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Does It Pay to Green?

Over the last couple of decades, one movement in particular has been gathering momentum in the building industry, and even though it has yet to become ubiquitous, industry watchers warn that this will not be long in coming. Sooner rather than later, it will be the new normal.


This movement is green construction.

Codes versus LEED

When it comes to green construction, what are you, as a contractor, most likely to encounter? Stringent energy codes or LEED v4? The answer—you guessed it—is both.


While the ASHRAE standards and IECC and IgCC codes are in fact enforceable by the states and municipalities that have adopted them, LEED is a voluntary program.


Code Adaptation. According to, building energy codes will save U.S. home- and business-owners an estimated $126 billion and 841 million metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions through 2040, breaking down as follows (cumulative 2010–2040): $126 billion energy cost savings, 841 million metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions and 12.82 quads (quadrillions) BTU of primary energy.


These carbon dioxide savings equate to the annual emissions of 177 million passenger vehicles, or 245 coal power plants or 89 million homes.


ASHRAE 90.1-2013 and 2012/2015 IECC. There is no doubt that both the Department of Energy and states and cities throughout the United States view these savings as critical and are working hard to implement and enforce building codes that will achieve this: primarily ASHRAE 90.1-2013 for commercial and 2012/2015 IECC for residential.


As of September 2016, only three states (California, Washington and Maine) had implemented codes with higher efficiency than ASHRAE 90.1-2013, and only one state, Alabama, was meeting those energy standards. The majority of the states are still working to implement ASHRAE 90.1-2010, while eight states have yet to adopt mandatory energy standards of any form.


As for residential, the same three states have implemented codes specifying higher energy efficiency than 2012/2015 IECC, seven states are meeting those standards, while the majority of the states are at 2009 IECC working toward 2012/2015 IECC. Eight states have no mandatory residential energy codes on the books.


IgCC. The International Green Construction Code is a code aiming at a broader sustainability than the more energy focused IECC.


According to, the International Code Council’s International green Construction Code is an overlay code, meaning it is written in a manner to be used with all the other ICC codes.


Not unlike LEED, the IgCC contains provisions for site development and land use, energy efficiency, water conservation, material resource conservation and efficiency, indoor environmental quality and comfort, commissioning and operations and maintenance, and existing buildings. The energy efficiency provisions use the commercial provisions of the IECC as a basis, and then improve on them by generally increasing the efficiency of the IECC provisions by 10 percent. ASHRAE Standard 189.1 is also adopted, by reference in the IgCC, as an alternative path to compliance.


As of February 2017, municipalities in 14 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the 2015 IgCC.


LEED. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), as designed and promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council, is an acronym that more and more of us recognize these days. Perhaps we’re not exactly sure what it means, but it has something to do with “green,” this we know.


As a sustainability ratings system as opposed to an enforceable government code, LEED does not come with teeth, per se. Not so much stick, but quite a bit of carrot, since it has been well-documented that a well-executed LEED project will yield significant return on investment for the owner, both in terms of energy saving, employee comfort and satisfaction, as well as environmental goodwill.


Much evidence points to the fact that greener, healthier buildings—by being ergonomically superior—also increase employee productivity, drive down healthcare costs and make for fewer sick days. This, again, makes for good return on investment.


LEED v4. LEED v4 is the latest iteration of the LEED specification and the one the contractor is most likely to encounter in both the commercial and residential market places.

Bottom Lines

What contractor’s mind does not turn to the bottom line when asked to evaluate the pros and cons of green construction?


Keep in mind, though: There is more than one bottom line.


First, there is the owner’s short-term bottom line. This one is almost guaranteed to suffer in the green environment if for no other reason than costlier design, materials and construction. This, however, does not necessarily have to affect the contractor’s bottom line. In fact, the more expensive materials may afford the contractor a higher markup and so actually add to the contractor bottom line.


Second, there’s the owner’s long-term bottom line, which in virtually all cases shows a healthy return on investment for reasons discussed above.


Third, there’s the triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL). This is an accounting framework with three parts: People (Social), Planet (Environmental or Ecological) and Profit (Financial). Many organizations have adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective in order to create greater business value. When you factor in the human and environmental benefits to green construction, there is little doubt that it comes out ahead.


Lazy Bottom Line. The lazy bottom line is to look only at the man-hours “wasted” in sourcing the materials from within a 250-mile radius, in sorting the refuse into eco bins, in filling out LEED v4 paperwork and in learning how to handle greener building materials and sequencing.


Keep in mind, though, that the more experienced you become with LEED compliance and documentation, the faster and more efficiently you’ll perform.


Smart Bottom Line. A contractor who embraces LEED v4 with the longer view and 3BL in mind will see improvements sooner rather than later, not only in the bottom line but also in new business volume.

Greener Building Material

Perhaps the most significant immediate impact on the green bottom line are greener wallboards—the new lines of lightweight boards that require less raw material to manufacture, and that can contain as much as 95 percent recycled material. Due to their lighter weight, these boards are easier to install and put less strain on craftsmen—an improved ergonomics that may well translate into significantly higher production rates.

Green Experience—Competitive Edge

As more and more owners, both municipalities and private developers, embrace green construction in general and LEED v4 in particular, subcontractors with LEED experience will be at a premium.


Not only will general contractors in charge of a green project prefer subs with green experience, but those subs who have gained reputations as LEED or green experts may well be invited also onto the project as early as the design phase to contribute their expertise to the planning. Should you also have BIM (Building Information Modeling) experience, your invitation onto the project from the beginning would almost be a foregone conclusion.


