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LEEDing the Way

Utah Builds Green

Sarah Ryther-Francom

October 1, 2008

As the energy crisis looms, many Utah businesses are looking for ways to cut their energy usage. Some have shortened their workweek from five days to four days, others have provided carpool incentives and some have offered telecommuting opportunities. While these energy-saving techniques are great for the environment, the big energy wasters are more often the buildings that businesses lease or own. Commercial buildings account for 70 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption, 39 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and 30 percent of waste output. To combat this weighty problem, some Utah businesses are taking the next green step, constructing or remodeling their buildings to be LEED certified. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building rating system that provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Developed in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED aims to define green building by establishing a common standard of measurement and to ultimately transform builders to be more environmentally conscious. So what exactly does it mean when builders broadcast their creations as LEED certified? “Being LEED certified means that your building is extremely energy efficient,” says Greg Schlegel, chair of the USGBC Utah Chapter. According to Schlegel, LEED certified buildings have lower operating costs, reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve energy and water, are healthier and safer for occupants and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. To become LEED certified, a building must go through a stringent point-based test conducted by a third party LEED examiner. The examiner will inspect the building’s design, construction techniques and operation qualities by assessing six major areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and innovative design. In sum, “It’s basically a check list and a methodology for constructing green buildings,” Schlegel says. While inspecting the building, the examiner grants points for areas that satisfy green building criteria. Within each of the six LEED categories, projects must comply with specific prerequisites to receive points. The number of points earned determines the level of LEED certification, which can be certified, silver, gold or platinum. Since its inception, LEED has grown to encompass nearly 2,000 LEED certified projects and nearly 15,000 LEED registered projects, covering approximately four billion square feet of commercial building space, according to USGBC March 2008 figures. In Utah there are about 20 LEED certified buildings, with many more in the works. Green: The New Black As the “go green” trend evolves into a social mainstay, developers have taken note and are building with an environment focus. In Utah, many green structures are already gracing the skyline, including the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, the Olympic Oval, the Salt Lake Palace Expansion and the Mark Miller Toyota and Scion Dealership. Mark Miller, president of Mark Miller Auto Group, says that his decision to follow LEED guidelines was one that he doesn’t regret. In September, Miller opened Utah’s only LEED certified automobile dealership, and he says that he’s already seeing the green build as a bright move. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” says Miller. “In fact, I’m planning to remodel another building in the same way.” Miller says that the green project started after he purchased a dealership built decades ago. Knowing that it needed an update, he looked into his options and discussed green building with Toyota’s corporate architect. “The architect said that the building was wasting so many resources and that we needed to almost rebuild it,” Miller says. “He told me about a dealership in Texas that was LEED certified, and I was interested. We spoke to Toyota about making our dealership LEED certified and they just went crazy over it. From that point, it took on a life of its own. Next thing I knew, we were building a green building.” The six-acre dealership is like an energy-saving machine, Miller says, since the entire property was designed with the environment in mind. The building uses only 25 percent of the energy that a normal building would use, and its eco-friendly and state-of-the-art features include a high efficiency heating and cooling system, an innovative skylight system that optimizes natural daylight to lower interior light use, low-flow faucets and toilets, a cooling roof system, a cistern system to collect rainwater and more. The building’s exterior and interior finish is made entirely of recycled materials and only environmentally-friendly paint and cleaning supplies were used. Beyond the building itself, a self-sustaining landscape that requires minimal water surrounds the dealership and employees and visitors with fuel efficient vehicles are given preferential parking. And Miller says that he’s already reaping benefits. His employees are happier and more productive, and his customers are impressed. “So far the [employees and customers] love it,” he says. “There’s so much natural light and it’s more comfortable and cool. I could go on for hours about how much I love it.” Home Sweet Hybrid Commercial buildings aren’t the