LEED away…

29 Nov

We’re working our proverbial butts off.

YES. We are.

Personally, I’m not spending near enough time with my family, especially my little boy, Joshua. Ironically, I started RR to promote “investing in family”.

AND… it’s the holidays. Oy. It’s actually quite depressing. 

I find myself in an odd position. As a result of recent events, we’re getting hammered by families (hundreds of them) that realize that they have to make changes. And as a result, “market and weather driven events” are driving us forward at “warp speed”…

I almost feel like we’re taking advantage of the conditions that America finds itself in. Some would say that we’re just “positioned”… that we’re simply “in the right place, at the right time.”

Whatever the reality is, the fact is that we are just overwhelmed – saddened that we are not able to do more to help so many that require assistance.

That said, we humbly ask your indulgence and your patience as we try to settle  into “new digs” and get ourselves ready to face the challenges of the New Year.

I’m one of the leading authorities on building structures with ISBUs. I didn’t ask for the title. I earned it with over 30 years of experience and hands on – in the field, testing the limits of “cast off”  Corten Steel boxes. I don’t hide in a cubicle behind a CAD station. (In fact, there are days when I long for that “missing cubicle” to hide in…)

My job is to keep people focused on progress and not the repetition of “myth and mistakes” where ISBU Structure design and construction is concerned.

Recently, I gave a speech to Architects, Designers and Builders.

While the message was well received, it deviated from the “normal” building  sermons in that I thumbed my nose  up at some of the lofty “Building Certification Programs” that so many aspire to.

The topic was “Building Affordable Housing in America – Family by Family”.

It was NOT “Pitching high priced, over designed buildings to Investors”, or even about “achieving professional certifications guaranteed to bump up your salary and improve the location of your office in the building you work in”.

The Q&A after the session ran like this;

“Mr. Klein, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re NOT a big fan of LEED.

Why not? Isn’t LEED part and parcel of the process, accomplishing exactly what you’re teaching Self-building families to do in the first place?

I just watched a piece featuring VP Joe Biden, where he talks about “building green”. Even the White House is leaning towards LEED.

So, what’s up with that?”

Brace yourselves, because here’s my response;

Look, it’s about reality. I love the idea that one day, everyone will be able to live in an affordable, sustainable, weather resistant home.

As you know (it’s plastered all over the blog) that I believe that EVERY family deserves a home…

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”. It’s a voluntary, MARKET DRIVEN program that “verifies” green building  achievement.

And there in lies the problem. It’s MARKET DRIVEN.  And Designers, Builders and investors KNOW that.

IMHO: LEED isn’t really about “green buildings” in the final perspective.

It’s about this;

(Taken directly from the LEED Website)

“LEED is good for business. LEED certification boosts your bottom line, makes you more competitive, limits risk, and attracts tenants.”

LEED isn’t really my idea of the response to “the way granddad thought it through and then did it”.  

While LEED represents a good way of documenting a building design’s consideration of the environment, it’s also “market and media driven”. You could compare it to “Carbon Offsets”.  I don’t hate the idea of LEED, as it’s raised awareness at all levels for “Green Building Performance”. But, just like “Carbon Offsets”, both of these fall far short in practice.

In my view – LEED is an imperfect system that neglects to focus on some of the most important parts of design and construction. It almost forgets about the long-term impact on the TENANTS of the buildings.

It’s common knowledge in the trades that many architecture offices chase LEED certification for their buildings (or accreditation for their staff) primarily as a marketing tool.

Building Standards should be “performance based” and occupancy quality (the conditions created for tenants and residents) should be held in a much higher regard than “trend-driven construction innovations”. Areas like “Lifetime energy consumption” and the long term relationship the building creates with it’s environment aren’t weighed in heavily enough. 

LEED projects typically result in enormous initial construction costs which must be justified over the life of the building. The truth is that in this economy, that initial cost has become something that most project developers happily shove out of the way, in order to insure a faster ROI (Return On Investment). And on top of that,  all these LEED gyrations and gymnastics to achieve certification are focused in the wrong areas – initial construction and commissioning as opposed to diminished concerns for long term energy savings or increased sustainability over time.

