BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Mechanical contractors are ideally situated to make a significant impact on the green building movement, said David Gottfried, founder of the U.S. Green Building Council.
“You are sitting at the essence of two of the essentials of green buildings — air and water,” Gottfried told members of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America in early March during their annual convention here. “What hasn’t happened yet is taking life-cycle issues and tying them back to you. We’re not educated about these issues. That’s why we don’t embrace ‘green’ products now.”
The lack of education about environmentally friendly construction in the United States is changing rapidly, said Gottfried, who addressed MCAA members March 1 on the topic, “Green = Value, Volume and Profit.” The following day, he moderated a panel discussion entitled, “Using LEED to Add Value, Volume and Profit to Your Business.”
Buildings that meet the standards established by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program are gaining more attention, he said. Meeting these criteria means that these buildings use less water, power and building materials. Although the first cost of implementing some of these efficiencies may be higher than traditional forms of construction, operating costs during the life cycle of the building can be reduced substantially, Gottfried said.
“Life-cycle assessment is a hot topic right now,” he said. “Building green can help to lower LCA value.”
The goal of the U.S. Green Building Council is to get 25% of buildings in this country to be considered green. That percentage is at no more than 5% of U.S. buildings now, he noted, but the green building industry is growing by 30% a year.
“A lot of people are starting to make money from this business of green,” Gottfried told MCAA members. “If I were a plumbing or mechanical contractor, I would want to be a leader in this. I would become LEED certified. I would do research on green buildings.
“Look for work where it’s hot — such as government buildings and schools.”
Design/build contractors can make the most impact on green buildings, but installation contractors can create a role for themselves too, he said. The potential exists for service contractors to play their part as well, he added.
“If you are responsible for the full life cycle of a product, you will build it to last,” Gottfried said. “If you install, and not design, a green building, you can verify that the job was installed as designed. Commissioning will be a big issue.”
Growth in the green building movement has been nurtured in some parts of the country by tax credits, he said. Gottfried added that he foresees “green loans” becoming more prevalent and that capitalization rates will be linked to green issues.
Building codes are getting greener, he said, although not all code bodies have been quick to embrace more environmentally friendly products and systems.
“Gray water makes sense, but codes don’t allow it in many areas. Water-free urinals are not always approved by code,” said Jim Allen, water conservation manager for Sloan Valve Co., during the panel discussion. “The growing interest in LEED is pushing code bodies along.”
Educating the public along with the code bodies is another way that contractors can take a leadership position in the green building movement, Allen said.
“Water is an important component in green buildings,” he told MCAA members. “There’s not a high cost premium on the equipment and installation is not different from other products.
“A lot of products are out there such as water-free fixtures and dual-flush toilets. We should train the community about what’s available.”
Wade Snyder, project manager with Temp Control Mechanical Corp., said that working on a job that resulted in a building being certified to a LEED Silver level had some unexpected benefits.
“As a contractor, I had thought that it was just something else to add to a job, but LEED helps you look outside the box,” Snyder said. “We worked closely with the designer on the coordination of the trades. The job went more smoothly than usually is the case. The communication was better.”
Other panel members were Tom Kelly, a product manager for Carrier Corp., and Georgianna Kipp, executive director of the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors of Northern Illinois.