November 3 2008

Henry Gifford Suggests 'A Better Way to Rate Green Buildings'


Henry Gifford, in a recent research paper titled 'A Better Way to Rate Green Buildings', offers a well reasoned counter assessment of the USGBC's interpretation of energy efficiency in LEED buildings, specifically those results announced at the 2007 GreenBuild relating LEED certification to energy performance. In effect, he argues that there is disparity between the clear success LEED has had promoting a 'green' culture and the actual measured results in terms of energy use. Gifford even suggests that, based on his reading of the data, LEED buildings 'consume more energy that comparable buildings.' The paper closes by echoing many common complaints with the LEED system and then suggesting the system be abolished in favor of a method based on 'verifiable energy use measurements.'

To be honest this argument is not new. It is a common sentiment among many of the more experienced green building practitioners, especially those that worked in the field during the thirty years when sustainability existed only on the fringes of the building industry. Gifford approaches the discussion from a fresh point of view, and uses data supplied by the USGBC to make his case. Still, the line of reasoning follows a more strict definition of 'green' than is palatable to many industry participants and the general public and it will probably not reach the target audience in the same way the highly digestible LEED message can, which is unfortunate.

Mr. Gifford is a self-trained building scientist specializing in energy efficiency with a special focus on boiler systems. He is not new to the green building industry. Years of repairing, owning and designing buildings in NYC have taught him, through experience, how to make a building energy efficient. In fact, Gifford was recently dubbed 'The Boiler Man' in a fascinating article by The New Yorker magazine, because of his passion for building systems and the exhaustive three day tour he gives of NYC boiler rooms. In the closing quote from that article, Gifford describes the culture surrounding building system maintenance:

"[...] Boiler work has zero or negative social status. And this ratio also influences the quality of work to be gotten from a person working in that field. In the basement, there?s money, but there?s no status. This doesn?t mean you?re dumb if you work in the basement. It just means that you?re not expected to be smart. The fact is, excellence is not expected in the basement.?

This is a profound and spot-on statement about the attitude we have towards facilities maintenance and building systems. Such attitudes are a significant obstacle to buildings being more energy efficient, and will have to change in order for progress to be made. Interestingly it appears Gifford's passion began with a simple question about a discrepancy between a few buildings he managed. He asked himself why 'one building used four times as much fuel as another [of comparable size].' I imagine that he set about finding out the 'why' by actually going into the boiler room and finding out, and from there stems the crux of his argument, that predictions and simulations do not translate into real world energy efficiency. The design is only one part of a larger set of imperatives that must be fulfilled in order to achieve energy efficiency.

The research paper is definitely worth a read for anyone wanting a rounded perspective on the USGBC and LEED. I tend to agree on the general point that LEED is not concentrated enough on energy efficiency and that there needs to be a much more rigorous analysis of the energy consumption of LEED vs non-LEED buildings. It seems to me that now we need to find a diplomatic way to ensure energy efficiency becomes part of the milieu of the building industry. Sooner or later we will have no choice.

For more information visit Henry Gifford's website or watch the following video of him lecturing on the subject.

Leave a Comment

Thanks, your comment is awaiting approval.


November 3rd, 2008 at 10:58 PM

Jay Corrales

While I enjoyed the great points posed by Gifford in his analysis of improvements in rating energy efficiency of green buildings, the analysis falls short on integrating the other resource categories of LEED. For example, in Southern California and other areas where water is pumped in from afar, water efficiency and water conservation is also an important factor in the energy efficiency of a building. In CA, approximately 25% of energy consumed in the state is used to pump water. In addition, closeness to services that are walking or biking distance is also an important factor since much fossil fuel energy is consumed in the U.S. for powering private automobiles. Materials also have their associated embodied energy depending on how the raw materials were extracted and how far they came from for manufacturing, assembly, and distribution. These are only a few examples. In sum, this is a great analysis of one area of the rating system that needs to be looked at, but perhaps the report is mis-named in that the scope is not of all green building but rather a valuable subset of the field which is to decrease the energy consumed in the operation of buildings.

November 3rd, 2008 at 11:34 PM » Blog Archive » Scathing review of energy efficiency in LEED

[...] I enjoyed the great points posed by Henry Gifford in his analysis of improvements to be made in rating the energy efficiency of green buildings, the analysis falls short on integrating the other resource categories of [...]

September 18th, 2010 at 3:26 PM


Gifford's analysis is actually spot on. The guy provides data, measurements and stats. Knowing him, I can only say that collection of data takes time and money. He's been self funded. nuff said. ;-)