Mounting evidence that LEED certified buildings do not save energy

Two recent publications provide corroborating evidence that LEED-certified buildings, on average, do not save primary energy.  One of these looks at energy consumption for 24 academic buildings at a major university.  The other looks at energy consumption by LEED-certified buildings in India.  In both cases there is no evidence that LEED-certification reduced energy consumption.

The study of academic buildings is found in the article entitled “Energy use assessment of educational buildings: toward a campus-wide susainability policy” by Agdas, Srinivasan, Frost, and Masters published in the peer-reviewed journal Sustainable Cities and Societies.  These researchers looked at the 2013 energy consumption of 10 LEED-certified academic buildings and 14 non-certified buildings on the campus of the University of Florida at Gainesville.  They appear to have considered site energy intensity (site EUI) rather than my preferred metric, source energy intensity.  Nevertheless their conclusions are consistent with my own — that LEED certified buildings show no significant energy savings as compared with similar non-certified buildings.  This is also consistent with what has been published now in about 8 peer-reviewed journal articles on this topic.  Only one peer-reviewed article (Newshem et al) reached a different conclusion — and that conclusion was rebutted by my own paper (Scofield).  There are, of course, several reports published by the USGBC and related organizations that draw other conclusions.

The second recent publication comes out of India.  The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) — India’s equivalent of the USGBC — of its own accord posted energy consumption data for 50 of some 450 LEED certified buildings.  Avikal Somvanshi and his colleagues at the Centre for Science and the Envionment took this opportunity to analyze the energy and water performance of these buildings, finding that the vast majority of these LEED-certified buildings were underperforming expectations.  Moreover, roughly half of the 50 buildings failed even to qualify for the Bureau of Energy Efficiency’s (BEE) Star Rating (India’s equivalent of ENERGY STAR).  The results were so embarrassing that the IGBC removed some of the data from their website and posted a disclaimer discounting the accuracy of the rest.  In the future no doubt the IGBC will follow the practice of the USGBC of denying public access to energy consumption data while releasing selected tidbits for marketing purposes.

How long will the USGBC and its international affiliates be afforded the privilege of making unsupported claims about energy savings while hiding their data?

8 thoughts on “Mounting evidence that LEED certified buildings do not save energy

  1. I’m glad to have your voice on this. There is zero accountability in most of the EE space. It’s a real shame, because little progress has been made in years. It remains the domain of the best liar, not of the best practitioner. HERS ratings have been found to be off by 75% in some cases, where they are not supposed to be off by more than 2-3%. Without actual energy use, it’s just smoke and mirrors.

    • I recently attended a talk at the 2015 Internaltional Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC) in which Abram Conant described an experiment in which they hired six HERS raters to inspect and rate four different homes to estimate energy use and make efficiency upgrade recommendations. The six raters all vastly over-estimated the energy use and potential savings. It is a scandal. The paper is:

      Click to access 157.pdf

  2. I am a building envelope consultant coming from the “weather effect-ability” construction end of the equation. This is great information. For the longest time we in the contracting/installation/application side have been questioning the validity of the LEEDS methodology. It has been more from considering the practicality of LEEDS based on the initial higher costs for design, materials, installation,inspections, commissioning, etc, which would then lead us to question “How much savings is all this actually going to get the owner?” As usual – it seems that having common sense concerning real world install & usage, while understanding human behavior, wins again over what might look good on paper or might seem good in the theoretical, touchy-feely discussions of the learn-ed folks at the USGBC and AIA. Thank you so much for filling in some of the blanks. Have you sent this information to Mr Gore?

  3. AS a HERS rater and someone who has performed weatherization on over 200 homes I agree that many times the end savings are not realized. However the projection made seldom meet the expectations to be expected because of outside factors and not just the projected savings which are not adjusted to real world conditions. New furnaces without new duct-work will never meet expectations however they will save money. Chasing air leakage is impossible to meet expectations as air always will find a new point to enter but it is still better to try to reduce leakage than ignore the problem. When the family thinks they might reduce energy do they turn up the heat or turn down the cooling as they can do so more efficiently now ? After saving energy money do they buy a new TV and use more energy with 3 instead of the 2 they currently had ? What I am trying to say it might not be the projections but it is more likely to be a combination of factors affecting the final savings. Another concern I have with people making these comments on the projected savings and the costs related to them often do not take into account other material conditions that need to be addressed which will not save energy but are required to be done

    • Jim,
      I agree with the comments you have made concerning real world construction conditions and client’s outlying decisions that impact the reality of creating an energy efficient building. My take on what Prof. Scofield is presenting here is that the LEEDS program expectations are flawed because the initial assumptions and the calculation models are not based in fact. Take a look at some of the references he has made in this posting, particularly the youtube presentation of August 21, 2014 at: Prof. Scofield brings a dose of reality to the energy savings discussion table that isn’t hardly ever heard, especially coming from within the GREEN building community.

      Don’t get me wrong – I am a big believer in the need for utilizing prudent energy efficient construction whenever and however possible – but those decisions need to be based in verifiable (often common sense) projections/results rather than a sales, or worse, political agendas.

    • Jim I appreciate your comments as someone who has been working in this area. No doubt there are many excellent HERS raters (presumably you are one) who do a great job of steering homeowners to cost-effective energy upgrades.

      The issues you raise are not, however, relevant in the study I mentioned. The four houses that were audited by the HERS raters were actually not occupied but their energy use was instrumented (along with electronic versions of occupants). The disparity between the energy use estimated by the HERS raters and the actual use was not due to occupant choices. For one of the four houses that was audited all six of the HERS raters recommended windows upgrades — failing to recognize the house already had thermal pane windows!

      So while the issues you raise may well be important, they are not the issues identified in this study.

      I, too, am a strong advocate of cost-effective implementation of energy efficiency upgrades. But I am concerned that we are throwing lots of money at programs and methodologies that are not demonstrating savings. In the end measured savings is the final metric.

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