Green building projects are small portion of new development - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Green building projects account for small portion of new development

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Sioux Falls has been breaking building records for the past two years; things are already well above average this year, with $109 million in building permits from January to March.

But not many of these new building projects are thinking green. Only a small percentage of new constructions in South Dakota are working toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—better known as LEED certification.

At the end of 2013, only 32 commercial buildings in South Dakota were LEED certified. Part of the problem is the added cost.

"The first cost is somewhat higher, just depending on the strategies that you use," said Koch-Hazard Architect Stacy McMahan who specializes in LEED certified buildings.

Things like adding more windows, installing water-saving plumbing and recycling more construction materials are all ways to earn points toward LEED certification, but they're not always the cheapest options.

"There are some strategies that are more expensive than others...something that's becoming more popular is geothermal….which is an increased cost, but it has a really short payback period. With volatile energy prices, you just don't know what they're going to do…geothermal is a good long term solution so you won't be worried about energy prices," said McMahan.

In fact, nearly all of the added expense of LEED's energy efficient measure will end up paying off after about three to five years.

"Initially LEED does cost some money up front...but with the energy savings over time, 15:25:49 we're saving approximately 30,000 dollars a year on this building and energy costs over the previous year, so it does pay off and we anticipate we'll probably improve on that," said Hugh Dodson, the Corporate Facilities Manager with Raven Industries in Downtown Sioux Falls.

Raven Industries has been remodeling their historic corporate headquarters over the past three years, all to meet LEED's Gold Level Certification.

The additional construction measures are not only about energy savings, there's also a less tangible benefit of creating a more attractive working environment for employees and customers.

"We're just trying to provide a good work environment for a lot of our employees, just good natural light, even temperature…and just a good working environment. It attracts, we believe better customers, and we differentiate ourselves with potential employees," said Dodson.

Part of LEED Certification includes the building's proximity to public transportation and bike trails, along with employee locker rooms to encourage alternative transportation to work. With these attractive employee benefits, many people hope more LEED buildings will help draw skilled workers to Sioux Falls.

"The city is talking a lot about attracting talented, smart, young people; I think if the city's building owners demonstrate that in their projects, then they'll be walking the talk that a lot of the rest of the nation is already doing... that brings a long term economic benefit to the city on lots of different levels," said McMahan.

LEED Certified buildings have become extremely popular across the nation, but they've really just starting to catch on in South Dakota over the past decade. McMahan believes the trend toward environmentally conscious buildings will see a lot of growth over the next few years.

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