only structures going up green — home builders are the latest to follow the trend. And some of the state’s top energy-saving homes were on display during this year’s Salt Lake Parade of Homes. Out of the 35 homes featured in the show, 14 were green-build certified. “As an industry, we know that what’s good for the consumer and what’s good for the environment is also good for us, and we’re responding to that,” says Curt Dowdle, executive officer for the Salt Lake Home Builders Association. Though LEED certification for home building is still in its infancy stage, Dowdle says that there are parallel standards that home builders can follow to receive similar accolades. “There are so many ways that a home builder can build green,” says Dowdle. Green home building starts with lot choice. For example, a builder should look at whether building on the site will have an adverse affect on the surrounding environment. During construction, builders must continue to minimize waste, like controlling how much dust is created. And, of course, there’s the house itself. “There are obvious things you can do to make your home more energy efficient, like getting a new furnace. But there are also things like cutting the carpet in a way that eliminates waste,” Dowdle says. Then there’s adding solar panels, getting an efficient water heater and air conditioning unit, xeriscaping the yard…the list could go on and on. More than just minimizing energy use, though, Dowdle says that today’s builders are finding ways to build net zero energy homes—homes that require absolutely no energy to operate normally. During the Salt Lake Parade of Homes, one net zero home was the star of the show. Developed by Gold Medallion Homes, the home includes advanced solar panels, a hydronic furnace and a hybrid evaporative cooling system, among other eco features, making it Utah’s only net zero energy house. “This is a cutting edge home,” Dowdle says. “Especially in Utah, where we have temperature extremes, it’s difficult to build a zero energy home, but they did it and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.” Dowdle says that as people become more educated about energy usage and its impact on the environment, they’ll want to live in low energy consuming homes—even if it takes more green out of their wallets. “Studies have found that people would be willing to add 3 percent to the price tag for a green house. Consumers are willing to pay when they know about the good features,” Dowdle says, adding that eventually costs associated with green building will come down since energy efficiency is becoming the standard. “Twenty years ago, a home furnace that was 80 percent efficient would have cost, but now code minimum is 80 percent. We’ll get to the point where these techniques will become mainstream and that’s when everyone will benefit. We know that the younger consumers are more environmentally conscious than their parents and [builders are] responding.” Go for the Green As more and more businesses go green, some wonder if the eco-friendly movement is just the latest trend or if it’s here to stay. USGBC’s Schlegel says that LEED building will become the standard. “The green market in Utah is still in its infancy stage,” says Schlegel. “But as the market matures, it won’t go away. [Green building] is going to be a permanent part of our lives.” Schlegel says that there are innumerable benefits associated with green buildings, some that you might not think of. “Green building also helps the indoor environment quality go up,” he says. Studies have found that students perform better in school when surrounded by natural light, and that office productivity rises when the building contains natural features. “It’s hard to pin down these soft benefits, but a lot of studies have said that green businesses have increased productivity,” Schlegel says. If you’re looking to remodel your energy-wasting building or want to build green from the start, the USGBC Utah Chapter is a great place to find information and LEED certified architects. “Our mission is to educate the public,” Schlegel says. “We invite members and nonmembers to our monthly meetings. We offer a lot of education and networking. People can also check out our Website (www.usgbcutah.org).” “When you look at Utah in general, you see that haze sitting over the mountains and the inversion and there’s a real environmental impact,” Schlegel adds. “Then there’s the fact that buildings consume a ridiculous amount of energy. If we start building green and putting buildings in places where there is mass transit, the [energy crisis] will get better.” Benefits of Green Building: Cost Savings • Investment of 2 percent in green building design results in life cycle savings of 20 percent of the total construction costs. • Tenants can save about 50 cents per square foot each year through strategies that cut energy use by 30 percent. This can represent a savings of $50,000 or more in a five-year lease on 20,000 square feet. Source: U.S. Green Building Council In the United States, buildings account for: 70 percent of electricity consumption 39 percent of energy use 39 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 40 percent of raw materials use 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually) 12 percent of potable water consumption Source: U.S. Green Building Council
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