Leed Certification And Sustainable Buildings Environmental Sciences Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Environmental Sciences|
|✅ Wordcount: 3359 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
The following paper discusses the influence of structures on the environment and steps that are being taken to reduce their carbon footprint throughout the world. Buildings contribute significantly to the pollution of this planet. However, while they contribute a lot to pollution, they also have the ability to reduce that amount of pollution and waste through the means of creating a mentality of sustainability throughout their industry. Every stage in the life cycle of a building can play their part from design and construction to operation. The LEED initiative is one such way to begin the evolution in the mindset of constructors and designers.
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While the LEED initiative has become quite successful, many builders tend to stay away from it due to the fact that to gain LEED certification, the cost of the building is raised. While the initial cost is higher, the long term savings is substantial and ultimately makes it worthwhile. Items from utility costs are lower along with tax savings from the government. Even property value has been proven to be raised with LEED certification.
While the idea of long term savings is crucial to get more builders to consider sustainability more, this change must become a permanent one that makes environmentally friendly structures the norm rather than a sort of side show. This process will be gradual, but with commissions such as LEED and others around the world, the building industry is doing their part to help reduce pollution and waste.
LEED Certification and Sustainable Buildings
Environmental awareness is becoming ever more prominent in today’s society. Whether it is being more concerned about automobile emissions and their miles per gallon statistics, or buying locally produced foods, “Going Green” is everywhere we look whether we like it or not. These examples of using technology or material gathering methods for cars and grocery store products are the most common ways of society’s attempt to reduce their carbon footprint on the planet. However, there is a sector of society and business for that matter which is far less noticeably attempting to make this step into the realm of sustainability. This sector I am talking about is the industry of designing, constructing, and operation of buildings.
Buildings in the United States represent 39 percent of the nation’s primary energy use, account for 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, represent 72 percent of the nation’s consumption, they use 14 percent of all potable water, and globally, buildings use 40 percent of raw materials.(Yudelson) When one takes a moment to consider how much energy and material it takes to build anything, from the exhaust of cranes and dozers, to the electricity consumed in a completed skyscraper, these numbers are not all that surprising. And now knowing these numbers, one can imagine the impact on the carbon footprint of the United States, if something was done to decrease them. Fortunately, attempts are being made to make the construction industry more environmentally friendly, with such initiatives as the LEED rating system for structures of all kinds.
LEED is an acronym for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Its purpose is to distinguish buildings that have gone above and beyond in their attempts to create a significantly more environmentally friendly building than normal. “LEED collects and incorporates a wide variety of ‘best practices’ across many disciplines including architecture, engineering, interior design, landscape architecture, and construction.”(Yudelson) This quote from Yudelson’s book, perfectly summarizes what players in a construction project are involved to create a LEED building. A LEED building is not just a building that keeps the lights off more, but rather a product of the collaboration of everyone involved, from transporting steel from a closer plant to minimize transportation pollution, to creating a naturally lit environment needing less manmade lighting, to even engineering and designing more energy efficient air conditioning and heating systems.
There are four possible LEED scores a building can receive, “Certified”, “Silver”, “Gold”, and “Platinum”. Certified being received by meeting the basic requirements, and Platinum being rewarded to the projects that meet the highest tier of requirements. The four achievement levels are the following:
Certified: Greater than 40 percent of the total possible points.
Silver: Greater than 50 percent of the total possible points.
Gold: Greater than 60 percent of the total possible points.
Platinum: Greater than 80 of the total possible points.
The following diagram by Yudelson, displays a percentage breakdown of the five main categories considered by a LEED commissioner and how big of a role each play.
As you can see, the five main categories considered are, indoor environmental quality, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, and materials and resources. From each of these categories, depending on how many points scored, the LEED commission will reward the building with a Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum seal of approval. This chart is specifically for “New-Construction” projects, however, over 70 percent of LEED certifications are newly constructed projects and therefore will be the qualifications mostly discussed in this paper.
The following is an image from Yudelson of the LEED scorecard for the Oregon Health and Science University’s Center for Health and Healing which received a Platinum rating.
As displayed, points are awarded for achievements under each of the five major categories, along with an additional category of Innovation and Design.
For the category of “Sustainable Sites” the focus is on controling everything from alternative transportation access to light pollution reduction, to stormwater management. Even the site selection is important. The aspect that jumps off the page here is the alternative transportation methods. If the building design team can create an evironment that encourages, biking to work with lots of bike racks and changing rooms for the bikers that can reduce a certain amount of cars on the road attached to that building. Also by designing for bus, subway, and train terminals, in or nearby the building, more people living or working in the building may be more likely to use these alternative methods of transportation and reducing the number of cars on the road. The idea here, is that since alternative fuel automobiles have not taken off in society, the main or easiest way to reduce toxic vehicle emissions is to reduce the number of vehicles on the road by encouraging the use of mass public transportation systems like subways, buses and trains. Buildings play a big role in this by providing the terminals and stations convieniently to the public.
