The Mechanical Contractors Association  of Greater Chicago has a guide for contractors looking to build green.

“Are we ready to build green?” That is the big question facing many of today’s building owners, designers and developers. They may want to build green, but might not be sure how to start a project down that path.

“Building green can seem like a daunting proposition, since sustainable technology is a large, constantly evolving body of knowledge,” said Stephen Lamb, Eexecutive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Greater Chicago. “Fortunately, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building rating system can provide valuable guidance. Building professionals interested in building green should look into LEED and ultimately, strive to become LEED Accredited Professionals.”

To help member contractors to understand the LEED rating system, MCA of Greater Chicago has released a booklet entitled, “Thinking About Building LEED?”

Copies of the booklet have been printed on recycled paper, but member contractors can also receive the booklet in a paper-free electronic format.

Why LEED is best place to start

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is the benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings, which can be rated at one of several levels, including certified, silver, gold and platinum.

“LEED has proven itself as the premiere – if not the only – legitimate rating system for commercial green buildings,” said Dan Bulley, senior vice president of the MCA of Greater Chicago and executive director of the Green Construction Institute. “Even so, some owners and even designers don’t feel that LEED certification is necessary. While that decision is up to the project owner, the decision-makers involved should consider the merits of LEED certified buildings.”

Benefits of LEED certification include higher property values and a healthier, more comfortable indoor environment, Bulley added. 

“It would be possible for you to create a green building without LEED certification,” Bulley said, “but you would have no criteria for gauging the building’s effectiveness. It would be like buying an automobile without a mileage rating, or food without a list of ingredients.”

Researching LEED options

Once the decision has been made to build a LEED building, Bulley said, it is important for the owner and other decision-makers to take the time to research their options, since the different levels of LEED certification greatly affect the cost and time involved in a project. 

“You can select ‘how green’ you want your building to be,” Bulley said. “LEED buildings are certified at four different levels, and the highest, platinum, will cost the most. A building’s level is based on points earned by employing sustainable features. Working with your design team, you can select points that are within your time-frame and budget.”

The newer and more innovative the technology, Bulley said, the more you will probably want to look into it.

“Some of these innovations may cost more, but they may pay for themselves quickly, too,” he said.

If you are doing a LEED project, Bulley stressed, you will want to work with a design team that has experience with LEED.

“Be sure to see their portfolio of LEED projects,” he said. “The number of architects and engineers with experience with LEED is still somewhat limited, so if you like a designer with whom you’ve already worked, you can bring in a LEED consultant to help. In some cases, if your architect has LEED experience, he or she can be your LEED consultant and even your decorator. The MCA had a good experience with that on our own building.”

According to Bulley, it is also important to pick the right construction team.

“Not only should you pick a general contractor with LEED experience,” he said, “but you should also make sure the project’s subcontractors have LEED experience. That is why MCA has been training its member contractors in green building for several years. The effectiveness of any green building hinges largely upon its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems – the specialty of mechanical contractors. If the contractors involved in energy systems like HVAC and lighting are not familiar with LEED, it could have negative repercussions for your project.”

One major advantage of LEED building, Bulley stated, is that you can play to your strengths.

“If a green project is for a company in the water business, focus on water-saving technologies. If the project is for a company in the health business, focus on low-emitting materials and increased ventilation,” he said.

Bulley stressed that research is an owner’s best friend when it comes to a LEED project.

“If you know what you want from the start,” he said, “you can expect savings in operating costs, while increasing the value of the property. The actual value of your building would be much greater than that of a comparable non-LEED building.”