Photo: Norma Lopez MolinaHomes in Green Key Village in Lake County will produce as much energy as they use.
Big green: Demand for green building is up in Florida
Demand for green building is high in both residential and commercial markets. There's another green market — competition among groups that want to certify projects as officially green.
By 2016, says McGraw Hill Construction’s most recent construction market report, “green” houses will constitute between a quarter and third of the market for single-family homes. More than 70% of single-family home builders and nearly 70% of multifamily builders now believe consumers will pay more for green homes.
That’s the calculation at a host of residential — and commercial — developments all over Florida these days. At least 200 buildings in south Florida have gone to the trouble and expense of getting green-certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED system.
The Aventura Optima, a commercial building in Aventura, recently became the second office tower in the state to achieve the highest LEED rating.
On the residential front, a community called Green Key Village that’s under development in Lake County claims homes there will be “net-zero,” meaning they will produce as much energy as they use.
Meanwhile, Lakewood Ranch, the fastgrowing 8,500-acre master-planned community between Sarasota and Bradenton on the state’s west coast, markets itself as “the Largest Green Community in America” — every section of the development built since 2005, it says, has incorporated green features, building products and techniques (“Communities,” page 75).
While market acceptance of green certification is growing fast, it has been difficult to quantify the economic return a green certification brings to a developer or homeowner.
That’s starting to change, however. A 2012 study of 1.6 million homes sold in California between 2007-12 found that homes with green certification fetched an average 9% higher price than others.
In Florida, Nathan Ritter, the 2014-15 president of the Florida Green Building Coalition, an association of consultants, builders and government representatives that promotes green building, estimates that commercial buildings with green certification can charge between 3% and 5% higher lease rates than others.
Green certification “attracts better tenants,” says Ritter. Prospective tenants see a green label and expect lower water and electric bills and a higher-quality structure overall. For a developer, Ritter says, getting a building certified as green can be an effective marketing tool that helps offset the cost of meeting green building standards.
Ritter is vice president of an Orlando company, GreenBuilt Solutions, that offers consulting services to builders looking to meet green certification standards.
Perhaps the biggest indicator that green development has reached some kind of critical mass is the proliferation of groups offering green certification programs — the stamps of approval that a residential or commercial project is, in fact, actually “green.”
In the beginning, there was LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). That system was established in 2000 by a non-profit group called the U.S. Green Building Council. Certification is based on points awarded for various aspects of the development and construction processes — including location, water and energy efficiency, materials and indoor environmental quality.
The LEED program has four certification levels — certified, silver, gold and platinum. Hiring the consultants and evaluators it takes to gain LEED certification can add between one-half and 1% to the design and construction costs of a home or commercial project, along with the time required. For most building projects, the process typically involves hiring a consultant to help during the planning and design process and then a third-party evaluator who checks the work once it’s done. Both consultant and evaluator must be accredited in the program granting the certification.
The LEED system continues to dominate the green-certification market — there are now more than 44,000 LEED buildings in the U.S., and more than 70% of all construction projects of $50 million or more now seek LEED certification, according to McGraw Hill.
But there are other groups in the green-certification business. A nonprofit called the Green Building Initiative developed a ratings system called Green Globes and has been marketing it since 2004 as a simpler alternative to LEED.
Some green advocates dismissed the Green Globes program initially because its founders included representatives from chemical, plastics and timber industries. But a new president, Jerry Yudelson, formerly associated with the LEED program, has given Green Globes credibility and nudged the industry reps to the sidelines. Earlier this year, the U.S. General Services Administration announced that it would accept Green Globes certification as an equivalent to LEED.
LEED standards have traditionally been more stringent, and fees for Green Globes projects can be higher than LEED fees, according to Seattle-area architect Stuart Hand, but he writes that the Green Globes process “takes significantly less time” than LEED and that other associated costs are lower.
At least one Florida college, Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism, offers training in becoming a Green Globes consultant.
In addition to LEED and Green Globes, there’s also a Seattle-based program called Living Building Challenge, which bills itself as “a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today.” That program includes performance categories for “Health and Happiness” and “Beauty.”
Many states, including Florida, have locally based certification programs. The Florida Green Building Coalition, a non-profit group, has developed its own set of standards recognized as an equivalent to LEED by many Florida communities. Miami, for example, now requires all new commercial buildings of more than 50,000 square feet to meet either LEED silver or Florida Green Building Coalition standards.
Ritter, who is accredited in both the Florida Green Building Coalition system and LEED, says criteria for the two are similar and projects tend to receive similar scores.The Florida Green Building Coalition system, he adds, incorporates elements that take into account Florida’s humidity, insects, the threat of storms and the fact that for most homes in Florida “cooling is much more an issue than heating.In most of the rest of the country, heating is much more an issue,” he says.
How good a job the various certification programs do at creating environmentally sound buildings is a matter of discussion, particularly as governments embrace the standards — and the costs they impose on builders and taxpayers. Numerous reports have documented, for example, how some LEED structures don’t deliver on water and energy savings. According to U.S. News & World Report, a study of 11 Navy facilities “determined that four LEED buildings performed more poorly on energy savings tests than non-certified structures; four others had only slightly better performance.”
Defenders of green certification programs say no set of standards can provide an absolute guarantee that a building will perform perfectly from an environmental standpoint — in the same way that a car made of parts that all meet the “specifications” for that model can still turn out to be a “lemon.”
Ritter says that “with any system you can find buildings that don’t perform that well. But I definitely think we’re building better buildings today” than 10 years ago.
“I would say that going through the certification process forces project teams to pay attention to things that matter for the environment,” he says. “Overall, if it’s forcing them to track and document what they’re doing, it should lead to higher-quality, better-performing buildings.”