The new Government Administration Building was the first LEED certified building in the Cayman Islands. Now James Whittaker and his company GreenTech are bringing the green building benchmark to residential properties here.
Sometime by the end of October, the owners will move into Cayman’s first LEED international programme certified residence. It will also be the first LEED International-certified residence in the world.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the US Green Building Council’s green building standard. Although there are more than 13,000 residential properties that have gained some level of LEED certification in the United States, until now LEED certification outside of the United States and its protectorates has been limited to commercial buildings. That changed when LEED International established a pilot programme for residences earlier this year.
Entities in only three countries – the Cayman Islands, China and Saudi Arabia – were chosen to participate in the pilot programme. GreenTech (Cayman) Ltd.’s house in Sunrise Landing called Sailfish Estate will be the first project completed in the programme.
James Whittaker, GreenTech’s founder and managing director, says the Sailfish Estate will set a new standard for energy efficiency and environmentally friendly design and construction in the Cayman Islands. His intentions are to continue developing green building practices not only here, but throughout the Caribbean.
Whittaker, who has a background in finance, became interested in green building a few years ago.
“My interest came from a personal belief and a personal desire to live in a more sustainable way,” he said. “It started as a personal interest, but developed into a national interest.”
Whittaker said he has spent the last few years learning all he could about green building and the LEED initiative. One of the things he’s learned is how cost effective green building is.
“One of the big myths is it costs too much to be green,” he said. “I would argue the opposite: it costs too much not to be green.”
With the Sailfish Estate home, Whittaker said it cost about seven per cent more to build the home to LEED standards and the result is a home that is 70 per cent more energy efficient than the average home. When the energy model on the 5,400-square-foot home was conducted earlier this year, it was estimated that the average monthly electricity bill based on the CUC rates at time would only be $217.
In addition, LEED-certified homes will provide a healthier quality of air and also reduce fresh water consumption. By using sustainable materials, LEED-certified homes will also help protect the environment globally.
“The point is, from an economic and environmental standpoint, this makes absolute sense,” Whittaker said.
“The process to LEED certify a home is not onerous; the cost to LEED certify a home is not onerous; but the benefits are tremendous.”
To help educate construction industry professionals about LEED practices in general and LEED for Homes in particular, Whittaker arranged for three experts on the subject to speak at a seminar held inside one of the cinemas at Hollywood Theaters at Camana Bay on 18 August.
Among the speakers besides Whittaker were Courtney Baker, the USGBC residential operations manager from Washington, DC; Stace McGee of the company Green Insight in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Robert Cannellos, the president of the USGBC South Florida chapter.
Baker said the USGBC, which was founded in 1993, had more than 18,000 members companies and some 200,000 individual members.
He said the USGBC was committed to expanding sustainable building practices across the United States and now the world within a generation, which he defined as 30 years. To do this, it provides a number of educational programmes, hosts international conferences and established the LEED accreditation programme.
Baker said LEED uses a consensus-based rating system that is periodically revised based on input from USGBC members. The next rating revision will take place in 2012.
There are now four levels of LEED certification – certified, silver, gold and platinum.
Baker said the high cost of electricity in Cayman means it makes even more economic sense here.
“The payback period [in Cayman] is about one-half the time it is in the US – probably even [less],” he said, noting that electricity here was about four times the cost paid in Washington DC where he lives.
Baker said that in the United States, about 40 per cent of the LEED certified homes are affordable housing.
“The cost of going green doesn’t have to be anything great.”
In the United states, there are about 57,000 LEED registered residential units in about 13,000 LEED-certified residential building, Baker said. About half of those buildings are single-family homes, with the other half being multi-family homes.
He said the LEED certification looked at a number of criteria, including the building site; materials used; indoor air quality; energy usage; and water usage.
“What comes out of this [certification criteria] is a healthy, comfortable, durable, energy-efficient home that is environmentally responsible,” Baker said.
Although Whittaker has relied on LEED consultants like McGee to help him build Sailfish Estate to the benchmark standard, the goal is for GreenTech to provide that service to other builders here in Cayman.
“We are hands down here to teach people how to [teach LEED],” said McGee. “There is nothing green about getting on a plane and coming here all the time to show them.”
McGee said the popularity of LEED in the United States has grown very quickly in the last few years.
“It’s amazing how many people have been buying on even in a down-market.”
There are 18 prerequisites for a LEED-certified home. McGee said it was very important for LEED consultants to be involved from the beginning, during the design process. Not doing this would likely cost more in the end for those seeking LEED certification, he said.
The first step in building a LEED-certified home is engaging a LEED for Homes Provider. The provider can help consult on the design and determine if the project fits the programme. If it does, the project can be registered with the USGBC and a preliminary rating obtained.
During various stages of construction, a LEED for Homes Green Rater does inspections and verifies and tests the various green elements of the home and submits the findings to the provider.
McGee said the vigorous third-party verification and performance testing was what gave LEED for Homes its credibility and made it a desired standard to differentiate a home, building or development from other offerings.
With regard to multi-family residential projects, McGee said this was a huge part of the LEED for Homes programmes.
“It’s pretty easy to be LEED accredited for a multi-family building,” he said, adding that because developers could take advantage of economies of scale for multiunit projects, they were more cost effective.
LEED for Homes certification is only applicable for buildings that are one to three storeys high. However, there’s a pilot programme now offered called LEED for Homes Midrise for buildings with four to six storeys, where at least half of the total area of the building was for residential use.
Because LEED is always evolving and there’s a way for even high-rise buildings to be green, McGee said that in the future he would expect to see buildings of any height be eligible for some sort of LEED certification.
As for the cost of getting a LEED certified home, McGee said there were four basic cost categories including getting through the learning curve; design and construction; verification; and the registration and certification costs.
For single-family homes, the registration and certification costs would be $450, with volume pricing available for housing developments.
LEED for Neighborhood Development
Cannellos spoke about another USGBC initiative concerning green development.
“It’s about encouraging people to live in tighter communities and not to sprawl, so we leave some natural beauty,” he said.
He presented slides that showed the sprawl that has taken place in Florida over the past few decades, the kind of thing the USGBC would like to see curtailed.
In response, the USGBC developed an initiative called LEED for Neighborhood Development, which includes development philosophies like Smart Growth and New Urbanism.
Cannellos praised Camana Bay as a excellent example of New Urbanism. As part of the presentation he makes wherever he speaks on LEED for Neighborhood Development, he shows a slide of Camana Bay.
Some of the elements embraced by these green neighbourhoods include highly walkable streets; compact, mixed-use buildings; and community spaces.
Other elements include the use of bioswales for drainage; green roofs with gardens; green walls covered with ivy or other vegetation; and the use of water catchment devices like cisterns, which can be used as part of a building’s design element.
Government Administration Building
During part of the seminar, the attendees introduced themselves and gave a little bit of their career history.
One attendee was architect Jim Scott, the project manager for the new Government Administration Building, Cayman’s first LEED-certified building.
Scott, who gave the three guest speakers a tour of the building the day before, said he had learned a lot about LEED during the construction of the Government Administration Building and that he was impressed by the economies of the building.
He said the old Government Administration Building, the Glass House, had about 26,000 square feet of usable, air-conditioned office space and that the monthly electric bill was about $40,000. The new building has about 185,000 square feet of usable air-conditioned office space. Although it has more than seven times the usable, air-conditioned space of the Glass House, he said the monthly electricity bill was about $85,000 per month, just a little more than double what it was at the Glass House.
“I think that clearly demonstrates what [green building] can do,” Scott said, adding that he estimated that the extra costs incurred by building green would pay for themselves in savings within five years.