Cost Considerations of LEED Projects

The cost premiums for woodworkers involved in LEED projects as opposed to non-LEED projects varies depending on several factors. On some LEED projects, costs for the woodworker may be relatively modest. Woodworkers may be asked to meet minimal LEED requirements, such as NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde) sheet materials.  Other factors that may impact material costs are requirements such as materials reuse, recycled content, or regional materials. Labor costs may be higher for materials reuse if special processing is required to make them adaptable. Unless you’re working on a LEED for Schools project, conventional products may be used for adhesion and finishing in the shop but products used on site must meet LEED requirements. Adhesives used on site probably won’t require additional labor but finishing with low VOC finishes or waterborne finishes very well might. Otherwise, the cost difference is basically the cost of materials.

If the design team is going for a higher level certification, FSC certified woods are often required. The difference in cost depends on the species that is specified.  With some species, the cost difference may be minimal but with others it may be significant.  You need to price each species carefully when bidding the job to be sure of cost and availability for both sheet materials and solid woods. Some species may have long lead times or may not be available at all in FSC certified material. In addition to these costs, there is significant paperwork required for chain-of-custody certification.
What often happens in our industry is the client will request that the project has certain green aspects similar to a LEED project. The specifications will often have LEED requirements for various trades similar or identical to specifications on a LEED project.  The primary difference between these types of jobs and an actual LEED project is that they are not seeking any sort of LEED certification for the project. Therefore, should all of the bids for the project come back over budget they have the option to “value engineer” out the additional costs for being environmentally friendly. In an actual LEED job, the project team will be hesitant to lower the requirements since it will lower the level of certification achieved or disqualify the project from LEED certification altogether.
Another cost impact will vary depending on how your business is set up because it has to do with the overhead required for running the job.  The LEED submittals themselves take a substantial amount of time. You must submit all of the materials on the project you intend to use to the client’s architect or LEED consultant for approval. In addition you must provide backup from the manufacturer for things such as recycled content or VOC levels, and this information is not always readily available. It often involves contacting various manufacturers or distributors in order to put the submittal together properly.   If you have a large shop with dedicated project managers for several jobs it is not too terrible.  For smaller operations where the person running the project may also be responsible for handling other aspects of the business such as drafting,  accounting or running the shop, their lost time will affect your costs of doing the job. Also factor in the probability that more changes in specification will occur as the job progresses, in comparison to a non-LEED job.
Thank you for your interest,
John Howell
Howell Consulting Services, Inc.