...and How To Avoid the Same Results (in jurisdictions where LEED is not required by law)
Henry Gifford has been a construction contractor and energy efficiency expert for over 25 years. He makes very interesting points on the reality (or lack of it) of energy savings in LEED construction, in his carefully thought-out article and in his rebuttal to the US Green Building Council (the LEED originators) response. You can also see his video for another view on the information.
LEED, standing for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design", is an American system for rating buildings as LEED certified to different levels with the highest being LEED Platinum, and also for accrediting contractors and architects. LEED was developed and is promoted and managed by the US Green Building Council, a trade organization, and is administered by the related Green Building Certification Institute. At the center of its building ratings is a point system. Points can be granted for such things as closeness to mass transit, cleaning up of the building site from prior contamination, water reclamation, bicycle storage, and much more.
It seems that Henry Gifford's analysis, while valuable, is also likely to be omitting the hidden benefits of the many LEED factors that related indirectly to energy use and that encourage use of mass transit and alternate transport, better construction practices that are more energy-efficient, and the use of materials that are themselves more likely to have a better energy profile than those use in standard commercial projects. On the other hand, as Henry points out, these other benefits often function as a substitute for careful and efficient building construction practices, weakening a major component of what all new, environmentally-sound buildings should embody.
I spoke with Henry Gifford to clarify a few of his points. In reality, the facts do not point to LEED as being far WORSE than standard construction in terms of energy, since additional detailed analysis indicates that a prevalence of lab buildings, which use a high amount of energy, weighs slightly against LEED in the study and explains most – but not all – of the negative gap.
But, even trying to make the comparison as much apples-to-apples as possible, LEED buildings do end up somewhat worse than their uncertified "colleagues" in the building arena. The biggest fundamental flaw is the fact that LEED does not require actual measurements of energy use in completed buildings. As a contractor, Mr. Gifford is aware that flawed implementations of good-looking energy plans can often sabotage the plans. Such flaws including leaky duct work, mis-sized heating or cooling equipment, and use of energy-inefficient materials in pivotal parts of a building. There is some thought in the construction community that designers and architects may be scrimping on energy-related components that do not feed the LEED rating system in order to save on overall project costs, which are higher than non-LEED building due to the other efforts made to meet LEED material, location, and land/water guidelines.
The following is a small section of Henry Gifford's Web site's home page:
Read the e-mail the US Green Building Council sent to each chapter leader in response to the revelation that LEED buildings use more energy than comparable buildings: Click Here for e-mail, with rebuttal
Watch a video of my presentation about building rating systems at the Westford Symposium on Building Science, and see how 300+ serious building scientists respond: Click Here for Video
These issues should be carefully considered by all architects, construction companies, by those who develop and promote the LEED standard, and by activists and regulators. Helping reduce global climate change and preparing for a drop in availability of fossil fuels need to be key considerations for the entire building industry, in the USA and world-wide. Since buildings account for 40% of global energy use, a careful evaluation of what is truly being created in the name of "green buiding" should be a priority for all those who have influence in the building community.