Green Building 101

July 12, 2010

Written by Hannah R. Lindholm

Building “green” means building with a higher efficiency standard. Green classifications highlight a number of areas that developers and building owners can strive to improve. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) —Version 3—is the newest program for classifying the level of green building standards that a building meets. LEED standards are created by the Green Building Council (GBC). There is also another set of lesser known standards created by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Both programs quantify the efforts made to build more efficient buildings through categorical rating systems.

Buildings are rated in the following areas:

  • Location and Linkages
  • Sustainable Sites
  • Materials and Resources
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Water Efficiency
  • Environmental Quality
  • Awareness and Education

There are four different levels of standard that a building can meet; with the stringency and cost increasing with each level met:

  • Certified/Bronze
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum/Emerald

Builders and building owners are incentivized to make these slightly more expensive housing additions with both tax credits and also less energy use overall (i.e. lower energy bills). While these standards are optional, a number of local governments are implementing laws raising community standards. There are some efficiency standards that are already mandatory by federal law, especially relating to appliances.

As part of your planning for any construction project, it is worthwhile to investigate the long term benefits of going green. This is especially true with respect to energy and water consumption, as green principles often pay off with real savings in a relatively short time period.

Given the number of green projects, there have been a number of very recent lawsuits relating to green building. The lawsuits are often the result of miscommunications with respect to the performance of the building post construction. Also, because elements of LEED certification are outside the hands of the contractor, disputes can arise based on the failure to obtain LEED certification. An ounce of prevention is critical with respect to undertaking green construction projects, and both owners and contractors should engage competent legal counsel to assist in the preparation of construction contracts.

Significant green cases:

  • Shaw Development v. Southern Builders—debates who is responsible for making sure that not only building standards (up to what ever level the project is aimed for) are met, but also that the project is completed within the time frame needed to qualify for tax credit (tax credit awards exponentially increase with the cost of the project).
  • AHRI v. City of Albuquerque—centers on the debate over who should be able to set energy efficiency standards. Albuquerque decided to raise the standard of a number if appliances allowed for new installs to higher than the federal standard (in conjunction with their effort to reduce energy use by at least 30%). The producers of these products objected and argued that the City was overstepping its boundaries; this case is still awaiting a verdict.
  • Gidumal v. Site 16/17 Development LLC—involves a condo owner living in a supposed LEED Gold Standard condominium who, after encountering uncomfortable living conditions, had energy efficiency testing done and revealed a deviation from the standards advertised to the actual standards.
  • Northland Pines High School (in Eagle River, WI) v. USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council)—settled very quickly with the USGBC admitting to mistake, however, with an increased number of green building projects, this, in all likelihood could become a fairly common issue. After completing the new high school to what they thought were LEED gold standards, Northland Pines High School decided to appeal the USGBC’s decision (that they failed to meet said standards). After further investigation, including by two independent consultants, USGBC decided that the new Northland Pines High School did indeed meet the LEED gold standard.

The USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) website includes links to many different interactive and helpful tools for buyers, builders or interested people on the LEED process and ways to build greener.

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