Contractors encouraged to take LEED role

Las Vegas — The co-founder of the U.S. Green Building Council's regional chapter here encouraged union contractors to take advantage of the opportunities available under the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

Las Vegas — The co-founder of the U.S. Green Building Council's regional chapter here encouraged union contractors to take advantage of the opportunities available under the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

Steve Rypka, who also serves on the board of directors for the USGBC, urged members of Union-Affiliated Contractors to learn more about the rating system during the group's Unity 2008 conference in late February.

The UAC is an enhanced service group of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association.

Rypka outlined the process for obtaining LEED certification for new construction. LEED for New Construction is a performance-oriented rating system in which building projects earn points for satisfying criteria designed to address specific environmental impacts in the design, construction, operations and management of a building.

The LEED rating system has five environmental categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

Under the sustainable sites category, projects may earn points based on certain criteria including site selection and development, stormwater design and brownfield redevelopment.

Projects earn points under the water efficiency category by incorporating water efficient landscaping, water use reduction and innovative wastewater technologies. Rypka added that this is one area of sustainable building in which plumbing contractors can reap future rewards.

“Keep in mind, there are systems that are being designed and integrated into buildings all the time that are adding additional opportunities,” he said. “I think, overall, there's not going to be any net loss in the amount of work, but there probably is going to be a net gain.”

The third category, energy and atmosphere, awards points based on criteria such as fundamental and enhanced commissioning of the building energy systems, minimum energy performance and on-site renewable energy.

Points earned under the materials and resources category are for such things as the reuse of materials, construction waste management and recycled content.

Projects earn points under the indoor environmental quality category by taking into account such issues as increased ventilation, thermal comfort and low-emitting materials.

Rypka said this category discourages contractors from using chemical-emitting products.

“You know when you get a new car, you get that new car smell?” he said. “When you go into a new home or a new building, you can tell it's a new building. It's got that specific quality to it that you notice with your nose. Typically, it's not really a good thing because we're smelling chemicals. We're smelling the off-gassing of paints, carpeting and other products that aren't really friendly to long-term health.”

The fifth and final category, innovation and design process, awards points based on innovation in design.

“The innovation and design category really speaks to the fact that green building is not a static thing,” Rypka said. “It's an ongoing process. It's constantly evolving, and everybody who is involved in the project has an opportunity to contribute ideas and innovation that moves the entire process forward.”

Projects also may earn a point under this category for having a LEED Accredited Professional. A LEED-AP is someone who has taken and passed a test and has “demonstrated a pretty good knowledge of the concept of green building, what it means and some of the specifics in the green building rating system,” Rypka said.

“There is a distinction here. This is a common mistake that people make because it's a little confusing. People are accredited and the buildings are certified,” he said.

Ultimately, new construction projects can achieve one of four different overall ratings: basic certification, Silver, Gold or Platinum, Rypka said.

“The end result is that we have a quantifiable product,” he said. “You know that means something. There is something behind that certification that is not just green washing.”

In addition to applying for LEED certification, Rypka said contractors also may become members of the USGBC or encourage their employees to join a local chapter.