LEED and the NOT Happenin’ Savings

27 10 2009

Studies have shown that LEED buildings are no more efficient and have no less of a “carbon footprint” than the average building of its peers.  I remember reading an old guy’s rant in one of the 20 building engineering and architecture magazines I get.  He was grousing that the reason is because there tends to be a lot more glazing and over-ventilation of LEED facilities, along with some other stuff I don’t remember.  Apparently, the guy was a proponent of living and working in igloo coolers with no connection the outdoors, which is a big deal for me and everyone else.

I think I have a better and more accurate assessment:  commissioning agents aren’t doing their jobs.  Demand for commissioning services has risen dramatically since LEED became vogue.  I believe as a result, many people who’ve never provided commissioning services, trouble shot systems, and generally figure out how systems are controlled and consuming energy, are declaring themselves commissioning agents and supplying “a service” that is in demand.

Just in the general population of buildings, we’ve seen ones that are wasting grotesque quantities of energy and ones that are sipping so little we have to double check that we have all the utility data.  What’s the difference?  I can tell you it isn’t because the former has 70% glazing and the latter has 5%.  Reality is closer to the former having screwed up systems.  The latter was either commissioned by somebody who knew what they were doing, had a controls contractor and engineer who knew what they were doing, or have facility engineers who know what they are doing.  It’s probably some combination of all three.

In many cases, the facility owner doesn’t have staff with the expertise to correct and operate screwed up systems.  They shouldn’t have to.  The commissioning agent should optimize system control, ensure documentation exists to help maintain efficiency over the long term, and train facility staff on how their building uses energy, and what aspects of the system and more importantly, the controls make their facility consume less energy than the average facility.

From my first contact with the LEED process seven or eight years ago, systems commissioning was one of the real and major benefits in my mind.  The building design and construction business has become so bloody competitive that commissioning-type services have been squeezed out of the process in recent decades.  The LEED process had better fix this.  After all, energy efficiency is the greenest component of occupying facilities.  The USGBC must agree since they added more weight to the energy efficiency credits.  If you’re not getting the savings, you are being slighted big time.  Moreover, the LEED brand, which at the moment is incredibly powerful, will be damaged badly unless this problem gets fixed.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP