The green building revolution shows no sign of fading away, as interest in green efficiency standards expands across the U.S.

Increasing numbers of U.S. cities are requiring new municipal buildings to meet standards established by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and for HVAC contractors, the move toward improved efficiency along LEED lines is a clear and valid opportunity to make more money and acquire a higher profile in the process.

The LEED Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), has become the benchmark for design, construction, and operation of high-performance newly-constructed (NC) green buildings, and standards for LEED existing buildings (EB) certification will soon follow.

The commercial contracting industry in and around Chicago, IL has become a model of how to expand LEED practices among commercial contractors. Mechanical Contractors of Chicago (MCA Chicago) is spearheading many educational programs, in light of municipal regulations which state that all new and renovated municipal buildings in the city must meet a minimum of a LEED Silver rating.

According to spokespersons at MCA Chicago: San Jose and Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; and Portland and Seattle, OR now mandate that municipal buildings over 10,000 sq. ft. must meet LEED standards.

“Green building is quickly becoming a fact of life across America,” says Dan Bulley, secretary of the Chicago Chapter of the USGBC, senior vice president of MCA Chicago, and himself a LEED accredited professional (AP).

“Most people can see why green building methods have gained the support of environmentalists, and we’re now witnessing a strong investment from corporate America,” Bulley writes, in a guest editorial for Contractor magazine.

“Green building is a natural to fiscal conservatives, as it’s all about saving our resources now, so we have them later, when needed. For those who are conscious of national security, it helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil. For people of faith, there’s the issue of stewardship. We have a responsibility to use our knowledge and skills for the betterment of society. Finally, there is the appeal to those with creative minds. It’s fascinating to learn about new ideas that can make buildings healthier and less expensive to operate,” Bulley says.

Apparently, the corporate dollars and municipal incentives are available to assist cities that want to invest in green buildings, which is, by its very design, more time consuming and expensive than traditional commercial contracting methods, due to the LEED increased scrutiny of equipment, project pre-planning, and system commissioning.

“The effectiveness of a green building depends on its mechanical systems, so we keep our contractors up-to-date with the latest technology,” Bulley says.

“End-users need to know that green building is rapidly becoming a requirement that must be addressed.”

“Contractors can certainly earn additional dollars by implementing green building practices,” says Larry Loomis, project executive for Grunau Mechanical, Oak Creek, WI, which in 2005 became one of the first mechanical contractors in the state to have LEED professionals on staff.

“Green building and LEED have caught on as the right thing to do, from the standpoint of being environmentallyfriendly,” Loomis says.

“Interested contractors and building owners now understand more of the process, implement it at minimal cost, and decide where to go from there. Contractors understand that it’s another tool that can be used to market their companies, and show a level of expertise above other contractors, which could translate into higher margins. Any additional costs would also increase margins.”

Loomis concludes that a key benefit of AP designation is in being viewed as a green building expert, and a LEED team member, not ‘just another contractor.’”

Green Steering Committee Formed
A recently-formed MCA steering committee will establish green building objectives for MCA members, make recommendations to the association on what contractors and end-users need to know about green building, and suggest ways to share information.

McCauley: having a LEED AP on staff is essential for contractors.

Serving on the steering committee with Bulley are Kathy McCauley, president, McCauley Mechanical, Inc., Bridgeview, IL, and Contracting Business’ 2006 Woman of the Year. Like Bulley, McCauley has earned a LEED Professional Accreditation (AP), and her company now has three green building projects to its credit.

“There are two ways to get involved in green buildings,” she says. “First, as a mechanical contractor working in a traditional design-bid-build situation, you can learn of a project that is proposed as a LEED building. At bid time, this will typically mean paying attention to costs relative to commissioning, such as additional dollars for testing and balancing, additional start-up time, additional reporting, being careful about refrigerant selection (e.g. if the engineer has called for R-407 refrigerant, you can’t substitute R-22 equipment), and attention to outside air requirements and filtration.

“Or, you might be a mechanical contractor on a Design/Build team, which means that, In addition to the above cost items, you will also need to bring something to the team, such as a list of the LEED projects you performed under the traditional method, indicate if your firm is a member of the USGBC, and whether or not you have any LEED AP personnel on staff.”

A LEED green project must have at least one LEED-accredited professional on board. That person, McCauley says, is usually the architect or the Design/Build general contractor, however, she advocates that mechanical contractors have buildtheir own LEED AP on staff, to participate in LEED-related discussions, and be seen as a proactive player in the game. In the past, the trend was to rely on LEEDaccredited architects as the sole experts on ‘green’ specifications and practices.

“By obtaining that credential, you’re making others on the team aware that you’re knowledgeable about the process, the technical details of how the rating system works, and how to obtain points towards a certain level of LEED certification,” McCauley says. “You may also be able to offer advice on points that can be obtained by becoming familiar with HVAC industry manufacturers’ commitment to offer ‘green’ products.”

McCauley says her company’s three LEED projects went a long way in helping the company become proficient at many of the LEED details.

“For example, once you’ve acquired a LEED project, you may have to communicate to the field about recycling requirements, protecting HVAC equipment during construction, and leaving time in the schedule for additional commissioning and start-up requirements,” McCauley says. “We’re doing a lot more temporary protection of ductwork during construction on all of our projects, after seeing the benefits during a LEED project.”

