By Tad Stoner, Inside Out
Builders peg the cost of a LEED-certified home in the Cayman Islands at seven percent more than a standard home, but say energy savings alone will pay the extra in three years or less.
The home continues to pay for itself throughout that life cycle, even generating a profit if connected to the Consumer Owned Renewable Energy program run by Caribbean Utilities Company.
And that, builders say, culminates in as much as a 20 percent increase in resale value compared to conventional homes.
An abbreviation for “leadership in energy and environmental design,” LEED was developed in 1998 by the U.S.-based Green Building Council seeking efficient use of resources, particularly energy and water.
The certification is now being adopted across the globe.
Michael Joseph, RE/MAX partner, lists 16 private LEED homes in Cayman; nine either completed or under construction, and seven more in design.
In fact, one of the 16, Savannah’s “Sailfish,” built in 2011, was, Mr. Joseph says, the first international LEED-certified home in the world.
Another six commercial buildings are LEED-certified, including the islands’ first “platinum” office, Mary Street’s Arch & Godfrey building, accredited in 2016.
According to the company’s website, the building started as a 100-year-old Caymanian wooden cottage … completely restored [using] all original materials. Features include the highest-efficiency solar system by SunPower, high energy-efficiency ratings, natural lighting, native landscaping and structural integrity to withstand Category 5 hurricanes.”
He says Arch & Godfrey Managing Director Garth Arch has, since LEED certification, never paid an electricity bill.
“In fact, negative $15 was his last bill,” meaning CUC has paid Arch & Godfrey for its CORE-generated power.
The Green Building Council certifies buildings on four levels, awarded on a 100-point scale: a simple “certified” means a score between 40 and 49 points; “silver,” between 50 and 59 points; “gold,” between 60 and 79 points; and “platinum,” 80 points and more.
The rating system has evolved since the original 1998 version and, overall, the system is based on accepted energy and environmental principles, according to a council report, striking a balance among known, established practices and emerging concepts.
Each rating system has five categories: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality.
Each category requires builders to fulfill at least one prerequisite, then lists as many as 15 features that garner LEED points.
An additional “innovation in design” category nods toward sustainable building expertise. LEED 2009 established regional bonus points, underscoring the importance of local conditions in determining best environmental design and construction practices.
The entire network has virtually exploded in recent years. Version 4 offers rating systems for “building design and construction” in 10 categories, including schools, hospitals, warehouses, data centers, retail operations, and both single- and multi-family homes in low-rise and mid-rise buildings. There are also checklists for new construction and major renovation; and core and shell development.
LEED arrived in the Cayman Islands in 2010, when the Green Building Council selected the jurisdiction along with Saudi Arabia, India and China for its international pilot program for residential structures.
Cayman remains the only LEED provider in the Caribbean, according to Mr. Whittaker.
“It was a coup that we got ahead,” he says. “We started right away building Sailfish.”
Essentially, LEED means a “good sustainable design,” which Mr. Whittaker calls 80 percent of the battle.
The right “box” – roofs, walls, windows and doors – yields almost zero energy consumption.
It is 95 percent free of indoor – and carcinogenic – volatile organic compounds such as pastes, glues, plaster, stucco and adhesives.
It also largely eliminates ventilation to the outside – particularly near roads; filters water to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, particularly for chlorine content; and eliminates, as far as possible, polyvinyl chloride piping, a source of lethal chemical contamination.
Builders at Naul Bodden’s NCB Group have replaced as much PVC as possible in South Sound’s Tides and Crystal Harbour’s Solara projects, using PEX – cross-linked polythene – piping, often called the future of the plumbing industry.
John van Ryswyk, owner of GeoCayman and consultant to NCB, says LEED requires builders to get rid of PVC piping, solvents and glue, and points out that cracked and broken PVC can waste as much as 10,000 gallons of water.
PEX, which runs through conduit, can isolate a building‘s water-delivery systems, much like a fuse box isolates electrical systems, cutting off faulty sections without affecting others.
NCB, while not building to full LEED standards, nonetheless employs geothermal air-conditioning and CORE-linked solar power, augmented with battery storage.
Most of NCB’s Cypress Pointe homeowners pay no CUC bills, while others have reduced power costs by 60 to 80 percent, and could easily get to zero with modest refitting.
Dart Realty’s Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, which opened in November, and its 62 associated residences, are on track to join the ranks of less than 200 resort-residential properties worldwide with a LEED silver rating, according to a company sustainability factsheet.
As a hotel operator, Kimpton prides itself on being ahead of the curve for sustainability, the factsheet says, noting that the more-than-65 Kimpton hotels, in more than 30 U.S. cities, are certified by the Green Key Eco-Rating Program, an alternative rating organization to the Green Building Council.
Geothermal air conditioning cools residences and rooms while a rooftop solar array features 469 SunPower panels that supply most hotel needs.
Savings between 50 and 80 percent of standard lighting costs are achieved with 7,500 LED bulbs, while two 30,000-liter cisterns collect rainwater, augmented by a ground-level reverse-osmosis desalinization system.
Its One Nexus Way twin will open in October with its own LEED gold rating.
As early as March 2012, the Government Administration Building became Cayman’s first LEED-certified structure, with a silver rating.
Finally, RE/MAX’s Mr. Joseph says while LEED-certified homes had been difficult to find locally, both Mr. Whittaker and Jim Knapp, managing director of Endless Energy, boosted awareness of the issues, becoming his “go-to” people.
“They are lead advisers in the field with certifications and the experience to back it up,” he says. “Now, not only are there new-builds and a few companies specializing in green, energy-saving homes, but also renovating and upgrading existing homes is a big and growing market.
“Many contractors can provide elements of green technology, but tying it all together so it’s the real deal, truly long-lasting and efficient, then it becomes vitally important that you speak to the professionals.”