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Along with the issue of transportation, the site category also contains the topics of stormwater treatment, heat islands, and light pollution. By managing the stormwater displaced by the footprint of a building, an owner can gain two quick points toward LEED certification. Whether it is a developing a way to properly treat and possibly reuse stormwater within the building, or by limiting the amount of runoff created, there are many ways a building can be designed to prevent polluted stormwater from reaching rivers or oceans. Buildings are also massive heat generators which can be harmful to the environment. By reducing the radiation of heat, another two quick points are available. And finally, the issue of light pollution is a serious problem in large cities, affecting the animals in the area, specifically birds. Buildings do not need to leave their lights on all night, it is a waste of energy as well as harmful to birds which are affected by not knowing the difference between night and day in the cities. Motion sensors are one possible solution, but however this is remedied, a LEED point is up for grabs here as well. Site Sustainability is the second largest category and proves that if builders take the time to apply some of these factors into their structure, they can have a resounding impact on the environment around them.
The second category is “Water Efficiency”. This is the smallest category as far as point availability goes with only five available, but is really is an easy five points and should be done regardless of a LEED certifaction goal or not. There are three main sub categories: Water efficient landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies, and water use redution. Whether it is implementing a timed sprinkler system, or using landscaping that doesn’t need water such as gravel, there are ways to significantly reduce the amount of irrigation required for the landscape around a structure. Water use redution starts in the bathrooms, with more efficient faucets and toilets. While they are more expensive up front they are most likely to save the owner money in the long run. All that is required for two points under the water use reduction, is a thirty percent decrease which is a lot in the big picture, but it is very doable. Especially for buildings that find solutions to the irrigation of their landscaping.
The third category is called “Energy and Atmosphere”. This area basically focuses on finding ways to minimize the overall energy consumption of the building through innovative design and technology. Ten points are available just by finding ways to optimize the building’s energy performance. There are many methods to go about doing this, whether it is better insulation, or more efficient HVAC systems. Another prominent aspect of this category is the implementation of renewable energy within the structure. The most well known of these is solar and wind generated power through the use of solar panels and wind turbines. By implementing these designs, not only will you recieve points for their use toward LEED certification, but they will also help optimize the energy performance of the building. Buildings use a lot of energy and and produce a lot of gases that contribute to the depletion of the ozone. By finding ways to use eco friendly air conditioning units or design the interior of the building to keep it cool without air conditioning during the summer, will go a long way to help the environment. The key to this category is to focus on ways to generate power using green alternatives. If the design team can find a way to power a large portion of the structure with solar panels or wind turbines, not only will a huge portion of LEED credits be available, but in the long run the owner’s power costs will be a fraction of what they would have been with out the green power alternatives, all at the same time being environmentally conscious. The Energy and Atmosphere group is the largest group as far as LEED points are concerned. Because of this, it is absolutely crucial to gain a significant amount of LEED credits from this group if you have any aspirations of developing a LEED certified structure.
The next and fourth category is called “Materials and Resources”. This area basically covers the pracitices used in the construction of the building. While making sure a building is environmentally friendly during it’s operation, the construction of a building is a legitimate part of a structure’s life cycle and it is every bit important to make sure this process is green as well. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this task. Of course they most likely are not going to be making hybrid bull dosers and cranes any time soon, but there are ways to lower the carbon footprint of construction. Examples include, waste management, use of recycled materials, building and resource reuse, and the use of local materials. The general theme of going green during construction is basically leave nothing to waste. The more you can use of demolished material for the new structure the better. And the proper allocation of material that needs to be disposed of the better. All contribute to a more environmentally firendly construction site, along with those coveted LEED credits. Another very important aspect is the use of local or regional materials. By using materials that are manufactured locally or nearby, the shorter the distance they need to be trucked to the site therefore reducing the time on the road of the trucks bringing material to the site. Less time on the road for the trucks mean less fuel and less emissions by them for your job. This concept gives a good picture of how far reaching a construction project’s carbon footprint is. It is not limited to just the site itself but everything and everyone that contributes to it.