This, needless to say, will over time greatly increase your number of projects and along with that, your bottom line.

Green Inexperience—Often Costly

LEED v4’s increased emphasis on building commissioning, which now includes actual testing of external air and water barriers, can impact the inexperienced contractor.


Should the building envelope fail the test—sometimes for reasons not even the contractor’s fault, such as incorrectly installed windows—the contractor will be liable for fixing the problem, at his or her cost. And there goes the bottom line out the window (pun intended).


The only way to ensure your portion of the construction passes any commissioning tests is to know precisely what you (and neighboring trades) are doing, so that you, proactively, can ensure that the envelope will meet the expected standards.


And yes, if you are unfamiliar with LEED and the green building process, and yet find yourself the winning bidder, you will spend an inordinate amount of time figuring things out and producing the requisite paperwork. Only experience will cure this ill and restore well-deserved profits.


As a marriage made in heaven, on paper EIFS and LEED should live happily ever after.


Most major EIFS manufacturers quite eagerly list the LEED categories that their EIFS products will contribute to, including building reuse, recycle content, construction waste management, thermal comfort and regional materials.


Adding EIFS to your green arsenal would be a very smart move.


AWCI’s EIFS—Doing It Right® education and certificate program offers you the opportunity to learn about the proper installation and inspection of EIFS according to industry standards.


It offers you the opportunity to earn a national certificate in one of three categories: EIFS Mechanic, EIFS Industry Professional and EIFS Inspector.


EIFS contractors whose employees hold certification through the EIFS—Doing It Right® program may be eligible to apply for the EIFSmart Contractor seal. This is another way that you can add value in your market, and so, long-term, substantially improve not only your People and Planet, but also you Profit bottom line.

A Consultant’s View

Charles Antone, consultant with Building Enclosure Science in Rhode Island, says, “Wall and ceiling contractors should think green because the projects that are doing LEED these days are all fairly high-end and provide good cost environments. As a sub, a LEED AP certification, along with experience, will pay itself back in spades.


“Also, even though LEED has been around for a while, the United States is finally catching up with the rest of the world. The sub needs to be ready for this, and if he gains a reputation as a green expert, he’ll be invited to larger, more profitable bids in a less-crowded market.”


“The best way to get there would be for the sub to go through actual training and certification followed by the experience of working several successful LEED projects.”

A Manufacturer’s View

Rik Master, FAIA, LEED AP and senior manager of sustainability at United States Gypsum Corporation, says, “While today, it is primarily owners and architects who are concerned about building better, more efficient buildings, it is still the contractor who must make this happen on site.


“Realizing this, some architectural firms have now begun bringing GCs and subs aboard at a project’s planning stage to help shape and realize its green objectives and sustainable goals. However—and this is key—only those subs who are trained and ready for green construction will be selected for these key and growing jobs.


“So, understanding and employing green practices can and will give subs access to a larger pool of job opportunities which in turn will establish them as key partners on future building projects.”


Joe Koenig, president of Trim-Tex, Inc., an Illinois manufacturer, says, “The main reason a subcontractor should care about green is that they will run into green projects, and they’ll need to work them when they do. If a LEED project is mandated, they have to know how to go about it.


“As for the bottom line, short-term I think LEED projects might hurt it, but as subs train and experience green construction and sequencing and grow more proficient—and with that acquire a market reputation for green expertise—that would land them more jobs and this will certainly improve their long-term bottom line.


“Let me just add that Trim-Tex has been a green company for 47 years now. We’ve been green since before they even talked about green. We recycle over 25 million pounds of PVC each a year: We punch over a billion holes a day, and we recycle 100 percent of these punch-outs. I believe that all wall and ceiling material manufacturers can and should do more to produce greener products.”

A Contractor’s View

Lee Zaretzky, owner of Ronsco in New York City asks and answers: “Why should a wall and ceiling contractor think about, train and plan for green construction? Because green construction has arrived. It is here, and it’s here to stay—you will not see a reversal. Are seatbelts going away? Are they going to re-think drunk driving and decide that it’s a good thing? Never. And with the global warming questions looming, today there is no downside to green construction.


“Also, green construction skills are another avenue of contractor expertise, another way of creating value in the market place.


“As for the contractor’s bottom lines, short- and long-term, any sub out there needs to embrace the triple-bottom-line of people, planet and profit. They have to think long-term.


“Really, these days you can obtain green products at hardly any premium cost; both highly recycled ceiling tiles and wallboards. Steel, by nature, uses a high degree of recycled materials. Manufacturers have incorporated sustainable techniques and products; high VOC adhesives have disappeared. The non-green ship has sailed.


“Still, many areas in our country don’t see the value of green construction, but this is a social, a cultural, thing. NYC is very liberal, and so is California. We build not only for profit, but for people and the planet as well. More and more states and municipalities are catching up. Green is never going away. Green construction is now the new normal in New York City.


“You have to change with the times. If the market changes more rapidly than your organization, you’re in trouble.”


Like it or not, LEED and Green Construction has arrived—perhaps more so in some parts of the country than others, but arrived nonetheless. In the not-too-distant future, green construction and construction will be synonymous, and when that day arrives, you need to be ready to play.


And yes, it does pay to green.

California-based Ulf Wolf is the senior writer at Words & Images.

Note: Robert Grupe, AWCI’s technical director, was putting the final touches on an upcoming hour-long AWCI webinar on LEED v4 when we spoke with him in May. If this webinar has already taken place at the publication of this article, it will have been recorded and be available online at

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