In a typical day, Bethesda Bungalows project manager Ryan Schulte juggles contracts, manuals, spreadsheets, checklists, and other documents for up to three houses under construction. He talks to clients, checks in on subcontractors at the jobsite, meets with the company’s green rater and project superintendent, and researches green products and materials.
It’s an exhausting but critical job in the green infill company’s quest for third-party certification. Schulte, the company’s point person for keeping projects on track for LEED certification, relies on a computer spreadsheet and a very large binder to monitor each of the company’s current projects. He follows the certification process using his own Excel program, which he based on the USGBC’s LEED checklist. Hard copies and other backup materials go into the three-inch binder.
“If you’re managing three projects--one Platinum, one Gold, and one Silver--it’s almost
impossible to keep those projects separate in your mind,” he says. “Somebody will ask ‘Did you get the contract for the countertops?’ and I won’t remember which project or manufacturer they’re talking about.”
Bethesda Bungalows is known for its high-end, high-performance dwellings built on infill lots in suburban Washington, D.C. Nearly all of them are LEED-certified and one, the Incredibly Green Home, was certified to the highest levels of both LEED and the ANSI National Green Building Standard.
One of the most important—and challenging--aspects of attempting third-party certification is making sure all subcontractors are on board with the program requirements. While the firm insists on pre-construction conferences and has a LEED pre-checklist meeting with its green rater for each project, Schulte always follows up with jobsite visits once construction starts.
“When a contractor gets into the field, you walk them through it and make sure they know how we want it done,” he says. “I know that’s very tedious but it’s the easiest way to do it.”
For example, even though the HVAC subcontractor knows that Bethesda Bungalows projects require the use of mastic, “more than likely, the person in the field doesn’t get that information so one person ends up using tape, and another mastic. The only way to prove that it’s being done right is to go through and double check.”
If something is not up to the company’s exacting standards, Schulte insists that it be redone, but he tries to avoid this by handpicking knowledgeable, experienced subs.
“A lot of guys think they want to jump into the green building field but not all of them stay in it because it’s a lot more tedious,” he says. “We’re building a better house, and it takes a lot more work.”
Other times, even with the best up-front planning, a project changes mid-construction. For example, the KellyGreen project’s geothermal heating and cooling system was nixed at the last minute after poor soil and excessive groundwater made drilling impossible.
Schulte took the news in stride, saying flexibility is the key to surviving the unpredictable nature of third-party-certified residential construction.
“You can’t assume from the beginning that anything is going to happen or that anything isn’t going to happen,” he says. “Nothing is guaranteed, including how many LEED points you will accumulate.”
Finding sustainable products and materials to achieve LEED points can be daunting, Schulte says. Some suppliers claim that their products are green but upon inspection he has found they don’t meet LEED requirements, such as the countertop manufacturer that claimed online that its tiles were locally sourced.
“Once you call them and say you need the tiles from within a 500-mile radius, the story changes,” he says.
Schulte keeps meticulous records for all green products used in the home such as the high-efficiency HVAC equipment that will replace the geothermal system, including the subcontractor contract, the supplier’s contract, the manufacturer instructions, and Manual J and Manual D information. He studies the specifics of each product and researches how it will work with the rest of the house.
“If you want to put a MERV-13 filter into your HVAC unit, you have to make sure that system is capable of handling the thickness of that filter,” he says. “You have to make sure that just because you’re trying to get points for the HVAC unit you don’t lose points for energy efficiency because you put in the wrong type of filter.”
Once the KellyGreen project is complete, Schulte will hand over a copy of all documents to Bethesda Bungalows’ green rater, Everyday Green, who in turn sends it to the LEED provider, Atlanta-based Southface Green Building Services. A few weeks later, Schulte will find out if theproject has been approved and to what level.
The company is hoping to secure LEED-Silver for the KellyGreen home but Schulte isn’t making any bets.
“That’s why when people say, ‘What are my points?’ or ‘What category will this house be in?’ I tell them nothing is guaranteed.”
Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.