At the same time as our university installed the Solar-Dok, it broke ground on a new student dormitory. This time the stakes are a little bit higher – the dorm is slated to cost $17 million. How is this relevant, don’t we need to build dorms to house students? Yes, but we’ve decided that this building would be built to LEED “Gold” standards – i.e. it’s going to be a “green” building. To make a building certifiably green requires two major expenses – planning and production. The planning costs include the increased costs to design, commission, documentation and energy modeling to meet LEED requirements. Estimates of these costs are evasive – this source indicates that they range from 1.5 percent to three percent of the costs of construction. For example, a Natural Capital center in Portland that is a third larger than our building is estimated to have cost $322,000 in planning alone (3.2 percent of its $10 million in construction costs). Building green also requires a change in the way buildings are constructed and a change in the materials used. The need to label a building green implies that building green is not cheap. The physical expenses include more work at the site itself to prepare it, different HVAC systems, different lighting systems, different roofing systems, different materials, and different places to secure materials from as compared to building conventionally. Estimates of added construction costs are in the three percent to eight percent range. For example the construction of a Steelcase furniture manufacturing plant in Michigan to LEED Silver standards is estimated to have added three percent to its construction costs. More complex facilities build to higher standards would likely cost more.
Taking a moderate range from the two cost estimates (6 percent of total costs) then building our new dorm to LEED Gold standards is probably going to add about $1 million to the costs of the dorm. Let me ask some reasonable questions.
(1) Is spending an extra million dollars to construct the building going to deliver energy and water and maintenance savings? If so, how much?
(2) Is spending an extra million dollars to construct the building going to deliver the promised environmental benefits? At what cost?
How many of you think I would get clear answers to these questions if asked? How many of you think that someone actually did these calculations? I am sure someone did. Right? After all, we’re talking $1 million. We’re talking valuable resources, someone else’s resources. It’s all just harmless symbolism, right?
Is there any way to address these issues and still be invited to a New Year’s Eve party?