Revisiting the merits of LEED buildings

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by Korky Koroluk last update:Oct 9, 2014

CONSTRUCTION CORNER - A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about a study out of the University of California that shows that people working in LEED buildings appear no more satisfied with the quality of their indoor workplace environments than those who work in conventional buildings.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

The study appears to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which tells us that employees are happier and more productive working in LEED-certified buildings. And there are studies that demonstrate that.

So far, so good.

I pointed out that those studies also considered such factors as building layout, the amount of time spent at work, and many other factors as well.

Then, I goofed.

I said the authors of the California study didn’t take those other factors into consideration in their study. That was wrong. They did consider them, as I was informed by Stefano Schiavon, who works at UC Berkeley’s Centre for the Built Environment.

Schiavon, and his co-author, Sergio Altomonte, of the University of Nottingham, worked with a huge sample size, assessing the responses of more than 10,000 occupants of 65 LEED buildings, and more than 11,000 occupants of 79 non-LEED buildings.

Schiavon even sent me some slides showing the study’s main results. The notes for one of them tell us that although occupant satisfaction in office buildings can be correlated to the indoor environmental quality, it can also be influenced by other, distinct parameters, like “building features, personal characteristics and work-related variables.”

The research team looked at “office type, spatial layout, distance from windows, building size, gender, age, type of work, time at the workspace and weekly working hours.”

So LEED certification alone might not have much influence on occupant satisfaction. And it’s possible that any positive value of LEED certification (from the occupants’ point of view) may tend to decrease with time.

I feel that Schiavon’s paper is important, which is why I suggested that green building councils in Canada and the United States might want to read it.

To make it easier for them Schiavon also gave me a source where the paper is available without charge.

>So if you want to read the whole thing, you’ll find a free copy at buildings

Thanks for the help, Stefano.

On another note, a team of students from Toronto’s Ryerson University has won a couple of American awards lately for its design of high-performance, single-family homes.

The latest win, just a few weeks ago, was in a competition run by the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The team calls itself Urban Harvest, and is made up of Patrick Andres, Mark Grimsrud, Antonio Cunha and Matthew Tokarik.

The 28 student teams were asked to develop cost-efficient designs that mainstream homebuilders can start using right away. In response, the Ryerson team came up with a net-zero-ready attached townhome design (and construction plans) that would, the judges said, fit well in any urban environment.

It won one of the two Grade Awards handed out to competitors. The other went to a team made up of students from three schools in the Syracuse, N.Y., area.

The earlier win for the Ryerson team was part of the Denver Super-Efficient Housing Challenge.

The team’s design boasted a 90 per cent reduction in annual energy consumption compared to an average Colorado home. The Ryerson design, along with those of four other challenge winners, will be built at the Denver Sustainability Park late this year.

The experience has been a good one for the student team members. Cunha, a graduate student in Ryerson’s department of Architectural Science, said the opportunity “to do this design in a real-world environment, on a building that is likely to actually be built, was an invaluable experience for us.”

Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to

last update:Oct 9, 2014

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