Paying for Itself

July 1, 2009
Fitting LEED certification into a capital plan.

Many schools and universities want the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification for their facilities, but they are concerned about cost. This certification is tangible evidence that a facility is designed to conserve resources and use energy more efficiently. “Low-cost/no-cost” upgrades can be worked into a capital plan that provides a 3- to 5-year energy savings payback and achieves LEED certification.

The LEED for Existing Buildings program is in its third version. The first program was simply LEED-EB, a resource- and pollution-conscious operating plan. The second was called LEED-EB: O&M (LEED-EBOM) and stressed the operations and maintenance components of LEED-EB. The third program, which was rolled out April 27, 2009, is LEED-EB: O&M 2009. It is one of a suite of LEED programs that recently have been unified in point counts and regional bonus options.

LEED-EBOM projects now must be registered under LEED-EBOM 2009. If a project already has been registered under the old program, it can transition to the new program free of charge until Dec. 31. This is desirable in many cases as the point counts in the 2009 version are better for many of the energy-conservation methods.

Good point

Earn LEED credits in every part of a school:

  • Lighting

    Lights that are turned off save energy and maintenance (by reducing lamp replacement) and gain points under LEED-EBOM 2009 EA Credit 1. Motion sensors turn lights off in unoccupied areas, and timers turn lights off during unoccupied hours. Master switches enable the last person out to turn off all lights in an area. Automatic lighting controls can cut energy bills when sunlight is providing adequate illumination.

    A regional LEED bonus

    Common areas along building perimeters usually have plenty of daylight; photosensor-based light controls dim the electric lights when the sun is shining. The same system can provide a selection of predefined light levels that suit needs from film screenings to silk screenings. This contributes to energy savings and points under EA Credit 1, and it may earn a point for controllability under IEQ Credit 2.2.

  • Filter maintenance

    The best way to save energy dollars and get LEED points for ventilation is through proper maintenance of ventilation air systems. Develop a plan that calls for inspecting and cleaning air intakes, fans and filters. Clogged filters and air intakes cause fans to work harder, and grit deposits on fan blades cause them to be less efficient. Clean equipment is quiet as well as economical. Even better, this IAQ management program earns a LEED-EBOM point under IEQ Credit 1.1.


    If the aim is to control janitorial costs, install more efficient filters and reduce the dust brought into a space by the ventilation system. In a facility equipped with low-efficiency filters, the janitorial staff will have to dust too frequently. MERV 13 filters fit into the same space as old filters and earn a point under IEQ Credit 1.4.

  • CO2 monitoring

    Have your cake and eat it, too, by reducing outside air with carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring. CO2 is a product of human expiration that is measurable in occupied spaces. CO2 sensors measure the gas and move the dampers in the air-handling unit to bring in more or less outside air. Most systems take in too much air when the spaces they serve, especially auditoriums and cafeterias, are unoccupied. CO2 control saves money by reducing the amount of outside air heated or cooled. It earns an EBOM point under IEQ Credit 1.2 at the same time.

  • Efficient systems

    More efficient boilers, chillers and cooling towers, and the replacement of buried steam piping can earn up to 18 points under EA Credit 1 while fitting into a facility's long-term capital plan. A central building-management system allows not only scheduling but also remote off-site access by a member of the maintenance staff. Remote monitoring enables staff to make sure lights, heating and cooling are off at night and on weekends.

  • Water

    Reducing water consumption saves money on sewer and water bills. Simply monitoring a building's water use earns one LEED-EBOM 2009 point under WE Credit 1, and providing sub-metering for cooling towers, irrigation or other specific areas earns another point. This is an easy way to pick up two points while laying the foundation for water savings.

    The WE Credit 2 point comes automatically as new water-conserving fixtures replace old ones as part of a capital plan. WE Credit 3 can be worth five points when thirsty landscaping is replaced with natural plants that require little or no water beyond normal rainfall. WE Credit 4 is obtained when rainwater is captured from the roof and stored for cooling tower makeup. This might be easy or it might be something to do as part of the capital-plan roof replacement. Water offers the three-way benefit of energy savings, maintenance savings and LEED certification.

  • Roofing

    Some schools and universities are using tax credits and incentives from utilities and state energy offices to add photovoltaic or solar-thermal collectors to roofs. Paybacks as short as five to seven years can be obtained when using matching funds, and the low-maintenance panels are a hedge against rising power prices. Solar panels make a strong statement about commitment to the environment, and they yield up to six LEED points under EA Credit 4 (plus bonus points, see "A regional LEED bonus" sidebar below).

  • Commissioning

    Commissioning (Cx) facilities reduces energy consumption while tuning up the healthfulness and safety of a building. EA Credits 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 offer up to six points for Cx (plus a bonus point in most regions). Use Credit 2.1 for an energy audit or Cx plan to help guide energy options for a long-term capital plan. Credit 2.2 is earned automatically as the “low-cost/no-cost” energy savings ideas are put into place. Credit 2.3 requires only creating a long term re-commissioning plan and the completion of half of this scope of work. Make this continuous re-commissioning part of a capital plan by updating cost estimates and energy savings. Make sure energy savings are staying in a school's bank account where they can do the most good.

Wilkinson, PE, LEED AP, is a commissioning project manager with AKF Group LLC, an engineering firm headquartered in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected].

A new aspect of LEED 2009 for all programs is the addition of regional “bonus” points. One bonus credit point is given for the attainment of each one of six existing credit points that are deemed especially important for a region. For example, extra points are given for saving water in California and for monitoring occupant comfort in New York.

The regional bonus points emphasize water and energy conservation. Reusing rainwater; lowering water use for landscaping; lowering heating, cooling and lighting energy; installing photocells; and buying off-site renewable energy credits (RECs) are the big winners across the 48 states when it comes to bonus points.

Number of LEED points that can be earned by installing more efficient boilers, chillers and cooling towers, and the replacement of buried steam piping.

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