By Scott Carlson
Special to The Daily Reporter
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is rising in popularity for Wisconsin buildings, despite the costs associated with the recognition and the continued struggles of the construction market.
Through the first five months of 2010, 27 projects in Wisconsin earned LEED certification, according to data from the U.S. Green Building Council. At that rate, Wisconsin is likely to surpass the 38 LEED certifications it earned in 2009, said Marie Coleman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council.
The rise follows an up-and-down period for sustainable projects in the state, reflecting the tumultuous last couple of years for the construction industry. Wisconsin had 22 LEED certifications in 2007, logged just 9 in 2008 at the height of the recession and rebounded with 38 certifications last year, Coleman said.
The increase in Wisconsin’s LEED-certified projects reflects a national trend, Coleman said. The certification has grown increasingly popular, racking up 50 percent of its 10-year total certifications in 2009 alone.
But that number may be higher if the costs associated with LEED certification weren’t as high. At a time when money is tight, not all companies are willing to pony up extra cash for official LEED certification, said Terry Ellenbecker, director of field operations for Appleton-based Hoffman LLC.
About half of Hoffman’s clients opt not to purse the designation, usually because of the costs, he said.
A company’s decision to go for LEED often depends on how much value they will gain with the designation, Ellenbecker said. LEED certification can add $75,000 to $100,000 to the cost of a construction project, he said.
“If you do all these energy efficient and sustainable things to your building, do you want to certify that and put a plaque in your lobby?” he said.
For Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh Inc., one of Hoffman’s clients, the answer was “no.”
LHO opted against pursuing LEED certification during recent construction of a 50-unit nursing home complex, despite the project’s sustainable elements. The $9.5 million project includes two, 10-unit “greenhouse” homes, which feature geothermal heating and energy-efficient glazing on its south-facing windows.
“Cost is what it came down to,” LHO President Craig Ubbelohde said. “On a project of this nature, (LEED certification) didn’t seem to be the best use of our resources.
“We are fine in knowing that we did incorporate green initiatives in our design and construction. But there wasn’t value in the amount of expense to obtain that certification.”
For many companies, the recognition is worth the cost, however.
“We have seen a surge of certifications despite the tough economy,” said Sue Loomans, executive director of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance. “This shows a commitment by corporations to sustainability.
“We are still confident the trend for green buildings is continuing growth.”