LEED dominates Idaho's green-building certifications

Alternatives exist, but none is as well-known for water- and energy-efficiency standards.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJanuary 15, 2014 

The Banner Bank Building at 950 W. Bannock St. in Boise was built so that tenants could make interior structural changes, such as walls and lighting fixtures, to suit their needs. It is one of only a few commercial buildings in Idaho to achieve a Platinum LEED certification.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

  • 333LEED-certified residential units in Idaho

    154LEED-certified commercial buildings completed in Idaho

    7LEED-certified K-12 and higher education projects in the state

    39thIdaho’s rank for total LEED-certified commercial buildings

    517LEED-accredited professionals in the state

    As of January 2013. Source: U.S. Green Building Council

  • LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS IN THE GEM STATE: A SAMPLING

    Banner Bank Building, 950 W. Bannock St., Boise: Platinum

    Norfleet 4115, 4115 Challenger Way, Caldwell: Platinum

    Rocky Mountain Hardware, 1020 Airport Way, Hailey: Gold

    Center for Advanced Energy Studies, 995 University Blvd., Idaho Falls: Platinum

Even in Idaho, where electricity is cheap, green building is becoming the norm.

The trend is spread across the state. The Treasure Valley is home to more than one-third of the state’s buildings that have achieved LEED certification from the Idaho chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. The council’s tally doesn’t include the soon-to-be-finished 8th & Main building and Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, both Downtown Boise projects expected to be certified.

But not even Boise has as many LEED-certified projects on the books right now as Coeur d’Alene, which has roughly one-quarter of Boise’s population. It has 38 LEED-certified buildings compared with Boise’s 36.

“Nowadays, no major projects get done that don’t usually try to get certified,” said Gunnar Gladics, a research scientist for the University of Idaho’s Integrated Design Lab.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, started in the early 2000s. A group of builders, architects, engineers and other building professionals came together to create a framework for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly building standards. They formed the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers the LEED program. The council now has chapters in all 50 states.

“Now that it’s this big, it’ll never go away,” said Torry McAlvain Jr., business developer for Boise construction firm McAlvain Group of Companies.

The certifications are the industry standard for green building verification. Builders earn points for measures such as water-saving landscaping, smart lighting control systems, on-site renewable energy and LEED accreditation of team members involved in design or construction of the building.

The more points a building receives, the higher its level of certification. Downtown Boise’s Banner Bank Building at 950 W. Bannock St. earned 49 of a possible 62 points in the “core and shell” category, good for a LEED Platinum certification — the highest. LEED also has categories for new construction, schools, homes and other building types. Each category has a different scale and point requirements for achieving certification, silver, gold and platinum thresholds.

Last year, the city of Ketchum changed its building code to require LEED Silver or comparable certification from a different group for new homes and additions to existing homes. Blaine County and the city of Hailey have similar requirements.

Municipal green building codes are fairly common across the country, says Charlie Woodruff, executive director of the Green Building Council’s Idaho chapter. Some other codes in Idaho mention LEED certification and other green building standards, but Blaine County, Ketchum and Hailey are the only ones that require builders to meet them, Woodruff says.

Other green building programs include Green Globes, which Gladics said has cheaper fees but is less rigorous, and the Living Building Challenge, which requires zero net use of water and energy, as well as on-site wastewater treatment.

Gladics says building owners can charge a premium averaging 4 percent for LEED-certified buildings in the Treasure Valley. But the big payoff is harder to quantify. How much more productive, healthy and happy are workers in a building that maximizes daylight or has a top-notch ventilation system, and how much longer does that keep tenants in the building? How much more money does that mean to the landlord in the long run? Those specifics are difficult to calculate.

Green buildings can earn developers tax breaks and incentives from utilities. But Idaho offers no state tax breaks for achieving LEED certification. Instead, savings are the direct result of energy efficiencies.

McAlvain said reputation is a big reason building owners pay the fees for LEED-certified buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council’s stamp tells the community the company is environmentally conscious.

“They want to have a good image in the community,” he says. “It kind of depends on, actually, the company’s philosophy and culture – how they want to be affiliated and known.”

LEED and the Green Building Council have come under fire from people who are skeptical about how much benefit they yield. A USA Today story in 2012 reported that the council’s state chapters were run by industry experts who stood to profit from green building.

But Gladics says the LEED system brought credibility to green building, which was always a squishy concept before. At first, he says, developers and builders were using LEED to verify that they had taken sustainable measures. Now, those same people are using LEED as a tool in building design.

“The rating systems have helped drive the market forward, I think,” Gladics says. “They’re helping to push innovation and to bring the outlandish into the realistic. Everybody would claim, ‘Hey, I’m green.’ But we’re all the show-me state now. ‘I want to see exactly what percentage energy efficiency you are, how many gallons of water.’ That’s basically what it is. ‘Show me what you’re doing. Don’t just claim it.’ ”

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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