FM Frequency: That’s What I Like About LEED

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP

Published in the January 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In a world where critical thinking and common sense seem to be going the way of dinosaurs and vinyl albums, I’ve enjoyed learning more about U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and its rating systems for New Construction (NC), Core & Shell (CS), and Existing Buildings (EB).

In the past 18 months, my team has gained valuable experience on a number of projects, including a LEED-EB feasibility study on two existing buildings and design/build construction of a new suburban facility that will hopefully earn LEED-CS certification. While working with two consulting firms and being coached through these projects, several team members attended full day USGBC workshops and formed a study group to prepare for the LEED accredited professional (LEED-AP) exam.

Last January, this column criticized LEED’s formality, cost, and one size fits all approach [see “Lean Or Green?” by Jeff Crane, January 2007, page 10. In February, we reviewed the routinely unreliable predictions of so-called experts [“Disaster Cometh…Or Not!” by Jeff Crane, February 2007, page 10], and in April I took exception to municipalities unfairly burdening new facilities with the additional regulation and expense that LEED requires. [“Questioning Boston’s LEED-ership,” April 2007, page 12].

While standing by these prior editorials, I’d like to kick off the new year with optimism and review what I consider some of LEED’s more useful and thoughtful aspects.

Improving the Construction Process: Over the years, several TFM articles have addressed the communication breakdowns and significant knowledge gaps inherent to designing, building, and managing facilities. LEED admirably attempts to bridge these chasms by requiring active participation from the facility manager (fm) with the designers (architects and design engineers) and contractors. This team approach begins very early in a LEED project and continues from design through post construction. While less relevant for existing buildings, a more collaborative strategy can yield major benefits during construction and renovations.

Energy and Water: Efficient utilities consumption can be one of the most financially beneficial results of LEED. While architects and engineers have spent years commoditizing their professional services and allowing real engineering and creative architectural solutions to be dismissed as unnecessary and too expensive, LEED requires in-depth water consumption analysis, strict adherence to ASHRAE Standard 90, and energy modeling that should have always been standard practice for accurate life cycle cost analysis. Fms can later compare actual building performance to utilities consumption models and then find the causes of significant discrepancies.

Commissioning: Often confused with a simple test and balance report where flows and temperatures are physically verified and compared to the engineer’s plans and specs, LEED requires a more formal, comprehensive approach to system commissioning. Operational objectives, design narratives, and sequences of operation are approved by each member of the project team, and close coordination is maintained through construction and into operations. Checks and balances are outlined to confirm installed systems are operating as designed and that original designs are properly aligned with the fm’s needs. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that a new, unoccupied building in Miami or Boston performs very differently in January than the same facility at full capacity in August. But while penny wise project managers have saved many dimes with value engineering, some may spend millions later in litigation and inconvenience when systems fail.

Indoor Environmental Quality: Since safe, healthy, and productive work environments are a universal goal for all facilities, ensuring appropriate ventilation and occupant comfort should seem like obvious objectives. However, for facilities delivered with modern, initially cost efficient design and construction practices, many engineering decisions are made without the fm’s participation. When building designers work in a vacuum, it’s easier to understand why engineering assumptions can become operational afterthoughts. LEED requires documentation to verify strict adherence to ASHRAE Standards 55 and 62—the building industry’s (and most code officials’) accepted benchmark for these vital parameters.

Material Procurement And Recycling: One of LEED’s primary goals is to reduce buildings’ overall impact on the environment. From the recycling of construction debris to the selection of cleaning chemicals in ongoing operations, LEED offers guidance for minimizing the consumption of raw materials, pollution, and the amount of energy required to produce and transport products. Fms can use these guidelines to implement policies, educate occupants, and steer procurement toward environmentally preferable suppliers.

This concludes an overview of a few of the more useful components of USGBC’s LEED programs based on this author’s experience and opinion. However, this is not a blanket endorsement for LEED certifications since that decision must include many other considerations.

I remain convinced that fms and project teams can take advantage of LEED’s training, high level objectives, project checklists, and reference manuals to complete high quality and cost effective green projects with or without formal certifications.

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.

Please note: The views stated in this month’s FM Frequency do not necessarily reflect the opinions ofTFM or the other entities represented in the magazine.