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Opportunities for shade structures in the world of LEED

Features | September 1, 2013 | By:

Awnings, solar shades and shade structures can help reduce cooling energy use in both homes and commercial buildings, while improving their appearance and making the occupants more comfortable.

Both energy savings and occupant comfort are key aspects of U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED rating systems, so shade products should be an obvious option for LEED projects. But LEED is very particular about how energy savings are calculated, so manufacturers must be careful about what they promise their customers when it comes to LEED credits to be earned.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

Know your LEED lingo.

  • The name is LEED. Leeds is a city in England.
  • Be aware that a product cannot be LEED certified—only buildings (and neighborhoods) get certified. What manufacturers are able to promote is that a product “can contribute to the achievement of” certain LEED credits.
  • Recognize that there is a whole family of LEED rating systems and they have evolved through several generations over the past 15 years. Manufacturers can’t promise any specific contributions until they know which rating system and version a project is using.

Energy points in the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system (LEED-EBOM) are based on how much energy the building actually uses, as determined by its Energy Star score. So if an awning helps it use less energy, then it contributes to the points.

Major renovations go well beyond operations, though, so they are certified through one of the Building Design and Construction rating systems, such as LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC). LEED-NC offers points specifically for the adaptive reuse of older buildings, so that’s another place where awnings can contribute. Historic buildings are an especially good opportunity because older windows don’t have the shading factor available in new glass. Providing shade on those windows is a huge energy-saving opportunity.

Energy simulations require predictability. In LEED-NC and its siblings, energy points are awarded based on predicted energy cost savings compared with a defined base case. The rules governing these predictions are pretty strict—awnings that are either fixed or automatically controlled can be counted, but anything that requires a person to deploy the shading, either manually or with the help of a motor, can’t be counted.

LEED for Homes is a different animal. Because the home-building industry is so different from that of commercial buildings, the rating systems are different too. The assumption is incorrect that because your product contributes in one, it will also help in the other. An awning or canopy will contribute to energy points in LEED for Homes if the manufacturer can document the shading that it provides in a way that works for the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index software.

On the materials front, LEED has points for the use of products with recycled content. All steel and nearly all aluminum used for structural applications have at least some recycled content. If the manufacturer can find out exactly how much post-consumer and pre-consumer recycled content is in structural materials, they will have valuable information to provide the LEED design and construction team.

A product won’t have enough recycled material to earn a point for the project by itself, but it can contribute to the overall credit achievement. At this time LEED does not have a points system for anything that might be recyclable in the future.

A few other credits may or may not be relevant, depending on a range of factors. A few important ones to look into are:

  • Can the manufacturer provide a canopy to shelter bicycles for an apartment building or a dorm? That’s worth a point.
  • Does a canopy provide shade over walkways, patios or other hard surfaces that would otherwise heat up in the sun? Then it might contribute to the Heat Island Reduction credit.
  • Will a product help control glare while still allowing generous diffuse daylight into a building? If so, it could help the project earn a point for daylighting.
  • Can a product function as an exterior blind, preventing light from escaping out the windows at night? If so, it could contribute to Light Pollution Reduction.

The USGBC recently created a handy “Credit Library” that makes it easy to find the specific requirements for each credit and rating system, so refer to that for specifics. The options can be overwhelming and manufacturers have to study the LEED program in detail to learn its ins and outs. This primer should get you pointed in the right direction.

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