Sep 3, 2009

Does LEED Certification mean Energy Savings?

The following from the Air Advice blog(9-1-09) quotes a NYTimes article that points out that the criteria to gain LEED status may not always support energy savings.

You will remember LEED is The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

An article in the New York Times highlights some of the best kept secrets of LEED certification. While many people think that LEED certification is synonymous with energy efficiency, the article, looking at data from sources such as the New Building Institute, indicates that may not be the case. Because building owners have a wide array of options for securing LEED points, including use of sustainable or recycled materials, proximity to bus stops, and installation of bike racks, oftentimes energy conservation measures may be overlooked or ignored. Moreover, because energy use must be modeled to forecast usage in new construction, it is invariably wrong, and often by a significant margin. The article’s conclusion? A majority of LEED buildings tested would not even receive an Energy Star label.

Even if they do focus on energy points and install and commission sophisticated controls, if they are not monitored and maintained, controls and systems go out of balance. A phenomenon known as energy drift sets in and energy is wasted over time. Things like use of setbacks, lighting during occupied times and over-ventilation are a few examples.

Given the amount of money invested by building owners to secure this rating, it seems absurd that they wouldn’t at least be considered energy efficient. I suspect there will be a backlash. Hence the use of screws for mounting (and dismounting) plaques.

On the other hand, LEED EB (existing buildings) seems to be more focused on energy savings as a key component of achieving certification. Indeed, mechanical contractors would be wise to ensure they understand how their services can help LEED consultants and building owners achieve points toward the LEED EB certification. The good news for building owners is that many of these points can be “delivered” by a knowledgeable mechanical contractors without paying exorbitant premiums.

Oh, and one other thing…. Existing building energy models based on that building’s actual utility bills versus a theoretical model are far more accurate and can be used to accurately forecast savings from proposed energy conservation measures (ECMs). Accurate forecasting will help to identify the ROI for each measure and help secure owner buy-in for retrofits.

SO LEED NC has some challenges in front of it as it relates to energy conservation. LEED EB, as it relates to energy conservation, may be just what the doctor would prescribe for “ailing” building owners.

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