Green construction: Getting a Leg Up When You Already Have a Toe In

As noted in a special focus article in last month's issue of Construction Today, there are three major areas where electrical contractors have the experience and skills to help owners, building managers and occupants achieve their green goals for a construction project: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, energy ef-ficiency and alternative energy sources. I concur.

The green building market is a natural fit for smart electrical contractors—and not just because we’re smart enough to go after the fastest growing and most potentially profitable market of the 21st century. It’s because top-quality contractors already are working to help customers maximize energy efficiency and make the best use of installed products. So they already have a toe in that market.

Think of it this way: When doing routine maintenance or repair at a customer’s facility, it’s a common occurrence to detect ineffi-ciencies that, when corrected, will result in increased comfort for the building’s occupants and a reduction in the use and cost of energy. When you explain this to the customer, you’re being a green consultant. When the customer gives you the go-ahead (or, green light, if you prefer) and you perform that extra work, you’re a green contractor. Or, at least, you’ve made a start.

Of course, ambitious electrical contractors go beyond depending on chance to provide them with energy-efficiency work. Their stan-dard repertoire of services includes performing energy audits; examining where, how and to what extent energy is being consumed by a building; and providing the customers with options for controlling and reducing energy use. To be successful, an energy audit must take a holistic approach that accounts for how all the various building systems—power, control, information processing and communica-tions, lighting and HVAC—will interact over the life cycle of the building.

Helping customers make wise choices with respect to incorporating alternative energy sources also is a natural for electrical con-tractors who are up to the task. Here’s how that article I mentioned states the case: No owner would have a roofer handle installation of a building’s main electrical system. Why then would a roofer be the choice for installing PV panels? Just because the power source now is on the roof rather than in the basement doesn’t mean that it isn’t power generation, transmission and distribution—precisely the kind of work best handled by an electrical contractor.

And electrical contractors certainly perform a crucial role for the growing number of building owners that—increasingly often under federal, state or jurisdictional mandate—seek LEED certification for their facilities. The electrical contractor is involved with two of the prerequisites and up to 28 of the 69 total credit points necessary for a building to achieve LEED certification—slightly more than 40 percent of the total LEED points available.

That is why the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is actively encouraging member contractors to become LEED-certified in both new and retrofit construction. And, realizing that’s no easy accomplishment, NECA is providing the resources to help electrical contractors meet the demand for buildings with fewer negative environmental impacts.

That includes many resources I’ve discussed in previous columns, such as the eight-hour course on how to become LEED-accredited professionals that will be presented in Chicago this fall, thanks to our association’s partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council. Previous columns also have discussed how NECA and partners are working on numerous other fronts to facilitate electrical contractors‚ success in the green building market, ranging from work force training and management education to research and the dis-semination of information.

The point is taking advantage of these resources and learning all you can about the market is the key to getting a leg up in green con-struction. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, especially to those contractors who already have established a toehold.

About the Author

Milner Irvin

President, NECA
Milner Irvin is the former President of NECA. He served from 2005–2008.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.