Taking the LEED

By John Fulmer | Apr 15, 2005
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We have a couple of items for April. One is an information update from a previous column. Another concerns new sustainable building requirements, which is very topical. It is a bit of a head's up on how these requirements may have hidden costs you might miss in a bid.

First, the updated information. Last month we answered a reader's question about post-bid feedback. When Dick Manrod was an electrical contractor, he had a ready-made form he would give general contractors to obtain the results of his estimate, compared with other firms. Manrod, now a trainer for McCormick Systems, said many of his jobs were design-build for owners. They were profitable projects and often led to more work from the customer. The completed form was faxed back to him 80 percent of the time from the general contractor.

“I would fax the form (e-mail would work today) either the day the bid was due or the day after,” Manrod wrote in an e-mail. “If I didn't obtain results, I would re-fax in a couple of days.”

The reason for his 80-percent success rate, Manrod believes, was the ease with which the general contractor could return the form. On the form he wrote:

“We have a large investment in both time and facilities in creating an estimate. On all estimates, whether we are successful or not, we do compare our estimate to the competition's estimate. This helps us understand where we are in the marketplace and in tuning our estimating technique.”

He then asked if his firm was the successful bidder and included a chart with which the owner could list the competing ECs and their base bids. Sounds like a good method to get information.

The LEED effect

Now on to sustainable building criteria and, specifically, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. Lewis Tagliaferre, NECA's former marketing director and our “Utility Business” columnist, is active in the Electrical Alliance, which is cosponsored by IBEW Local 26 and NECA's Washington, D.C., chapter. One of the alliance's missions is to ensure building owners have a qualified team of electrical contractors and electricians dedicated to a LEED sustainable-building approach.

At a recent alliance meeting, Tagliaferre said contractors discussed the LEED challenges. The number of LEED projects is growing and the accreditation's effect on estimating is still difficult to measure, but it is already having an impact. First, some contractors are bidding on LEED projects without being aware of it. Tagliaferre said they aren't reading the specs carefully enough and find themselves saddled with costs they weren't aware of.

Since the LEED program is designed for total energy conservation, some of its reasoning is arcane and its ambitions nearly global. The energy-savings goals, for instance, might have nothing to do with the building itself. This could mean restrictions on the distance a piece of machinery can be shipped to the job site, the idea being diesel-fuel conservation. Contractors might have to separate building materials for recycling, pay for an extra Dumpster, or any number of extra labor-extensive chores and added costs. Look into it before you leap. At least ask the general contractor if it is a LEED building.

But federal, state and local governments will certainly be mandating more LEED buildings, and commercial developers will get on the bandwagon, too. LEED accreditation is increasingly attractive to architects, designers, engineers and estimators. Most contractors are going to have to learn how to deal with it. Those in NECA's Washington, D.C., chapter were very concerned because of the large number of federal contracts in their area. Though LEED is still a voluntary initiative, if energy costs continue to rise, it may become a mandate.

Visit the Green Building Council's Web site at You will see a list of completed LEED projects. This will give you an idea of what kind of details go into this type of construction. For example, for the Energy Resource Center in Downey, Calif., designers integrated lighting, heating, cooling, insulation and energy-management control systems to maximize energy efficiency.

“Design techniques and building technologies work together to minimize heating and cooling requirements, maximize the use of natural daylight, and maintain high indoor air quality,” according to the Web site. Skylights, translucent window walls and energy-efficient lighting systems reduce electric lighting requirements by 40 percent, and T-8 compact fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts, dimmer switches, and occupancy and light sensors cut energy demand. Many of the products required on LEED projects have to be Energy Star rated.

In short, this is the wave of the future, and as an estimator, it is wise to be on top of it. Understanding exactly what is specified is the key. EC

FULMER, editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and SECURITY + LIFE SAFETY SYSTEMS, can be reached at 301.215.4516 or [email protected].


About The Author

John Fulmer is a freelance writer based in Joppa, Md., and former editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].


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