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Developers finding the more 'green' their projects, the more it costs

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Whether simply a marketing technique or an attempt to elevate the sustainability of a new building, environmentally correct 'green' projects are increasing in San Diego County.

But many are finding out that being 'green' can also be costly.

The general consensus those in the building industry talked to was that the higher level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification a project is attempting to achieve, the higher the chance of increased construction costs.

Recently, the Ranch House at Del Sur, the information center for the newly opened master-planned community in north San Diego, was awarded a Platinum LEED certification, which represents the first time a private enterprise, new construction building achieved such a high rating in San Diego and California.

According to Bill Dumka, senior vice president of Del Sur developer Black Mountain Ranch LLC, achieving this certification was "expensive," although he did not state a specific cost.

The LEED rating system is organized as a set of 34 credits and seven prerequisites, together worth a total of 69 points.

Depending on the number of points achieved, a building can attain Platinum (52-69 points), Gold (39-51 points), Silver (33-38 points) or LEED certified (26-32 points) status.

Points are awarded to projects based on six key areas: sustainable site development, 14 possible points; water savings, five points; energy efficiency, 17 points; materials selection, 13 points; indoor environmental quality, 15 points; and innovation and design process, five points.

The Ranch House received 59 out of 69 points. The house incorporates efficient appliances, weather-based irrigation, low-water landscaping, a photovoltaic (PV) energy system that provides about half the building's power and a porous concrete driveway that aids with groundwater filtration.

Additionally, 89 percent of the construction waste at the house was recycled, and materials were re-used onsite where possible.

"We got carried away (in terms of design and landscape)," Dumka said, adding a project that receives a Gold or Platinum LEED rating likely will experience increased costs mainly from the installation of photovoltaic systems.

According to California Energy Commission, PV systems cost between $6,000-$10,000/kW installed. The average factory price of PV modules is about $4/watt, excluding balance-of-system (BOS) costs, which can increase the factory costs by 30 percent to 100 percent.

However, PV system incentives are also in place.

Unlike Platinum certification, achieving Gold certification does not always carry with it increased costs, as is seen in the case of the new San Ysidro Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) building.

Having completed this Gold LEED certified project, Rafat Alafranji, architect and project director in the Department of General Services Real Estate Services division, believes that the increment cost to implement LEED into a project is a misnomer.

He pointed out that a similar floor plan for a Sacramento DMV facility, which was non-LEED and 1,000 square feet smaller in scale than the San Ysidro building, was bid at the same time as the San Ysidro building.

The bids came in at $5.2 million for the Sacramento facility and $5.4 million for the San Ysidro building.

"Keeping in mind the difference in floor area I would attribute the additional $200,000 to the labor and materials costs in the San Diego region," Alafranji said, adding a building that is designed with no intention of achieving LEED certification typically would receive a far amount of LEED points based solely on today's common design standards.

Some of these standards include improving the day lighting, using non-toxic materials, ensuring the building is well insulated and selecting the right colors for the roof.

In the end, the question of costs in relation to achieving LEED certification comes down to what value developers are trying to obtain through utilizing these building standards, according to Stephen Kapp, president of the U.S. Green Building Council, San Diego chapter.

Kapp added that if developers are trying to achieve LEED certification as a means of increasing the building's sustainability, it is likely they will recoup costs associated with the initial construction as time goes on, because meeting LEED standards will, over time, will lower building operating costs and increase its life.

Looking forward several proposed California assembly bills, AB 35 (Ruskin), AB 888 (Lieu) and AB 1058 (Laird), now in the Senate or a Senate committee, could increase construction costs in relation to green building if passed, according to the Engineering and General Contractors Association.

Existing law sets forth various requirements for energy and design efficiency in construction.

These bills would require the California Environmental Protection Agency, by July 1, 2009, to adopt regulations for sustainable building standards for the construction of state, nonresidential commercial and residential buildings.

The bills would require the regulations to incorporate specified standards described in the LEED certification system.

The California Building Industry Association (CBIA), similar to the EGCA, also opposes the bills.

"While CBIA can certainly support the development and publication of a set of voluntary green building guidelines for residential construction, CBIA has serious concerns with the provisions set forth in the bill that would govern the administrative development and adoption of these guidelines.

More importantly, CBIA is strongly opposed to the establishment of mandatory "minimum building standards," said Robert Raymer, technical director/engineer for the CBIA, in a letter dated April 17.

Other LEED buildings in San Diego include TKG Consulting Engineers headquarters, gold rating; George Stevens Senior Center, gold rating; San Diego Zoological Society-Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species, silver rating; SmartCorner office building, silver rating; Drug Discovery Research Facility, certified; Pfizer La Jolla Campus buildings 4-7, certified; Sun Harbor Marina, certified; and the San Diego Foundation at Liberty Station, certified.

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