Existing Buildings to Benefit Soon
LEED certification for existing buildings (EB) — currently under development —could be of great benefit to those contractors who want to get up to speed on the LEED process, because many building owners are in need of advice in this area, and often, their contractors of record are not qualified to offer green counseling.

“A mechanical contractor could play a big role in the EB market by learning how to perform energy savings calculations in accordance with the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards,” McCauley says.

“Studies have proven that higher lease rates are attainable for LEED buildings, and there are a number of existing buildings that may have architectural and site components that contribute to LEED points. A review of the HVAC and lighting systems could open doors to some minor renovations that would qualify towards a LEED certification.”

The existing building standard will give contractors another helpful service offering.

“By applying LEED EB standards, a contractor can conduct energy modeling tests, and make recommendations regarding energy usage, and it will include Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), ventilation, filtration, MERV filters, and similar areas,” Bulley says.

And you don’t have to be a full-fledged expert, at least not yet, he says, because until the EB process becomes fully established, there’s still some forgiveness and flexibility in the system for contractors who are trying to “learn as they go,” on existing buildings.

At this point, there are still some building owners out there who will let you learn the green process with them,” Bulley says. “It’s the same for us at MCA Chicago, as we go about remodeling a building we purchased, which will become an educational facility. If we want to take bids from only those contractors who have done green projects, we’re limiting ourselves. We have a short bid list, and if they’ve not done any LEED projects, we ask if they’re interested in learning it and working with us on it.”

MCA is shooting for a LEED gold rating for the facility in Burr Ridge, IL.

So, a certain degree of ‘learning curve’ time remains. But eventually, for many projects, if you’re not green, you won’t be seriously considered.

Green Your Own Company First
Some HVAC contractors have taken the initiative to green their own companies, which Bulley supports as a way to learn the process, and improve the efficiency of their own organizations.

HVAC contractor Sunset Air, Inc., Lacey, WA, has done just that. The company’s new sales and administration building has achieved a LEED-NC Gold Award, the first Gold rating awarded to a privately-owned and operated building in the State of Washington.

Two of Sunset’s key project professionals, Joseph Bettridge, PE, vice president of engineering, and Design Engineer Ryan Cuoio, have earned LEED AP ratings.

Sunset Air’s clientele includes stateleased office buildings, and medical buildings. It recently completed work on the Washington Public Utility District Association building, which Bettridge says could become the state’s first LEED Platinum building.

The Sunset headquarters building features advanced insulation, windows, lighting systems, and heating cooling systems, and consumes 35% less energy than a code compliant building. An HVAC zoning system ensures the buildings occupants are comfortable and productive. Carbon dioxide (CO2 ) sensors ensure minimum ventilation rates are met, but not exceeded. An energy management system, accessible via the Internet, monitors the efficiency of the building’s heating and cooling systems, and all refrigerants in the heating and cooling systems were selected to be nonozone depleting.

“We firmly believe that helping our customers to conserve energy, resources, and reduce the environmental impact of their development, makes us part of the solution of achieving a sustainable community and economy,” Bettridge says. He obtained his LEED AP certification about six years ago.

“We found that there was no one who could put their arms around the process and help the customer through it,” Bettridge says. “In managing the LEED process for our own building, we reasoned that there would be a market for people who need this service. Since then, we’ve been LEED green building managers on half a dozen projects.

“The payback for the customer is in reduced energy costs,” Bettridge says. “It’s a trade-off of initial investment against ultimate operating costs, and it’s actually in the best interest of the HVAC contractor, because their contract value will increase by using green building practices.”

Finding Your Way
Selena Worster, project manager for Mechanical, Inc., Freeport, IL, also serves on the MCA Chicago green building steering committee. She says she sees some misunderstanding among customers over what green building is and is not.

“Building owners associate ‘green’ with more money up front, which is true in some cases,” Worster says. “However, as a mechanical contractor, it’s our responsibility to help the owner understand that the system they’re getting will be better, and should save them money in the long run. As far as the challenges, one big challenge is getting in touch with those owners, and convincing them of the value of green building.

“As the industry and our customers become more informed about what green construction is, that misunderstanding will start to diminish. I anticipate that soon, energy efficiency will become standard practice. People will become more energy conscious, and will want a building that runs efficiently.”

MCA Chicago has produced a webinar on green building to help mechanical contractors, and others in the construction industry understand green building. It introduces accepted practices in sustainable design and addresses the pros and cons of green building from the mechanical contractor point of view. The program concludes with pointers on how to pursue “green” jobs and even how to green your own company. It can be viewed by visiting www.mca.org.

“There are many opportunities to save energy and money – and improve operations – in industrial facilities,” according to Mike Massey, executive director, Piping Industry Process and Education Trust Fund, Los Angeles, CA, who recently spoke at the Mechanical Service Contractors of America’s (MSCA’s) annual meeting in Colorado Springs, CO.

“Energy efficiency upgrades can reduce energy by an estimated 30%,” Massey says. “Improvements to facility steam systems can save 20% on energy bills. New technologies for motor systems can reduce energy by as much as 18%. Similar savings are available for improvements of both compressed air and process heating systems.”

LEED accreditation (LEED AP) is the key first step, and Bulley advises contractors to assign at least one employee to become LEED accredited.

“LEED is a very eloquent system that captures all the aspects of green building and sustainability, and there are many synergies between the different things you can explore,” Bulley says. “The accreditation exam is average in its complexity, and LEED offers a four-hour class that helps candidates understand what they should study to earn accreditation.”