Knowing what you can do as an electrical contractor to help a client earn green certifications can put you in good stead for this accelerating market.

While the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a benchmark for many, it is not the only -voluntary green building certification initiative. A sampling includes the U.S Department of Energy’s Energy Star program for residential, commercial and manufacturing buildings; the American Lung Association’s Health House; the Green Building Initiative; and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Model Green Home Building Guidelines that will pave the way for a voluntary ANSI standard. Add state and municipal green initiatives—voluntary or mandatory—and your mind might start spinning.

Learn from customers

For three electrical contractors, LEED is the most familiar certification process based on project work that has come their way in the last five years. They all recently joined the U. S. Green Building Council and have earned or plan to earn LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) status to help manage the process for their customers. To date, fewer than 45,000 people have earned this credential.

“We joined USGBC to learn how [to build green],” said Steven Mayton, vice president of Huen Electric Inc. in Broadview, Ill., outside Chicago. “Building green wasn’t a major initiative until the mayor recently began and promoted a number of programs for Chicago. I think it’s a market that is here to stay.”

Nick Bernabe, director of operations for Neal Electric Corp. in Poway, Calif., and Otto Kirchheiner Jr., vice president-Service Division of Tri-City Electric Co. Inc. in Miami, each have taken on green projects and see this work rapidly rising.

“It has become clear to us that green is where the market is heading in Southern Florida,” Kirchheiner said. “We’re now positioning ourselves as a green contractor in our marketing. We use the USGBC logo in all our e-mails, stationery and on our new Web site. Our goal in 2008 is to make sure our portfolio has a substantial presence in sustainable building projects.”

For Bernabe, California’s environmental progressivism has put the state’s construction industry on a green playing field as it worked to comply with evolving codes and regulations. That has given Neal Electric a running start in serving sustainable design.

“We must be compliant with California Building Standards Code or Title 24,” Bernabe said. “LEED certification often sets the standard bar higher, maybe 20 percent or more. Our advantage is that we have faced alternative energy sources and standards in sustainable practice longer than most.”

LEED certification is given at different levels (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) based on the depth of sustainable and environmental actions or point credits. A total of 69 points can be earned. Efforts are measured in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and design.

“We see LEED as a way to offer the owner and the builder progressive, up-to-date engineering that is cost-effective and efficient,” Mayton said. “Our clients tend to be more involved in LEED, which is not to say we will not work with Energy Star or another energy-efficiency program.”

Jonathan Passe is communication coordinator for Energy Star’s residential construction sector. While he promotes this EPA program, he said the goals of LEED and others are the same.

“LEED recognizes Energy Star as one of the ways builders can satisfy certain certification requirements. The cornerstone for any green building is energy-efficient building practices.,” Passe said. “State and local programs sometimes set ordinances that borrow from Energy Star and LEED. We work closely with everybody, sharing the same pursuit for a smarter, less wasteful, and energy-efficient home, office, school or other building.”

Under Energy Star, a residential participant undergoes an independent audit to see if five required measures are successfully met. Energy Star certification also is available for commercial, manufacturing and other institutional buildings. Subcontractors can receive training to facilitate an Energy Star designation.

On the radar

“There’s a lot more demand for green projects,” Bernabe said. “We see it when we bid. We had to pass on some work because we were not familiar with LEED scoring. The green projects we now participate in are often negotiated bid.”

Bernabe said each LEED certification level adds new rigors. The highest, platinum, requires alternative energy sources, and California initiatives such as the Million Solar Roofs Initiative help out. Under this effort, the state offers consumer rebates and a utility requirement to buy back up to 2.5 percent of excess electricity generated by customers’ rooftop solar systems.

“One business goal is to provide in-house photovoltaic (PV) systems sales and installation. There is a burgeoning market for us, and it is a LEED point, too. The paybacks for solar [are] shorter and shorter as gas, oil and electric costs rise and technologies improve,” Bernabe said.

Mayton, too, is eyeing PV systems.

“We are working with a roofing manufacturer to offer progressive PV installations,” Mayton said.

