Not Easy Being Green

I attended a lecture recently where the guest speaker gave a detailed overview on building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects, and I learned a surprising thing: It’s not only about the green materials used for the construction, but also how things are built.

Many types of green-rated materials and specialty system designs contribute to a building’s proposed LEED certification rating. Sometimes, these materials and systems require more intricate installations that can carry a higher labor factor. However, in the electrical industry, we have been working with these installations for years—lighting controls, specialty lighting systems, etc. So there’s nothing new to worry about there.

However, LEED projects are, by nature and design, clean jobs. In order to be clean and green, additional labor may be required for daily cleanup: recycling, dust control, materials handling and sometimes protection of the existing site flora (and possibly even the fauna).

‘Hey, you! You can’t throw that away!’

Under the LEED system, a contractor can earn points for achieving specific goals on its job site, such as a high recycling rate or low water usage. This means the general contractor may monitor and mandate specific elements about how the construction project is built, how the site is managed, how the site is cleaned up, what happens to the trash, what gets recycled, how much water is used, and a whole slew of other things, which may not normally happen on a non-LEED construction site.

On a higher level LEED project, you might not be able to throw away anything. For example, the cardboard and Styrofoam lighting fixture packaging might need to be neatly organized and prepared for recycling. Who will do this? How long will it take? Does your estimate carry this labor? Will your competitors be carrying it? Can you exclude it?

A five-story building with, say, 300 light fixtures per floor comes to 1,500 boxes and related packaging your electricians may have to deal with. If each takes another three minutes to prepare and recycle, you need to cover the cost of 75 man-hours. At $50 per hour average labor, that’s $3,750. It adds up fast.

It takes labor to be clean and green

The lecturer showed photos of staging and recycling stations used on one of his recent platinum-level projects. It was very impressive and very clean. In fact, he said the air on the project actually was tested to be cleaner than the air off-site. That’s pretty dust-free.

A clean job site doesn’t happen naturally. It takes extra labor to maintain. Now, perhaps the general contractor will have laborers doing most of this, but you must make sure.

Also shown in the photos were cutting booths where all cutting of piping, drywall, wood, etc., occurred. Hopefully, these stations would be located efficiently throughout the job site, but that’s a perfect world. Chances are they won’t be. This means a labor factor could be needed for cutting and handling all your electrical metal tubing.

What if the building is a high-rise? You might assume they would locate staging areas on each floor. But assuming this could cost your company some serious money, especially if they are all located on the lower floors only.

As with any project you estimate, it is always good to review all Division 0 and Division 1 specifications, and any other special scope-of-work documents that may have been issued specifically for the project. These typically are added to the initial bid set by the controlling project management contractor or general contractor in charge of the project. These types of documents can take precedence over the initial project specifications, so never discount their impact on the electrical scope; you may not be able to exclude things you typically exclude.

There are four certification levels for new construction in the LEED rating system: certified, silver, gold and platinum. Each corresponds to the number of credits accrued in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

As electrical estimators begin to work more on LEED projects, they need to learn as much as they can about each LEED certification level and how they need to factor their installation labor to accommodate LEED projects.

The lecturer did casually state that his company has found most LEED projects are run more efficiently and are easier to build. He attributed this to the fact that the job sites are more organized and cleaner to work in. But, this also is where part of the difficulty factor really applies.

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 and

About the Author

Stan Shook

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly

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