The Green-Building Revolution

Jan. 1, 2008
Editor's note: Jerry Yudelson, PE, MBA, LEED AP, will serve as a keynote speaker for HPAC Engineering's fifth annual Engineering Green Buildings Conference

Editor's note: Jerry Yudelson, PE, MBA, LEED AP, will serve as a keynote speaker for HPAC Engineering's fifth annual Engineering Green Buildings Conference and Expo, which will be held Oct. 21 and 22 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. In the months leading up to EGB 2008, HPAC Engineering will publish a series of excerpts from Jerry's latest book, “The Green Building Revolution.”

The green-building movement has become a revolution, representing the biggest opportunity for the HVAC design and construction industry since the advent of widespread air-conditioning technology more than a half century ago.


Let's start with the evidence, focusing on the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC's) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System for commercial and institutional buildings, the mainstay of our industry. In 2006, more than 1,000 new LEED projects were registered (representing a commitment to future certification) for the first time; at that time, nearly 5,000 projects had been registered since the LEED program began in 2000. By the end of 2006, total LEED-registered projects had increased by 50 percent over the previous year, while total LEED-certified projects had increased by 67 percent. Contrast these large increases with the rather modest annual growth in the value of new private commercial construction.

Through November 2007, LEED-registered and certified projects each had increased 75 percent over 2006 year-end totals, putting them on a pace to increase over 80 percent in 2007. The acceleration of LEED projects represents a true revolution in the building industry. Considering all four major LEED rating systems (New Construction, Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors, and Core & Shell), I expect nearly 3,500 new projects were LEED-registered in 2007, more than triple the 2006 total. Because the value of the average LEED project is between $10 and $15 million, this equates to about $35 to $50 billion in construction value, which is more than 15 percent of the entire commercial-buildings industry. In most major cities, a large percentage of new large commercial buildings is being registered for LEED certification.


What is driving this rapid acceptance of green buildings in an industry traditionally slow to adopt innovations? Two words: global warming. Whether you believe it is “real” or not, rapidly growing business and professional concerns about global warming and resultant climate change has prompted the American Institute of Architects; the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and the USGBC to adopt aggressive goals for reducing energy use in new buildings: a 50-percent reduction from 2005 average building energy use by 2010. The 2016 edition of ASHRAE's Design Guide will identify approaches that aim to reduce energy use by 70 percent over ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2004, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. For most engineering firms, reducing the energy use of new buildings by even 50 percent compared with Standard 90.1-2004 without spending a lot more money up front is a daunting challenge.

Nearly 70 percent of the total new LEED-registered projects represent new construction or major renovations, so most of the value of LEED projects consists of buildings that mechanical engineers design directly. You can see, therefore, the opportunity that awaits firms that master the new arts of green building and learn how to market those capabilities. (My book “Marketing Green Building Services: Strategies for Success” explains how to market professional services in green-building markets.)


How will you begin to tackle these challenges in 2008? My first suggestion is to learn from others. Recently, I spent a week in Germany talking with architects and engineers about alternative approaches to building design that could be taken in the United States and Canada.

In Germany, there is a strong commitment to lowering building energy use. There, a good building uses less than 10 kwh (34,130 Btu) of energy per square foot per year. At present, there are not many U.S. projects that get energy use below 20 kwh per square foot per year.

Also in Germany, there is a commitment to extensive daylighting, natural ventilation, and operable windows. (I was told that German law requires each person to be no more than 23 ft from a window.) In more advanced projects, engineers choose to separate ventilation from space conditioning, using radiant floor or ceiling panels for heating and cooling, thereby dramatically reducing peak loads, fan size, and fan energy use. In larger commercial buildings, it is not uncommon to see a “double envelope” used for a building's facade, allowing both operable windows and natural ventilation without suffering an “energy penalty.” Many of you know about underfloor-air-distribution systems and displacement ventilation approaches. What you may not know is that these systems were imported from Europe about 10 years ago.


Well, you get the picture. We have a lot to learn and many practices and common approaches to change, but not much time in which to do it. The green-building revolution is demanding that we put real engineering back into building design. If we do not, there are others prepared to “eat our lunch,” including a new generation of “climate engineers” from Europe. Also, do not forget about the large design/build mechanical contractors who have the resources to figure out new ways to design and construct green buildings and the credibility to sell their services directly to building owners.

In forthcoming excerpts from my latest book, “The Green Building Revolution,” I will profile the business case for green buildings, outstanding examples of completed projects, and a number of key market sectors. Pay attention to the business and professional opportunities this revolution can create for you and resolve to become a green-building revolutionary.

Read more Engineering Green Buildings columns.

Jerry Yudelson, PE, MBA, LEED AP, is principal of Yudelson Associates. Chair of the 2008 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, the U.S. Green Building Council's annual convention, he has trained more than 3,300 building-industry professionals in the LEED rating system. He is the author of six books and many research studies, white papers, and articles on green buildings. He can be contacted through his Website,