In a recent commercial project John Koppe of Koppe-Wagoner Architects received bids from ten contractors with a line item for LEED Process Oversight and Documentation. “Although this wasn’t to be a deciding factor, we were curious when the number for this line item ranged from $5,000 to over $60,000 (twelve times the lowest bid). What’s your take on this variability?” O’Brien & Company Principal Elizabeth Powers responds:
Actually, the range of bids doesn’t surprise me. For the commercial projects O’Brien & Company has worked on over the years, I’ve seen a similar variability, and it has to do with the contractor’s level of comfort and expertise with the LEED Rating System. I can share anecdotally that for a contractor new to LEED it can take their project engineer up to a month of two of full time work to figure it out. On the other hand, we’ve seen contractors that have embraced LEED requirements and integrated them into their normal bid collection process. For these companies, they probably spend about 50 hours over the whole project, roughly equivalent to that $5,000 figure. And this is fairly consistent across construction types within the commercial sector.
I’m assuming you’re asking so you can better advise your client. I’m probably going to make a few of our contractor friends unhappy, but some of the contractor documentation for LEED credits (on LEED projects) should be standard practice, such as the construction waste management and indoor air quality planning. I anticipate even the premium of $5,000 in job bids will disappear into general overhead costs as more and more owners expect LEED documentation as part of project management and quality assurance.
Of course in order to meet this expectation, contractors will need to get a good system in place. The Build it LEED Toolkit we’ve developed in partnership with the Cascadia Green Building Council (CGBC) is a good place to start. This will familiarize the contractor with the specific credits and associated documentation requirements for all types of LEED-NC projects. The next step is to develop an internal process that essentially makes it as easy as pushing a button. Depending on the company, this can be done in-house using the Build-it-LEED tools and viewing the online webinar or the contractor can hire an outside consultant to help set the process up. We offer a variety of services to support contractors as do some of the leading green general contractors in the state.
One caveat to the “no-premium” idea, in early LEED projects, it was not unusual for a contractor to be asked six months into a project to produce LEED documentation. Although less frequent, this can still happen. Not fair! This amounts to a change order. You might get the contractor to comply (especially if they want LEED experience), but it is much more work to try and back track and determine if LEED credits were met. If you are interested in LEED certification, bring your contractor on board early.
One of the biggest lost opportunities in LEED projects is for architects to engage with contractors and do early planning for achieving the LEED Materials & Resources credit. Typically the CDs are more specific about green architectural finishes and features, and less specific about green construction materials such as steel and concrete. This makes it tough to know whether the project will actually meet percentages set by LEED until the project is complete – when it may be too late. Using early cost estimates and information on green materials from the contractor, if they are on board early, the team can determine the likelihood of achieving MR credits, make different materials choices early in order to achieve the credits, and set the contractor up for a successful tracking and documentation process. O’Brien & Company uses a simplified version of the Build It LEED Tool to help our projects do green materials planning. We also recommend Green Spec as a great resource for the newest, cutting edge green materials.
Elizabeth Powers, LEED AP and principal of O’Brien & Company, heads the green project consulting services team. She’s worked with contractors hoping to green their operations for 9 years, and was co-author of the Build-it-LEED toolkit.
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LEED Rescue: How Projects Get Into Trouble and How to Get Out