The final main categories of the LEED certification process is the “Indoor Environmental Quality.” Basically how the design of the interior effects the overall efficienty of the building. This includes everything from carbon dioxide monitoring throughout the structure, to the use of low-emitting materials, to how much of the structure is lit by daylight. Low-emitting materials include stable paints, sealants, carpet and composite wood. These are easy points as most of these come standard. However, one of the trickier aspects will be meeting the daylight and views requirements of seventy five and ninety percent of the spaces seeing daylight. Most buildings have interior rooms with multiple stories which makes this task near impossible. But with a dedicated architect and engineering team this could be achieved. Another area for points noticed is thermal comfort. Basically having a system in place that monitors the room temperatures and maintins a comfortable temperature. This helps toward energy consumption as the thermostats will ensure the air conditioning or heat will not run longer than what is needed.
The final category is “Innovation and Design Process”. This awards points for innovation as far as construction waste, water, and storm water is concerned. This encourages the design and development of new methods to build a greener building that can be used in future projects. The purpose of the LEED system is to get developers to progress toward more and more efficient designs and methods of building and operating structures.
Throughout each description, one might notice that many of them are linked or related to one another. This process can be described somewhat like a domino effect. Once one goal is achieved it can directly affect something in a comletely different category. For example, if daylight and views is achieved for even seventy five percent of spaces, a LEED credit is received for that achievement, but the optimize energy performance goal is also positively affected. With a large portion of the building seeing daylight a lot less power will be needed to light the building. This is only one example, however there are many. This is not to say that earning enough credits to achieve a LEED accredation is an easy task, but if a team is dedicated to that goal it is possible and one will find that solutions to some goals help towards the completion of others.
Now one might see all of this on paper and notice that to accomplish a LEED certified project, it is going to cost a lot of extra money compared to an average building that is not LEED certified. To some, cost may not be as important as it is to others but when it comes down to it, the construction industry is a business, and owners are looking to make the largest profit possible from the money they put out to construct a new building. This is a fair argument and there is no denying LEED structures indeed cost more initially to build. The following diagram by Yudelson shows estimates for the amount of extra cost for each level of LEED certification.
As you can see, the potential added cost can be significant, especially if you want to develop a Platinum sealed structure.
Another barrier to the development of sustainable buildings is the ever existent conflict between the Engineers and Architects. The constant struggle between Architects and Engineers is always there, however some projects it is an easier collaboration than others. LEED projects tend to create some conflict because what fits under the LEED criteria may not be was the architect was after visually, or may not work the best structurally, so compromises must be made. However, if the owner and construction manager make it clear from the start that the objective is a LEED building and compromise is promoted, then this barrier can usually be overcome.
While the initial cost of funding a LEED building is higher than normal, there are numerous benefits. Most of the benefits are long term or are rather unorthodox, however, all can significantly contribute to the value of a LEED certified building over a non-certified building. The following table from Yudelson’s book lists the general benefits:
A couple of beneficial factors that jump out to an owner strictly concerned about cost are: 1) the utility savings are 30 to 50 %, 4) tax benefits, 5) more competitive real estate value. These three benefits make a good case to convince an owner to want to build a LEED certified building. Sure you pay more up front, but it is a proven fact that people will pay more to live or work in an environmentally friendly building that has a LEED seal of authenticity. Along with a higher property value, the cost to maintain the structure is less. This is a direct product of the money you put up front for green technologies to gain the LEED certification. You paid for solar energy, so the direct result is a lower power bill, you paid for water efficiency so the water bill is lower. The same goes for all aspects like heating and cooling. These savings are key, because modern structures are made to last decades, even beyond one hundred years. Because of this, the long term utility savings, will save far more money than the amount saved up front avoiding the LEED route. And finally, the tax benefits from the production of this form of structure. The government is one of the largest proponents of going green and therefore there are various tax benefits and owner can take advantage of by creating a LEED certified building. While these are just three of the fourteen proposed benefits, others such as fund raising, and public relations are benefits that are extremely valuable to many as well.
It is clear that creating environmentally friendly buildings is the future of the construction industry, it is just a matter of getting builder’s and society to accept it as the norm, as opposed to a special case. The LEED initiative is the most prominent tool currently in use to move builders in that direction. At the moment, in today’s construction climate, it seems more difficult to convince owners that LEED is the right way to go, simply because they cost more. However, the long term benefits are slowly being accepted and more and more projects are going the LEED route. In the future it is the goal of the LEED initiative to not hold builders to their checklist merely so they can get a trophy on their completed project but because it is the right thing to do for the future of the planet. The case that the world will end if everyone doesn’t start building LEED Platinum structures is not being made here. But the statistics show that the construction industry and buildings during operation create a very large carbon footprint that can certainly be shrunk. So while auto makers develop hydrogen and electric cars, the construction industry should work to making LEED certified buildings the norm.
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