Heed LEED, part 1: Getting in the Game

By: Jan Niehaus
As of July 2012, more than 2 billion square feet of commercial space had been certified under the LEED green building certification program, with 7 billion more in the pipeline, according to the USGBC. Jennifer Easton, communications associate with the USGBC, noted that, as of September 2012, nearly 50,000 commercial projects and more than 114,000 LEED for Homes units were either LEED certified or LEED registered—with LEED referenced in project specifications for 71% of projects that are valued at $50 million and over.

“LEED marked a major turn in the construction industry and certain vertical markets—especially the government, thanks to the GSA’s [U.S. General Services Administration] requirements to build every new federal government building to LEED standards,” said Billy Grayson, manager of corporate sustainability for Pittsburgh-based WESCO Distribution. “Office space is another vertical that is pursuing LEED, especially Class A office buildings. The program is also becoming a bigger part of the retail market. PNC and Starbucks, for example, are now building to LEED standards.” Despite the proliferation of LEED certification, however, indifference by some building owners remains.

“Our members tell us that their customers are saying, ‘I want to save on my electric bill. If we happen to build green, that’s okay, but cost savings are my first concern,’” said Beth Margulies, direction of public relations for NECA. Steve Vallad, head of Energy Services Projects for Encore Electric, a Denver based electrical contractor, agreed.
“What it comes down to is, ‘How much energy can we save?’” he said. “What we are trying to do is lower the energy use of the building while maintaining the budget and life cycle costs.” But the benefits of green building go far beyond lower operating expense, asserted Chris Studney, vice president of energy and sustainability at Jones Lang LaSalle, a U.S. commercial real estate services firm.

“According to CoStar Group [a well-known commercial real estate research firm], occupancy rates are higher, absorption is faster, owners command higher rents, resale value is higher, occupant satisfaction is higher, and there are improvements in productivity with fewer sick days,” Studney noted.

“There’s enough public awareness of LEED that it’s actually good for PR,” added Rick Eckman, construction and lighting market manager for Border States Electric, headquartered in Fargo, N.D. “In an office building that’s LEED certified, the companies that lease space inherit that green PR benefit.”

Let there be no doubt: LEED opens a universe of opportunity for electrical distributors and their customers.

“Over 40% of what LEED certification covers is the work that electrical contractors perform,” explained Margu lies, noting that this work includes HVAC and lighting control, on-site renewable energy generation and management,
construction materials and lighting component selection, and light pollution reduction.

Studney, who served as manager of business development for Electrical Distributors Inc. in Charlotte, N.C., until 2011, offered his perspective: “There are many components to LEED, and electrical distributors impact a large number of those,” he said. “The Energy Star rating is what LEED uses to measure energy performance. If a distributor can help its
client improve the project’s Energy Star score, it will become a valuable LEED team member.”

“Energy efficiency, energy management, and renewable energy products can account for nearly half of the points
required for basic LEED certification,” added Grayson. Electrical distributors are encouraged to strengthen their role as information resources, said Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED technical development for the USGBC.

“There are tremendous opportunities because electrical distributors are the source for the latest and greatest products and technologies,” he noted. “Electrical distributors are much more versed in the available technologies, and if they are versed in the goals of the project too, they can provide significant value-add. For example, an engineer might specify a particular type of equipment, but the distributor may know that a new technology or a new strategy is available that would satisfy the intent more effectively or more efficiently.”

The new model in the green building arena is integrative design, a concept popularized by LEED that requires the engagement of all major players—owners, architects, engineers, general contractors, and the key subcontractors—much earlier in the process than was previously the norm.

Eckman described the approaches: “The historical construction method has been design-bid-build, and many times with this approach there is one person or one company that has control and everyone has to work around what that one party has decided. In this situation, contractors submit their bids and there’s not a lot of discussion. This method does not allow us to contribute laborsaving ideas or suggest new technologies that would help the project.”

But today, Eckman noted, 50% of the work is design-build, and almost all LEED projects are design-build, which means that these projects usually don’t go out to bid.

“Commitments to the architects, engineers, contractors, and primary subcontractors are made up front,” he explained. “They all work together during the development stage to get the LEED points required to reach the owner’s goal of certification at the Basic, Silver, Gold, or Platinum level. Therefore, electrical contractors and their distributors are brought in sooner than in the conventional design-bid-build approach. We can add significant value when we understand the LEED intention. For example, we can bring in submetering or solar components to meet the project’s energy conservation strategies.”

Eckman cited another major advantage of the design-build strategy: “Because everyone knows going in what the in tension is, low bids and change orders aren’t such issues.”

“It’s important for distributors to educate themselves about LEED requirements and better understand the solutions available that can support LEED goals,” said Grayson. “And we need to listen to our customers to better understand what they want to achieve. We have the tools that the architects and engineers need. The products themselves
are not LEED certified; rather, they are part of LEED solutions.”

“Obviously, distributors need to be well versed on all the products they carry, and they need to fully understand the new products and technologies that are being used in LEED projects,” added Vallad. “They need to have someone in the organization with expertise in LEED, someone who can sit down with companies like ours and help identify the best products for the project goals, help us understand how the products fit into the project, and help us accurately determine the labor required for the in stallation to keep the pricing competitive.”

Referring directly to LEED rating system categories, Josh Masters, national energy solutions manager for lighting and controls in Gexpro’s Atlanta office, cited ways in which electrical distributors can assist their customers on LEED projects in the following LEED rating categories:

1. Materials & Resources. “If the project is a renovation or retrofit, we look at reusing materials that are already there,” said Masters. “We can reuse wire and boxes, and if you understand how systems work, you can reuse fixtures. You could realign the lighting layout and make the facility more viable just by moving fixtures instead of ripping out all of the old and buying all new.” He also pointed out the importance of using regional materials: “Gexpro is seldom asked to identify the locations of material sources because the project’s LEED consultant usually handles such details. However, that information is readily available from manufacturers, and we can obtain it if we are asked.”

2. Sustainable Sites. “Transportation is part of the ‘Sustainable Sites’ category, with a preference for alternative fuel and fuel-efficient transportation and low-emitting vehicles,” Masters noted. “We can provide EV charging stations, and we can also help them secure the credit for light pollution reduction. LED has great optics control, and we can help with design and specification of exterior fixtures that cut the light at the property line, reducing light spill.”

3. Energy & Atmosphere. “Green power is solar, wind, and geothermal, and Gexpro has a very large solar business,” Masters added. “By incorporating solar, the system helps to achieve not only LEED certification, but also the long-term benefit of making the business less dependent on the grid while reducing its operating costs.”

4. Indoor Environmental Quality. “Our main contribution in this category is controllability, especially the controllability of the lighting system,” said Masters. “Obviously, this is scalable from a single fixture to a single room to a whole building, and this gets us into daylighting, with dimming and daylight harvesting, depending on which way the building faces.”

Masters identified a second “Indoor Environmental Quality” concern on retrofit and renovation projects: the possibility of encountering hazardous materials: “It is important to avoid disturbing whatever materials might be above the ceiling,” he warned. “If there is asbestos in the ceiling, you’ve just opened Pandora’s Box, and the entire job will be forced to shut down.”

LEED is a complex rating system—so how do distributors become the LEED savvy partners their customers need? Find out in part 2 of this article, “Getting Green Smart,” next month in tED.

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