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Green Construction and the LEED Process

Benefits of Green Building

Green building Montecito home

The term green building is the practice of utilizing healthier, more resource efficient and environmentally sustainable construction materials and methods. The common objective of green building is to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment. Sustainability conveys that we are consciously supporting long-term ecological balance. Sustainable construction can be both a responsible and a pragmatic choice as it reduces a building’s energy usage and lowers future costs. Green building offers a wide spectrum of potential benefits.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Protect occupant health
  • Enhance and protect biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Improve air and water quality
  • Reduce waste pollution and environmental degradation
  • Reduce dependency on fossil fuels
  • Conserve and restore natural resources

Economic benefits

  • Reuse of building materials
  • Reduce operating costs
  • Improve occupant productivity
  • Optimize life-cycle economic performance

Social benefits

  • Enhance occupant comfort and health
  • Heighten aesthetic qualities
  • Minimize strain on local infrastructure
  • Improve overall quality of life 

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) devised a LEED certification program in 1994 to encourage sustainable practices in design and development. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program has established standards for performance measurement for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of green buildings—it is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. The LEED process explores all opportunities for improvement including a pragmatic focus on life cycle costs and payback analysis, energy conservation, daylighting, recycling, use of sustainable and environmentally friendly materials and techniques.

The effort in “greening” a project focuses on opportunities to achieve real efficiencies in energy and ultimately user comfort. Options vary from adding elements such as recycling, reduced water usage and environmentally friendly materials, to incorporating a comprehensive energy and facility master plan. In addition to the obvious reduction of negative environmental impacts, employees and owners benefit from an environmentally friendly building and a more comfortable work space in the areas of thermal control, daylighting and views and indoor air quality. According to a 2006 study by the Center of the Built Environment, University of California, green office buildings improve productivity and employee satisfaction in the workplace. As a result an increasing number of US cities (32 by the end of 2017) have enacted legislation requiring or supporting LEED certification to some extent for new construction or renovations for all building types from municipal and commercial buildings to new developments and single family homes.

LEED certification provides independent verification of a building or development’s green features. Accreditation is based on a point scoring system that is generally divided into categories which reflect the level or extent of green building construction methods and sustainable construction materials incorporated in the project. The USBGC awards four levels for LEED Designation:

  1. LEED Certified: 40 to 49 points
  2. LEED Silver: 50 to 59 points
  3. LEED Gold: 70 to 79 points
  4. LEED Platinum: 80+ points

Evaluation for LEED certification is based on green building categories:

  1. Water and energy efficiency
  2. Materials and resources
  3. Indoor environmental quality
  4. Waste reduction
  5. Sustainable site, location and transportation

LEED certification is a process of four primary steps: 

  1. Register your project
  2. Submit your completed application
  3. Your application is reviewed for the appropriate points gained in each category
  4. Certification is awarded for the level you have achieved

Every project requires a LEED Consultant who is responsible for managing the myriad requirements and documentation that demonstrate completion of the required tasks that qualify the project for credits in the certification process. Your consultant will evaluate your project’s LEED criteria in the early planning stages and identify which components they believe can reasonably be achieved. This will inform the goals for the project plan.

Green building focuses on sustainability, economy, utility and durability and comfort.

As the prime LEED consultant for the St. Jerome renovation project, Stonemark performed full-service planning and construction management. Early in the planning process it was clear the school could not change its footprint or location to meet percentage requirements, so we shifted attention to other achievable criteria. We ensured that team members performed the correct scope of work, that all required LEED tasks were completed and appropriately documented and coordinated the certification process with the USBGC. The project was awarded LEED Silver certification based on the following criteria:

  • Sustainable Site: The school chose to renovate their existing building to remain in a neighborhood with public transportation access and within walking distance of numerous community services. The renovation was performed without extensive demolition of structural elements and without creating new parking or extensive site work which diverted waste from landfills, reduced vehicle emissions and preserved undeveloped land. The building now provides preferred parking spaces for fuel efficient vehicles.
  • Energy Usage: We upgraded all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, installed state of the art lighting and water saving fixtures. We utilized a building commissioning plan to optimize energy performance and ensure the building operates properly as a fully functional system. We ensured that all HVAC systems were installed by technicians trained in the operations and maintenance of equipment and retested the system before the warranty expired so that problems would be fixed under warranty.
  • Materials and Resources: We required the contractor to make a Construction Waste Management Plan that recycled over 75% of construction waste. We specified the use of building materials containing 10-20% recycled contents and certified wood. The re-roofing utilized as much as possible of the old roofing material. We incorporated a recycling station in the design for the use of building occupants.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality: During construction the contractor was required to limit the use of construction materials that contain Volatile Organic Compounds and protect the HVAC from dust and debris contamination. We performed a thermal comfort survey once the building was occupied to ensure the lighting and temperature were comfortable for occupants and required the contractor to fix any deficiencies. 

Not pursuing LEED Certification? Green Options for Residential Projects.

Stonemark offers a range of environmental planning and green building options for property owners and homeowners who wish to incorporate sustainable elements in their building plan, but not pursue formal LEED accreditation. You don’t have to build a brand new home that is “off the grid” or go for a Net Zero Energy home where it is so green it produces more energy that it consumes. One of our most rewarding projects entailed a new parking lot and site improvements for the Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara. The client’s commitment to a green project enabled the team to utilize eco-friendly materials including pervious concrete and cutting edge sustainable design and construction techniques that significantly reduced water and energy usage. The installation of 57 new trees in the parking lot provides much needed additional shade to reduce the parking lot’s reflective heat and beautifies the campus.

The decision to “go green” is a voluntary one that should be carefully considered in terms of cost and feasibility. The good news is that your capital investment will provide a higher return via reduced operating costs and the need to replace your system as often. Green building construction methods can be integrated at any point—however, like the parking lot project, the most significant benefits are realized if all members of the project team take an integrated approach from the earliest planning and design stages. Before you retain an architect, ensure your pre-qualification process includes questions about their previous experience with green construction. The builder, engineers and other consultants also should have prior green experience and be on board with your sustainability goals and processes. These early decisions will impact the building’s life-cycle from planning to design, demolition, construction, operations and maintenance.

Green Building Options:

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: replace old windows, upgrade to a programmable thermostat, install Energy Star appliances, high efficiency LED lighting and exterior fixtures with motion sensors and low-level site lighting; install a “cool” roof to reflect the heat of the sun or a “living roof” to insulate the home and filter rainwater; plant trees to provide additional shade and reduce reflective heat.

  • Solar Energy: install photovoltaic solar panels
  • Water Efficiency: install low-flow faucets, tankless water heater, high efficiency drip irrigation system with controllers, reduce the amount of turf, plant drought tolerant native species or a xeriscape
  • Environmentally Friendly Building Materials: choose building materials that have low VOCs and no hazardous toxins
  • Reduce Pollution: install pervious concrete and pavers for hardscape, and bioswales for storm water filtration and retention to reduce pollution run-off
  • Waste Reduction: reduce, reuse and recycle construction waste to keep it out of landfills
  • Indoor Air Quality: proper installation and maintenance of ventilation and air conditioning equipment contributes to better health and comfort

Simple steps bring big changes.

Individuals, businesses and communities are asking what they can do to preserve their environment. People want to make choices that are environmentally responsible and conserve precious resources. No matter who you are or where or how you live, your decisions and choices can make a positive contribution towards reducing energy and environmental impact, improving the quality of life and making our world a better place for generations to come.  

For more information, see our companion article 5 easy green building opportunities for homeowners as well as Stonemark Construction Managements service offerings for sustainable green building.

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