Sustainable Leadership / Health Care for the Homeless

“ From the beginning we could sense Harkins' complete commitment to the sustainable goals of the project, which gave us confidence in them as a contractor that was not cutting LEED corners. ”

Sustainable Leadership

The Challenge

Harkins Builders welcomed the opportunity to join our client and their architect in a leadership role in sustainable construction. With CFO Mary Jean Herron championing the effort, Health Care for the Homeless was commited to building their new clinic and headquarters according to principles of sustainable design and construction. The building would provide a healthy environment for clients and staff, be energy efficient, and reflect the values of social responsibility at the core of the organization. Harkins’ challenge was to understand our client’s green goals and to help achieve them without adding significantly to the construction cost.

The Solution

From our earliest review of the project plans and specifications for HCH, green was at the forefront. Our estimators and project manager gave special attention to the green elements of the project and conveyed them to our subcontractors and suppliers. Subcontractor selection criteria included their experience with the materials and protocols that were required by the project, such as Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), Energy Efficiency, and Recycled Content. Subcontractors are becoming increasingly sophisticated and specialized in green construction, which means there are fewer problems encountered in the field and and an easier submission process for LEED documentation.

The importance of project specifications cannot be overstated. While the plans contain many crucial details relating to green construction, such as green roofing and storm water management details, it is the specifications that make the difference. Beginning with estimating and continuing through field supervision, Harkins provided a thorough review of the project specifications. Harkins designated a LEED Accredited Professional to review all subcontractor submittals to determine their acceptability. Having the LEED AP review all submittals streamlines the review process. Additionally, green elements touch all parts of the project, and a single reviewer helps to ensure compliance during all phases of construction.

Once materials were approved through the submittal process, the focus shifted to enforcement in the field. All members of the site team were trained to recognize correct materials and, if necessary, reject those that did not meet requirements, such as levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Vigilance was the key. Deliveries were examined on a daily basis and project goals were reinforced at weekly subcontractor meetings. Healthy IAQ is a requirement of any LEED project. To achieve this, HVAC systems and absorptive materials were protected from possible contamination. Regular inspections ensured that ducts were being protected from moisture and dirt. Likewise, materials such as drywall and acoustical ceiling tiles were kept covered, and good housekeeping was the rule.

For several LEED credits there is flexibility in how they can be achieved. A prime example is Construction Waste Management (CWM). CWM options tend to revolve around whether materials will be sorted on-site or off. At HCH, Harkins chose to sort off-site. The very small (one-half acre) construction site meant that there was simply not enough area available to lay down multiple dumpsters for on-site segregation of waste. Another limitation of multiple dumpsters is that their use needs to be policed. Harkins determined that it was unrealistic to expect 100% compliance with the segregation of waste. So, all waste went into one dumpster, with wood, metals, plastics, paper, and concrete sorted at an off-site facility, eliminating the possibility of contamination, and therefore saving costs. CWM is one of LEED’s most readily achievable points. Harkins is proud to have contributed to a recycling rate of 85% on the HCH project.

All LEED credits require the submission of documentation. This is accomplished through LEED Online. This website,, provides a single location where the entire project team can upload information related to their specific responsibilities. Additionally, the website allows the team to monitor the overall green progress of the project. Among the resources that can be found on this website are templates, handy calculators, and helpful databases.

HCH’s goal of LEED Gold required that we achieve between 39 and 51 points. Harkins directly contributed to approximately 25% of this goal, with most of our efforts in the areas of Materials and Resources and Indoor Air Quality. Harkins is proud that HCH surpassed its goals for the recycled content of materials and for the use of regional materials, and that a healthy working environment was maintained both during and after construction.

The Results

Most importantly, the building is providing a healthy environment in which the staff of HCH can serve the needs of their clientele. From a practical standpoint, it is anticipated that there will be a 20% reduction in energy costs to associated with this building. In a broader sense, this building being built on sustainable principles stands as an example of HCH’s commitment to social responsibility, and the project has already received recognition from USGBC Maryland as Project of the Year for New Construction in 2009. The project was certified Gold in November of 2009.

Three important lessons are shared with future builders of sustainable projects:

  • Bring in your general contractor early in the process to reduce change orders.
  • Delivering a green building does not have to increase costs.
  • Be imaginative about how you achieve your LEED credits.