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6 LEED Retrofit Questions a Quantity Surveyor Can Help Answer

When it comes to going green, some building owners may be nervous. The factors for earning credits toward LEED certification can be daunting and it can be tricky to know whether it makes financial sense. While quantity surveyors may not be engineers, architects, lawyers, or accountants, they possess knowledge in all these fields in order to help owners make intelligent decisions about what upgrades will cost and what the return on investment will be. As the cost consultants for the construction industry, here are some questions they can help answer when it comes to green upgrades for your facility.

1) How costly is removing contaminated materials from my building?

Contamination is usually one of the largest costs of a green retrofit. The first step in the process of any such project is to get a designated substances report, which is not only an industry best practice but could also save you a lot of money as making the contaminated material a known condition avoids costly change orders later. Once the report is complete, a hazardous material management program and risk analysis for the construction and pre-occupancy phases can be created. With these in hand, all stakeholders can make informed decisions about what the best value option is for removal and how to make the process as efficient as possible. While most LEED credits would be earned through a full removal of the contamination, in some instances the contaminated material may be encapsulated to prevent exposure—for example, boxing the material in with drywall. However, this would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance with all LEED requirements. 

2) How much can I save on costs by reusing design features?

After figuring out what you have to remove and how much that will cost you, you’ll want to decide what existing elements to keep – and then rejoice at the amount of money that will save you. You not only earn green cachet by reusing preserved building elements, but it will also earn you LEED points. Are there wood columns in the building that can be enhanced with an ecologically-approved stain? Or can you reclaim any salvaged brick or wood and use that as cladding for the columns? While gutting and renovating a building is the perfect chance to completely redesign to your wishes, part of building green is working within the constraints of reusability. Quantity surveyors can help you navigate your budget to figure out which features are most cost effective to keep and which you can afford to let go of.

3) Are there any less obvious soft costs involved in a green retrofit?

Because green technologies are new, insurance companies sometimes consider them risks and this must be accounted for when planning a budget. For instance, when you are considering adding a green roof, you have to remember that this goes against the age-old instinct to keep water out of your building – thus your insurance cost could be higher after installation. For retrofits with a tighter budget, a quantity surveyor will be able to suggest some ways to offset this cost, such as going with a modular tray system rather than a fully developed soil system. Savings can also be found on ground-level landscaping, which can be designed for an arid climate and require less water and maintenance.

4) What about less obvious cost benefits to a green upgrade?

The Canadian and U.S. Green building councils assert – and have some stats to back up the fact that people who work within LEED certified buildings are less likely to call in sick. Not only are there less toxins in the building that would cause illness, some LEED features are designed to make for happier, more productive employees, ultimately positively benefitting a company’s bottom line. For instance, LEED credits can be earned by creating a working space where lighting, access views to daylight and climate control can be individually adjusted according to each employee’s need. As anyone who has worked in an office knows, some people are always hot and some are always cold – the end of that battle could itself be worth the cost.

5) OK, so I want to go for LEED certification. Which level should I aim for?

A quantity surveyor will go through each possible credit of the LEED scorecard to advise on the cost as it applies to your particular project – fitting these costs within your budget will ultimately decide which level to aim for. From the beginning, you’ll want to assess not only all of the things you can do to earn points, but all of the things that you cannot do or which are prohibitive cost wise. For example, you may want to add bicycle storage and shower facilities, but through a cost study realize that this cost is too great for a realistic return on your investment. Then there’s also the grey areas where quantity surveyors are perhaps the most valuable – for instance, working with a project’s designer on costing materials, they can use past experience and historical data to suggest affordable regionally sourced materials that will earn LEED credits.

6) Is it worth it?

Although a green retrofit presents constraints to any renovation, there’s no question that with the right cost planning, there will be a return on that investment. It may take many years – a Canadian Green Building Council report found that the average is about eight years on a retrofit, but ultimately an investment in a greener future can also make sound financial sense. 

Jeff Logan is a designated Professional Quantity Surveyor and past president of the Canadian Institute of Quantity Surveyors—Ontario. He currently works as an Estimating Manager at Turner Construction Company’s operations in Toronto and has been LEED accredited since 2009 

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