Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green is all around me

It's St. Patty's Day and I have just begun to study for the LEED NC exam, which I have scheduled for March 26th at 1:30 p.m. Ouch! I can't believe I am making a public announcement, but hopefully that's incentive to do well and make this one a success. As if the hefty price tag is not enough. What is LEED you ask? I was going to write a post all about it, but my friend Cassi (in my head I call her Cassi the Extraordinary) who is also taking the exam on that day wrote a great post about it last week, so I thought I'd give her a virtual shout out : http://leomonkey.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/gloom-doom/ To prepare for the intense studying (okay, memorizing), I was reading from a text called In the LEED written by a former test-taker who started a blog about preparing for the exam and turned all of his knowledge in to a helpful text (smarty pants!). He explains all the different credits, their intents and implementation methods and how the various points are awarded. Currently, buildings can be rated LEED Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum based on the number of points:
  • Certified - 26-32 points
  • Silver - 33-38 points
  • Gold - 39-51 points
  • Platinum - 52-69 points
Many cities around the country are now (some for a few years already) requiring that all city-funded new construction over 5,000 s.f. or a certain dollar amount or major renovations to existing building be at least LEED Silver. Clearly the demand for LEED Accredited Professionals is rising. Instead of talking more about the finer points of the process, I thought I'd write about my limited experience with the LEED program in the past. I had the great pleasure of volunteering on Saturdays for several months last year at the Ronald McDonald House in Austin, Texas which was the third building in Texas to be awarded LEED Platinum and Austin's first. It was designed by Don Eckols of Eckols & Associates and built by The Beck Group. It's a beautiful building that brings comfort to hundreds of people each year, and volunteering there gave me the chance to experience how an extremely energy-efficient building functions from day to day. It was a real eye-opener into both the success of many of the systems (the fact that they drastically cut the energy consumed as compared to their older, smaller building and can and do serve 3 times as many families as the old Ronald McDonald House in Austin) and the challenges. Performance of these systems is highly dependent on the user, and in a case like the Ronald McDonald House, the user is often temporary. A family may stay for a night or a week or 6 months and they have access to the house's kitchen and laundry facilities, both of which are furnished with energy-conserving appliances. I learned the washing machines were often difficult for people to maneuver because they require small amounts of the concentrated detergent very different from how most families' machines operate. This lead to the machines malfunctioning frequently. The staff posted directions which were sometimes followed and sometimes neglected. I guess my point is that it may take time for us to catch up with these high-functioning buildings. On the otherhand, many of its features (like the lights on timers and sensors) were foolproof. LEED has a category called Energy and Atmosphere and a Prerequisite of it are Minimum Energy Requirements. While I agree this is highly important and should be a Prerequisite (something that can make or break any certification whatsoever), I also think it's necessary to monitor a building's future performance. Points seemed to weigh more heavily on the design and simulation of energy optimization (which happens before construction) rather than it's ultimate performance once user's take over. I recognize the intention, but this is one area I think LEED needs to pay more attention to. The earlier example I mentioned is just a tiny part of how a building functions where things can go wrong. In order for a building and it's parts to perform at the level of Platinum, many many things need to go right, and I think more effort should be made to monitor a building's future performance. I'll leave you with a photo of the Ronald McDonald House in Austin.


  1. Good luck with the exam, Babblet!

    Just curious - are there provisions in the economic stimulus package to require LEED construction if stimulus funds are used for building?

  2. That's a great question and I am not sure how I'd go about researching that in the most time-efficient manor (during this time-sensitive week :) ), but I will do my best. That sounds like it would deserve an entire post!
    Another interesting factoid is that currently there are over 10,000 projects nationwide awaiting Certification... perhaps stimulus package funds could be used to move this process along?