In the LEED

You may have caught a special on “green” building on Iowa Public Television or The Home and Garden Channel. Perhaps you’ve driven by a construction site and seen signs proclaiming it a LEED project. But these days people are throwing the word “green” around like the words “low fat” or “heart healthy.” So, what does the distinction really mean when it comes to the building community?

Well, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has come up with some pretty clear criteria. This non-profit organization is committed to expanding sustainable building practices. To help realize this mission, it developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ in 2000.

According to the USGBC’s website the system “encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.”

Specifically, the LEED program examines both new construction and existing buildings (inside and out) in the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design processes. Registered projects are awarded points for the extent of sustainable features they include and earn the designated levels of Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

LEED standards aren’t building codes. Following them and registering for LEED certification is completely voluntary. However, factors such as environmental altruism, decreased energy costs and positive public relations (bragging rights) are inspiring many commercial builders to walk the green path.

Although certifications like this tend to gain traction more quickly on the nation’s more populated coasts, the LEED phenomenon is starting to spread to Iowa as well, and currently there are 90 registered projects in the state.

“The number of building projects seeking LEED certification has increased dramatically in the last couple of years,” says Keith Steurer, Professional Engineer and LEED Accredited Professional at the firm of Shive-Hattery, Inc.

“In fact, the City of Iowa City, The University of Iowa and several state school districts now study the long-term cost benefits of applying sustainable design with most new projects.”

He should know. This year Corridor Business Journal subscribers voted his firm the Best Engineering Firm in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor for the second year in a row. Among other green projects in the state, Shive-Hattery recently designed plans for Iowa City’s extensive East Side Recycling Center project with Steurer as the LEED design manager and structural engineer.

The City of Iowa City is fully embracing the concept of sustainability seriously in this ambitious project. Intended to be both a working recycling center and an environmental education center, it will demonstrate several sustainable features, such as small-scale wind power generation, green roofs and green walls, geothermal heating and cooling, pervious paving, rapidly renewable woods and high-recycled-content building materials.

“We’re really excited about the project. If everything goes as planned, the education center will be the first building in the state of Iowa to achieve LEED Platinum-level certification,” boasts City Architect Kumi Morris.

The city is also building two new firehouses (one at Melrose and Emerald, and the other at Scott Boulevard and Dubuque Road) with sustainable features. The plans, designed by the architecture firm of Rohrbach Associates PC, are targeting Silver LEED certification.

You can expect this sustainability trend to continue as saving money becomes a motivating factor along with saving the environment. As the demand for green building materials increases, the cost of such products will naturally decrease, making sustainable alternatives feasible for a wider range of commercial and civic properties.

More and more engineers and architects are becoming LEED accredited professionals to meet their clients’ needs. And, as with all new innovations, green building promises to create new jobs across the nation.

According to a 2006 report published by The California Climate Change Center at UC Berkeley, it’s estimated that by 2010 California’s building energy efficiency standards will create 8,000 new jobs in the state, with a net economic benefit of $4 billion. And since the rest of the country eventually catches up to California’s environmental example, this could have a lasting impact on the U.S. economy.

Not one to rest on its laurels, the organization that helped spur on this green building movement has big plans for the future. In 2009, the USGBC is raising the bar for LEED certification. The new version of the rating system will emphasize key environmental and human health impacts, revamp the online reporting function and award bonus certification points to projects that incorporate regional environmental priorities specific to their building locale.

While some houses have obtained LEED status as well, residential buildings that meet LEED standards are more conceptual than practical. Owners that have the financial means and believe in the environmental principles have taken the plunge, but LEED-level homes just aren’t economically feasible yet.

Want to be a part of this green movement anyway? Don’t despair! From Energy-Star appliances to adequate insulation, there are dozens of ways you can follow the spirit, if not the regulations, of the United States Green Building Council. Call your energy company today, or check out next month’s issue of Little Village for energy saving ideas you can implement in your very own home.