LEED ushering construction into future:

The US Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency (EIA) reports that residential and commercial buildings were responsible for 40 percent of the energy used in the United States in 2005; residential buildings in the EIA statistic include both single- and multifamily dwellings such as apartment buildings and condominiums.

Concern over the environment and global warming grows and the public becomes increasingly aware that residential and commercial buildings use a large portion of the U.S. energy supply and produce an equally large amount of greenhouse gases. Therefore, the drive to make buildings more energy efficient and environmentally neutral will increase.

Additionally, energy prices will continue to rise as worldwide demand increases, making sustainable buildings not only socially responsible but also increasingly economical. Environmental and economic forces will result in a demand for electrical contractors that understand and can install distributed generation and control systems needed for high-performance and environmentally neutral buildings.

The term zero-energy building or its acronym ZEB is becoming more common in the construction industry today. There are a number of variations on ZEB being used, as well, such as “zero-energy home” (ZEH) referring specifically to single-family dwellings or “net zero energy building.” All of these terms refer to the same thing, a residential or commercial building that essentially produces as much energy as it uses. To date, near ZEBs have only been achieved in residential single-family homes. However, all of this is changing as more and more owners are demanding increasingly efficient commercial buildings; architects and engineers are learning more about designing high-performance buildings, and contractors are becoming more proficient at constructing green buildings. Couple this with the growing demand for sustainable and energy-efficient building products, which is resulting in reduced costs, increased energy costs and more government legislation favor, and ZEBs make both social and economic sense.

Today, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system is increasingly being used in both private and public building construction. Credits toward green building certification are earned based on achieving LEED-specified criteria that includes energy-efficient lighting and controls, comprehensive building automation and control systems, use of alternative energy sources such as photovoltaics, and other systems with which the electrical contractor should be involved.

The number of credits earned by the project determines the level of LEED certification, which moves progressively up a scale from simply Certified to Silver, Gold and, finally, Platinum certification. As an example of the growing momentum to requiring buildings to be LEED certified, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006, that the District of Columbia Council passed legislation that requires all commercial buildings greater than 50,000 square feet to be LEED certified after 2012. This would make Washington, D.C., the first major city to require LEED certification for privately funded construction projects if approved by the mayor.

LEED is very important, but it is only a start toward ZEBs. Many owners today are beginning to challenge their design and construction team to produce buildings that exceed LEED and energy code requirements. More importantly, professional societies, industry associations and government agencies are becoming the force that is driving the construction industry toward ZEBs. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a policy statement in December 2005 promoting sustainable design, including the reduction of fossil fuels used to contract and operate buildings by 50 percent by 2010 and further reductions in fossil fuel use each year after that until buildings are “carbon neutral.” Among other industry organizations working toward ZEBs are the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

The electrical contractor should begin taking steps to prepare for the growing demand for green buildings that includes the movement toward ZEBs. Since more and more buildings are being designed and constructed to be LEED certified, the electrical contractor should have at least one project manager that is a LEED accredited professional. Similarly, the electrical contracting firm should keep its eye on emerging building technologies, which include open-architecture control systems and photovoltaics that will be needed in tomorrow’s ZEBs. EC

This article is the result of a research project investigating the emerging IBS market for the electrical contractor that is being sponsored by ELECTRI International Inc.

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas and is a frequent instructor for NECA’s Management Education Institute. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.