For Kirchheiner, a Lutron Electronics daylight harvesting product seminar opened his eyes to the green market potential.This daylight-responsive control technology uses sensors placed near windows and skylights. The sensors read the amount of daylight lumens then calibrate the foot-candles of indoor light fixtures. Instead of running the fixtures at 100 percent, they run at a more efficient level, taking advantage of the amount of illumination provided by the daylight.

“We’re already introducing light harvesting technology in some of our school projects, and it earns LEED points,” he said.

The value of green accreditation

LEED APs are a critical link between LEED standards and professional practice. This accreditation provides individuals expertise in the principles of green building design, construction and operation. The LEED Professional Accreditation program offers three exam tracks or choices toward achieving this credential.

Neal Electric’s Bernabe and two other company managers took the new construction track for commercial construction. Mayton and other Huen Electric staffers will follow the same track to earn their certification. Tri-City’s Kirchheiner is pursuing the accreditation, as well.

“Being a LEED AP allows you to assist general contractors understand why they are designing something this way or that for green certification,” Bernabe said. “I’m able to authoritatively adjust my work to fit the project. I can go back and look at means and methods on the electrical side and add design value that earns LEED points.”

One advantage all three share is how being well-versed in sustainable energy practices gives them a seat at the table in a construction project.

“I’m part of the team, no longer just going in to do just my part of a job,” Bernabe said. “When it comes to conceptual design, our green knowledge is very marketable to a GC pursuing green construction projects. In this market, the GC’s role is akin to a consultant to the owner. As an EC, you can know what is out there for the builder to earn the LEED point and advise him on its costs. It is a position of authority. Having LEED-certified professionals on staff gives us the traction for future business.”

Mayton said his company wants one LEED-accredited person in each of the company’s five offices.

“We want to be a leader in particular with the owners because they are the ones who ultimately pay the bill. We want to work through the LEED process with them, so they understand the requirements to earn each certification level. For those employees who pursue AP certification, we plan to offer a bonus of some sort. We are also putting together a study group for them,” he said.

Tri-City Electric’s efforts are paying off. They are the contractor for the first Miami building to pursue LEED Gold certification.

“I really don’t think we’d be sitting down together with the architect, general contractor, engineers and other subs on this project without our efforts to get up to speed in sustainable building and LEED,” Kirchheiner said. “It’s literally brought us to the table as a design/build EC.”

When green is mandatory

Call it the proverbial writing on the wall as municipalities take a page from California’s housing codes and make energy-efficiency means and methods mandatory.

“We have projects in municipalities that feature mandatory green ordinances modeled after LEED. Our knowledge of LEED as it applies to lighting and related concerns gives us a step up. For example, occupancy sensors spelled out as voluntary in the South Florida Building Code are law in certain counties. The more familiar you are with the requested technology, the less intimidated you will be to capture this work,” Kirchheiner said.

Beyond pursuing LEED AP status, Kirchheiner sees his company making full use of its membership in USGBC.

“We want to attend a number of seminars and take in as much information as we can,” he said. “New things on LED lighting, power consumption, power wheeling [taking excess produced power and selling it back to the utility]; all kinds of courses will prepare us.”

Kirchheiner sees another value to mastering sustainable building. Knowledge of energy-saving technology may allow you to better understand a green code and even improve on it.

All three men share that they keep up on the latest ordinances affecting green efforts through both membership organizations and their local municipalities.

Walking the walk

As much as Mayton sees a market for his company to tout environmental sustainability, the company needs to set an example.

“We have to think about cutting costs in our own energy consumption,” Mayton said. “It’s important to practice what we preach to build our credibility.”

According to Mayton, recycling waste paper is company policy. Huen offices use room sensors that turn off lights. Company vehicles offer a minimum rating of 20 mpg. Office and contracting supplies play into the environmental equation, too, be it buying green-friendly materials or reducing transportation costs even if it means spending more for materials sold at a location closer to the office or job site. “We don’t all have to be LEED experts to do our part,” he said.

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at gavo7@comcast.net.