Architect Thom Mayne said it best;

LEED should give performance requirements and let the architect solve the problem. The point system doesn’t scale. A bike rack and air conditioning get you the same point. I’d much rather see BTU and CO2 requirements and let the professional community solve the problem. If you give proscriptive requirements, it stagnates new development and research. It’s like taking a blue book test. You don’t need to know the subject. Because architects deal in creative problem solving, some of that will be curtailed by proscriptive systems. I also think the LEED point system is overladen in the construction phase versus lifetime energy consumption and secondary effects.

It’s not just me. Other professionals in my field  are taking this controversial position here and I’m very aware of that. Architects and builders flame me like crazy for my out-spoken views on LEED.  My projects aren’t  “landmark buildings for Multi-National Corporations”. My projects are small (usually rural) residences  housing projects for families and workers. I’m not worried about “peer reviews” or “how the media treats my projects”. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. I’m primarily concerned with how the project treats the family that it was designed for. Everything else is secondary and superficial.

My projects are anything BUT “High Budget”, promotion driven monoliths or monuments to some “fat cat CEO” or internationally trademarked product line.

IMHO – It doesn’t matter if a building LOOKS Green. What matters is how it relates to the environment and the inhabitants of the building over prolonged (and monitored)  periods of time. And it has to be cost effective. (Otherwise, it will never get off the posterboard in the conference from.)

Because of that, I have to look at LEED much differently. I have to put down the “rose colored glasses”.

Common sense should clearly demonstrate that the more energy efficient our buildings become, the safer our families will be.

But, there’s the reality of “affordability”. In my view, LEED has just become yet another marketing tool in Builder toolboxes.

While buildings and homes should be energy efficient… those very same buildings MUST be cost effective as well or else they become “just another class separator”. And wheretheir design in concerned, it’s about the practice of GOOD Architecture, not adherence to a program that will “win you points and special prizes”. At what cost?

It’s a “HAVES vs Have NOTS” scenario.

Look around you. America is divided enough already… thank you very much.

Heaven help us if some of these LEED gyrations find their way embedded into National Building Codes.

Have you followed some of the buildings that are highlighted by the LEED programs? I have. I’ve read more than a few stories about them that are far from affordable or sustainable.

I’m all for high-performance buildings. In fact, I BEG families to build them. But, you have to be able to afford to build them, or you’ll be sitting on the curb in front of your empty lot for decades.

Want a cost effective, sustainable, AFFORDABLE building or home? Forget “hoidy toidy” certification aimed at impressing investors and the other locals and do your homework.

It really pays off to research the costs, benefits, drawbacks, durability and longevity of various materials and alternatives before developing your building plan.

Concern yourself with GOOD architecture, not gimmicks.

As for Joe Biden “watching your backs”…

You (I certainly didn’t) re-elected this rube;

VP Joe Biden recently visited the victims of Superstorm Sandy and promised that “he will not rest…  until he brings the people responsible for this tragedy to justice.”

What a moron…

Shades of Al Gore…

Picture Ronin shaking his head in sadness and rolling his eyes.

If you’re a family looking to build a high performance, affordable, sustainable home… then I’m certainly your guy.

And, if you’re a large corporation looking to spend millions to build a landmark building, filled with placards and lofty certification to impress stock holders and the local press… I can… happily point you at high quality guys and gals who can do that.

Stay safe and stay tuned.


One Response to “LEED away…”

  1. observeandreport69 November 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Spot on. It is all fluff and BS to sell, sell, sell.
    There are LEED Platinum Buildings that do not perform to Code! After a year or so the owners start to realize those “efficient” mechanical systems use less gas but eat more cash. The systems are so complicated they need to be balanced constantly. The companies with the service contracts make out like bandits.
    Keep up the good work.

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