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Examining the cost of LEED v4 (USGBC Northern California)

August 10, 2017
Raphael Sperry
Feature image: 

In this series, speakers from USGBC Northern California’s GreenerBuilder conference, held July 13, 2017 at the Zero Net Energy Center in San Leandro, share insights from their sessions. Interested in supporting GreenerBuilder 2018 as an event sponsor or exhibitor? Please contact Brenden McEneaney.

With the close of LEED 2009 registration, LEED v4 has become the primary version of LEED, which brings on the recurring question, “How much extra, if anything, will this cost?” At the 2017 Greenerbuilder conference, my colleague Kirstin Weeks and I presented a pair of studies that present some responses to that question.

Credit-by-credit cost estimating

Greenerbuilder seemed like the right place to preview our forthcoming study, sponsored by USGBC Northern California, that built on the excellent 2015 Cost of LEED v4 report from BuildingGreen. The basis for that study was Massachusetts, and our paper translated that research to California, focused on two big factors: construction costs are higher here, and some items are already required by code. The highlights are pretty simple:

1. Part or all of some LEED credits are required by California Codes:

  • Bike facilities
  • Cool roofing
  • Low-water landscaping
  • Advanced lighting controls
  • Solar readiness

2. Pursuing some LEED credits reduces cost.

  • Reduced parking means building fewer parking spaces, which can cost $10,000 on grade to $100,000 underground.

3. Design is a major factor.

  • California Energy Code requires sidelighting and toplighting where practical, but how much of a building it is practical for depends on design.

4. Some LEED credits can be more expensive due to high construction costs in California:

  • Rainwater harvesting systems
  • High-performance envelopes
  • Advanced HVAC controls
  • Acoustics

Case study cost comparisons

We also recently completed a study for the City and County of San Francisco to inform their decision on whether to move their internal requirement for LEED Gold municipal buildings up to LEED v4. We took two recently completed LEED Gold projects that had been done under LEED 2009 with actual construction costs, determined what they would have needed to add to maintain their Gold rating in LEED v4, and estimated the costs of those measures. Some of what they would have needed to add is required by the 2016 California Energy Code, while the buildings were built to the 2010 or 2013 code, so we left out the cost of items that would now be code-required.

The North Beach Branch Library is an exemplary public project with an integrated design team that delivered a well-optimized building envelope; many sustainable site strategies; and efficient mechanical, lighting and plumbing systems. For North Beach, they would have needed 7 more points, which would have cost $71,000, or 0.8 percent of the original $9,198,650 total project cost.

The Sunset Recreation Center is a renovation project that would have needed 17 points to maintain their Gold rating, especially in energy performance. That would have cost $255,000 in soft and hard costs, or 2.6 percent of the $9,717,916 total project cost. (That rises to 5 percent total, if they were unable to get an expanded PV system through a PPA.)

In conclusion, we suggested that LEED v4 has not shifted what professionals already know about the cost of LEED in general:

  • Can a LEED v4 building cost more? Yes, but so can marble cladding.
  • Can a LEED v4 building cost the same? Yes, with an integrated project team.
  • Can a LEED v4 Platinum building cost the same? Probably not in construction cost, but it can be far better in life cycle cost.

Please look for our complete credit-by-credit cost study coming soon from USGBC Northern California, and contact Arup if you are interested in our City and County of San Francisco case study.

U.S. Green Building Council - Long Island Chapter
150 Motor Parkway - Suite LL80
Hauppauge, NY 11788
info@usgbc-li.org