earned platinum-level LEED certification for its new forestry building than the Yale Daily News published an embarrassing fact about two other LEED-certified buildings on campus: They were built with showers and changing rooms for bike commuters, which helped earn their LEED certification, but cyclists were denied access. A university official told the Daily News the shower room would remain off limits in the Sculpture Building, where students have studio space they already spend a lot of time in, because "if they had access to it, people would be living in the building." The showers in the other building would remain locked as well because there is no way to lock them from inside to guarantee privacy, another official said.

"What was the point of building the showers if they had no intention of letting anyone use them? Talk about waste," a reader wrote on the newspaper's Web site.

"Install a couple dollars' worth of hardware on those shower doors," wrote another.

And yet another: "The solution to energy conservation: Design a LEED-certifiable building that denies access to its users. All those energy-wasting humans kept out. Perfect!"