Building Green: Building Energy Codes

by Andy Burns on July 15, 2011

On Wednesday, July 11, 2011, John Downie, AIA, and I had the unique opportunity to give a presentation to the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts.   The topic: the challenges of Building Green and how Building Energy Codes influence the design and implementation process for new construction or existing buildings.  We had a great conversation with the folks who attended.  We discovered there is alot of interest in learning about the USGBC LEED program and where it fits into the big picture. Most people have heard of LEED, but do not really know the details such as:

  • USGBC is a not-for-profit trade organization begun in 1992, not a government agency
  • LEED is a rating program that includes 6 key criteria that measure overall environmental impacts not just energy efficiency
  • Is a time intensive process - in a our case study which achieved a Silver LEED-EB v2.0 Certification for an existing building – the process took 13 months.
  • A dedicated resource to manage the documentation process to facilitate a submission to the USGBC for a LEED certification is essential
  • There are costs associated with the process – however in the case study we just mentioned, we budgeted $175,000 for the project, and with the help of a NYSERDA subsidy the effort ended up costing only $133,000.  There is assistance out there.
  • How do you stay certified?  It’s not easy, especially in occupied office/retail buildings where it is difficult to impose change on tenant behaviors. Educating on living green practices and regular reminders to tenants helps keep the information in front of them, but it’s not a perfect situation.

The other big question that came up during the presentation was the concept of “stretch codes” as it relates to building codes.  Stretch codes are developed by permitting and code personnel at the state level that impose additional requirements layered on top of building codes so buildings have to meet an even higher performance level when it comes to energy conservation, efficiency, and such.  More than 60 cities in the state of Massachusetts have adopted the use of stretch codes.  The underlying challenge to design, construction, and legal professionals, is that stretch codes introduce another level of inconsistency in building code requirements from city to city, state to state.  Unfortunately this is the hard truth.

Here is the presentation we gave at the meeting, feel free to download it/share it.  Let me know if you have any questions, or would like us to give a similar presentation to a group you are affiliated with.

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The Facts about Commercial Real Estate Going Green
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