LEED Certified Buildings: Two-Minute Tour

by Guest Writer

As an architect I tend to assume that everyone has heard of LEED—but the reality is probably many people haven’t heard of it and the majority of you who have, don’t have a clear understanding of this buzz word.

We all know that sustainability has become a concern on everyone’s mind. That concern did not escape the architect! Building-related construction and demolition debris totals approximately 160 million tons per year. Yikes!

As an architect at Kliment Halsband Architects and a LEED accredited professional, I am going to take you on a whirlwind tour of the basics so the next time you are at a dinner party and someone says “I just moved into this fabulous building on such and such a street that is LEED silver”, you can ask questions and hold an intelligent conversation with that person about its LEED attributes.

Item number one: the  name is “LEED”. All the time I have people say to me “what does that word LEEDs mean behind your name”. Leeds is soccer team in England. It’s not LEEDs plural it’s LEED which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The AP following that stands for Accredited Professional.

Item number two: the rating system. There are different levels of LEED ratings a team can achieve including certified which is the lowest, silver, gold, and platinum as the highest. You obtain different ratings based on the number of points you obtain.

Item number three: what can you get points for?  There are many architects that have been designing sustainably even before LEED was around. Even architects from ancient civilizations were thinking about locating a building to catch the sun a certain way, minimize site clearing, working carefully to assure the new building features don’t contaminate existing bodies of water, using materials that will not fall apart, locating windows in places to maximize or minimize air depending on the climate–and the list goes on, but you get the idea. LEED was developed to help give guidelines to architects today to create sustainable architecture.

You can achieve points by redeveloping an existing site that is contaminated or keeping a certain amount of the existing building intact. Points are also given for the site having public transportation nearby, bicycle racks, dedicated fuel-efficient car parking and limited parking. Points can also be given for landscaping with no irrigation and using native plants.

Buildings accounted for 38.9 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2005. One of the most important parts in achieving LEED is your mechanical systems. Finding an efficient system such as geothermal wells, wind turbines, solar collectors (PVC), hydropower, biogas, fuel cells and other technologies can certainly help to gain points.

You can even get a point for recycling! They will give you a point for locating recycling bins with in the building as well as diverting as much construction waste from the landfills. Recycled content for furniture, carpets, walls finishes, etc. can also gain you points. Even using materials that are rapidly renewable which essentially means materials that grow very quickly such as cork, bamboo and wool. Points are also given for recycling rainwater for flushing toilets.

LEED is not a perfect system for rating sustainable buildings but I do believe it’s a step in the right direction. Right now nearly all government buildings designed recently are required to be LEED certified at a minimum. And you thought that our government wasn’t doing enough for the environment! Actually a lot of New York buildings have jumped on the LEED bandwagon: The Hearst Tower in NYC is LEED Gold; The Bank of America Tower is the first skyscraper designed to attain a Platinum LEED Certification; The recently completed Morphosis Cooper Union building is LEED Platinum. Also all buildings in design at Kliment Halsband are obtaining LEED at some level.

That ends my whirlwind tour of LEED but I assure you I will be back to let you in on more LEED knowledge at a later time! In the meantime, tell me about some of the LEED buildings in your city or area.

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