Electrical contractors who work with facility owners and the general contractors during the preconstruction and build process—especially for projects seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification—do their clients a great service. State and federal ordinances and the push to get buildings LEED certified mean that energy savings become more important. ECs should be proactive in preconstruction because they can influence the design and a number of LEED points that could be earned for the facility.

For those less familiar with the green building movement, it is important to note that in the United States alone, buildings account for 65 percent of electricity consumption and 36 percent of energy use, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Web site. The site also mentions these items specifically of interest to contractors:

• The value of green building construction starts exceeds $12 billion in 2008 and is projected to increase to $60 billion by 2010.

• In addition, by 2009, 80 percent of corporate America is expected to be engaged in green at least 16 percent of the time, and 20 percent will be engaged in green 60 percent of the time, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, Greening of Corporate America SmartMarket Report, 2007.

• USGBC membership is 14,624 member organizations including corporations, governmental agencies, nonprofits and others from throughout the industry.

• Other facts about the green building movement include the following:

     —Nearly 3.2 billion square feet of commercial building space are involved with the LEED Green Building Rating System.

     —By 2010, approximately 10 percent of commercial construction starts are expected to be green, according to McGraw-Hill Green Building Smart Market Report 2006.

     —The three largest segments for nonresidential green building construction—office, education and healthcare—will account for more than 80 percent of total nonresidential green construction in 2008.

     —Every business day, $464 million worth of construction registers with LEED.

What’s driving green building?

These factors are expediting the growth of green building, according to FMI’s 2008 U.S. Construction Overview:

1. Unprecedented level of government initiatives

2. Heightened residential demand for green construction

3. Improvements in sustainable materials

All this data supports the efforts of design/build electrical contractors to either increase or focus their efforts in expanding capabilities in green building. Those who focus their marketing and design efforts in this area will clearly benefit from participating in a rapidly growing market segment. By getting involved early in the process, the EC can have the greatest impact on the ability of the owner to achieve LEED certification.

According to “LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations,” USGBC, Version 2.2 October 2005, in earning LEED points, some areas that the EC may focus on could include the following:

• Reducing the lighting power requirements

• Designing for on-site renewable energy

• Having a LEED-certified professional on the project

• Providing in the design a high level of lighting system control by individual occupants

• Substantially exceeding a LEED for new construction performance credit in energy efficiency and providing that documentation

• Lighting design that reduces light pollution (for both for interior and exterior lighting)

• Plan materials such that construction waste is diverted.

Potential challenges

There are a couple challenges that the electrical contractor will face in assisting the owner through the design/build process. It is quite likely the owner will be told by the architect that a LEED-certified building won’t cost them any more than a noncertified building. While this may be true overall (through reducing costs in other areas), it is likely that the electrical portion of the project will increase in cost. The EC must explain to the owner where those increases in costs are coming from. The EC should also make the client aware of how those increases contribute to the overall enhancement during the certification process, ensuring the client understands what he or she is buying. Additionally, changes in lighting design will reduce the actual lighting provided in office and work spaces. The EC must let his or her client know this. No surprises.

There is a growing market for electrical contractors in LEED construction. By focusing their design/build efforts on helping clients achieve the LEED certification they desire, electrical contractors will increase the available number of projects they can pursue. In addition, by differentiating their companies, they’ll be awarded projects with better fees than what might otherwise be available.

FEDERLE is the McShane chair of construction engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He can be reached at mark.federle@marquette.edu.