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Can USGBC Improve the Performance of LEED Buildings by Collecting More Data?

Mireya Navarro’s recent piece in the New York Times about the energy performance of LEED buildings does not really shed much new light on a topic that many of us have been paying close attention to for the past two years, particularly in the aftermath of the controversial New Buildings Institute study that claimed LEED buildings performed, on average, 25 percent better than the CBECS database. Nevertheless, Navarro’s piece seems timed to coincide with USGBC’s press release of August 25 that announced a new Building Performance Initiative which will complement the LEED Version 3.0 Minimum Program Requirements’ ongoing performance data reporting obligations in order for projects to maintain their LEED rating and avoid the unsavory potential consequences of decertification. Any commentary on this press release – at least in the blogosphere – appears to have been lost in the August doldrums, but I think it is worthwhile to consider an effort which could ultimately have major repercussions for the underpinnings of the LEED system itself. However, many building scientists will tell you that simply collecting more data does not necessarily translate into improved performance. Consider (after the jump) the following letter that was submitted to the New York Times by ASHRAE Fellow and Distinguished Lecturer Larry Spielvogel, P.E., in response to the USGBC press release announcing the Building Performance Initiative, which Mr. Spielvogel was kind enough to allow us to reprint here at GRELJ.

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Energy Performance in LEED Buildings: A History

“LEEDing from Behind: The Rise and Fall of Green Building” is a survey piece by Community Solutions executive director Pat Murphy that reviews the significant body of critical commentary on the energy performance of LEED buildings that emerged beginning in 2005 with Randy Udall and Auden Schendler’s seminal “LEED Is Broken – Let’s Fix It” article. Mr. Murphy’s stated purpose in writing his piece was to “show the history of the dialogue about LEED energy performance.” Many of the articles cited will be familiar to you, but this is the first time that I have seen all of them organized chronologically with their key points about LEED-related building performance highlighted. I think that reviewing the piece is extremely instructive in terms of framing both green building policy-related issues, as well as corresponding risk management considerations, from a much broader perspective. Mr. Murphy concludes that “[t]here has been concern with the LEED rating system relative to energy and CO2 since its inception. . . . LEED has failed to lead in the important areas that are measurable. Initially, [USGBC] adopted a weak status relative to energy consumption. [It] did not recognize and incorporate accountability and verification, unfortunately wasting years that could have providing important feedback relative to energy use. [It] has also not clearly and honestly communicated that LEED is not an exemplary indication of energy performance.”

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Case Study: A Practical Look at the Risks of Green Roofs

Recently, there have been a number of articles suggesting that the risks associated with green roofs have been overblown. Over the past few days, I’ve spent some time looking for more concrete examples of green roof-related risks in practice. I started by looking for case law where a plaintiff alleged an attractive nuisance claim against the owner of a building arising out of a green roof or other rooftop landscaping. Westlaw did not return any results entirely on point, but I did find a number of interesting attractive nuisance decisions which I may present in a subsequent post here at GRELJ. The much more practical research that I turned up was the following except from an article by Kelly Luckett, the self-proclaimed “Green Roof Guy” who writes a column for greenroofs.com. In a column from the very end of 2008, Mr. Luckett describes how uneducated project teams may unwittingly expose themselves to unanticipated risks stemming from the maintenance requirements of green roof installations. His remarks also reflect a number of key points we’ve made consistently both here at GRELJ and over at gbNYC with respect to the additional risk management strategies demanded by new green building technologies and third-party certification programs.

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Green Building Basics for the Healthcare Industry: A Legal Perspective

Green building design, construction and operation practices have gained widespread popularity in the healthcare industry in recent years, even considering the current challenging economic climate. This trend is likely to continue because green building practices result in both decreased overall life cycle costs and healthier building occupants. This article will briefly examine the background of building green in the healthcare sector, discuss the unique needs of healthcare facilities in relation to green building practices, and finally examine the choices and challenges faced by healthcare facilities in determining whether to design, construct and/or operate a green building facility, with a specific emphasis on the legal issues therein.

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Considering Standard of Care Provisions in Green Construction Contracts

One of the most critical provisions in any contract for professional design services relates to the standard of care under which the design professional will be required to render its services. In the absence of contract language to the contrary, a design professional will be held to a common law standard of care commensurate with that of other professionals providing the same services to a geographically similar community. However, on a green building project, an owner may seek to retain a design professional specifically because of its sustainable design expertise. Accordingly, it may attempt to hold the design professional to a higher standard of care than that which prevails in the industry. This may be problematic for both sides for a number of reasons. Professional liability insurance policies provide insurance for legal liability that arises out of negligent professional acts, errors, or omissions. However, if not properly vetted, standard of care provisions have the potential to trigger standard exclusions to such policies. This article suggests two such exclusions and strategies for owners and design professionals to consider as they draft and negotiate construction agreements for green building projects.

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Lessons on Predicting Building Performance from New Yankee Stadium

During the first homestand of the season at $1.6 billion New Yankee Stadium, baseballs flew out of the ballpark at an unprecedented rate; the 20 dingers that were clocked during last weekend’s series against the Cleveland Indians were the most ever in a four-game set to open a new stadium in baseball history. Last season, Old Yankee Stadium saw 160 home runs; the current pace would yield a mind-boggling 351 round-trippers for the entire 2009 season. The Yankees did not anticipate that their new ballpark would turn into a Little League bandbox; dimensions at the new park are the same as they were across the street and engineers performed a wind study in advance of construction that did not suggest any major changes in currents or speeds. So, after witnessing several routine fly balls to right field land halfway into the lower deck last Saturday, it struck me that there are some parallels between what’s been happening thus far at the new ballpark in the Bronx and some of the building performance issues that we frequently discuss here at GRELJ.

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