LEED With What You Have

A report on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for existing buildings


Bailey Webb  ·  May 27, 2012

Churches and church buildings are community pillars by their very nature. Many of these existing structures have been around for 40, 50 or even more than 100 years and could use updated systems and controls or perhaps a different approach to landscaping and design for reasons associated with both costs savings and community stewardship. All of these efforts fall within the purview of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) program.

The USGBC launched LEED in 2000 for both new and existing construction and plans to update the program by the end of 2012. According the USGBC, the existing buildings rating system enables building owners and managers to consistently measure operations, improvements and maintenance in order to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impact. LEED EB also addresses cleaning and maintenance for the entire building, including chemical use; recycling programs; exterior maintenance methods; and systems upgrades. Building owners can seek LEED EB certification for facilities seeking it for the first time and for projects previously certified under LEED for “New Construction,” “Schools” or “Core and Shell.”

“Churches already have a lot going for them in terms of sustainability, one, with community impact and influence and, two, with the ability to draw on existing resources and materials,” says Jennifer Easton, a LEED spokesperson at the USGBC. “We typically believe that existing buildings hold the greatest potential for improved sustainability, energy and water use.”

From a new bike rack and effective recycling and composting to a highly energy-efficient HVAC system with high-tech, energy efficient controls, different aspects of a renovation earn points under the LEED system.

“You can do a full-blown retrofit and see big savings on energy and water use, but there are a number of simpler things you can do that reap extensive savings as well,” Easton says.

Some basic sustainable design principles for any scale of building include orientation of the building to maximize the availability of natural daylight and minimize the exposure to solar heat gain, building vertical density intent on preservation of green space, minimal irrigation and water consumption through the selection of native and drought-tolerant landscape and green plumbing fixtures, utilizing building materials with high-recycled content, utilizing regionally available building materials to minimize transportation pollution, energy efficient windows, parking strategies favoring green vehicles, recycling programs and green janitorial products, reports Scott Hall, senior designer at Omniplan, a Dallas-based architecture firm.

“In general, there is the potential for older-building energy performance to match that of a new building,” Hall says. “However, it should be noted that LEED encourages the project team to look at total building performance such as site impact, water efficiency, materials, indoor air quality, awareness/education and innovation. An existing building renovation could score well in the area of limited impact to the site and use of materials, both of which are tougher to achieve with a new building.

“LEED certification and rating are not impacted by size of the project,” Hall continues. “Sustainable applications are appropriately tailored in most instances to the user of the project, but certain opportunities can arise because of project scale. Sites with large staff populations can reduce parking demand by providing bike racks and locker room facilities for cyclist commuters and selecting sites with proximity to bus or train transit hubs for pedestrian commuter walkability. Energy costs for larger facilities can be reduced dramatically by using high efficiency light fixtures, energy management systems and high efficiency HVAC systems.”

Costs associated with LEED EB registration and certification vary. USGBC members pay $900 for initial certification, while non-members pay $1,200. Initial certification review costs $1,500 for members and $2,000 for non-members with buildings less than 50,000 square feet. Buildings with more than 50,000 square feet run 3 cents per square foot for members and 4 cents for non-members with buildings from 50,000-500,000 square feet. LEED EB certification for a building’s core and shell costs $3,250 for members and $4,250 for non-members.

Given the costs and some churches’ financial limitations, it’s not uncommon for congregations to take many of the steps toward LEED certification without opting to actually go through the process and expense.

“Most of our church clients are interested in high-performance buildings because of their commitment to be good stewards of church resources and of the environment,” says Ernest Pullen, marketing manager at architecture/design firm CDH Partners in Marietta, Ga. “As a result, these projects are designed with the same objectives as outlined by the USGBC but without going that extra step to pursue LEED certification.”

Existing … since the 1700s

Perhaps one of the oldest churches in the United States, St. James Episcopal Church in North Salem, N.Y., is taking an interesting approach to renovating and improving energy efficiency at its parish hall and, to a lesser degree, its sanctuary. Located in pastoral Westchester County, N.Y., not far from New York City, St. James was established in 1731, but its current buildings date to the 1800s.

Due to its geographical location, air conditioning is unnecessary, and the sanctuary’s antique chandeliers don’t necessarily jibe with LED light bulbs. In fact, a local diocesan energy efficiency expert suggested the congregation at the small church simply keep the temperature at 55 degrees during the winter and only turn up the heat when the sanctuary’s in use, as well as plug any obvious holes where heat may escape.

St. James’ parish hall could prove to be a test case, though, especially for a structure more than 100 years old. The building originally served as a horse and buggy garage on its first level with open space and a stage upstairs. It now serves as a childcare center during the school year and also as event space for church members and the community. Of course, the church wants to tackle the low-hanging fruit such as improving insulation and caulking and repairing storm windows, but St. James’ Senior Warden Katherine Daniels, other lay leaders, ministers and the congregation have more ambitious plans in mind.

Daniels turned to the website PlanetForward.org, a project sponsored by The George Washington University’s Center for Innovative Media that brings together energy efficiency experts and those who have an interest in energy and sustainability issues (search Planet Forward and St. James Episcopal Church, http://planetforward.org/2012/01/06/help-this-new-england-church-become-more-efficient/). The match with Planet Forward drew a significant response with some suggestions easily implemented and some that would require skilled contractors and consultants. The church also is working with the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium, which includes residents from 15 local towns who banded together to work on improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint in their communities.

Additionally, Daniels would like to create a program similar to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon where area universities and design/architecture schools such as Cornell, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Pratt Institute compete or at least collaborate on creating a completely self-sufficient, energy efficient structure.

“It’s kind of a pipe dream of mine, but we’re going to go for it,” Daniels says. “We’re going to pursue multiple avenues because it’s the responsible thing to do for the planet and lower our utility costs.”

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