The LEED-certified building was hyped as a paragon of energy and resource efficiency, an earth-friendly edifice that would make residents proud and, not incidentally, save taxpayer dollars.
But like a thirsty tourist at a Seattle brew pub, the building gulped rather than sipped energy. The city ended up with monthly energy bills $3,000 to $5,000 higher than the bills generated by its predecessor, a 1960s-era municipal hall, according to a 2005 story from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
That year, Seattle City Light, the city’s electric power utility, audited City Hall. The audit found the new building consumed roughly 7,045 kilowatts of energy per day, up from 5,940 in the old municipal building, according to the newspaper.
Sandra Mallory, a green-building specialist with Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, said the new building is getting a lot more use than the old building, which could explain why it’s using more energy.
In a spring 2008 case study, Sergei Bischak, an architect and project manager for the new Seattle City Hall, conceded energy consumption was “higher than predicted.” The study blamed the performance in part on problems with the building’s under-floor air-distribution system, including “faulty diffusers and leaks at shaft connections between zones.”
Joe Lstiburek, a licensed engineer and principal of Massachusetts-based Building Science Consulting, doesn’t buy the oft-cited excuse that the occupants are to blame for poor building performance, or that the building is being used more intensely.
“That tells me that the buildings are a dog,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t know how to do them right. Less windows, more insulation. It’s easy.”
The Seattle City Hall’s exterior walls are 50 percent windows.
David Eijadi, a principal with the Weidt Group, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based firm that provides energy and design assistance for high-performance buildings, said comparing the new Seattle City Hall with the building it replaced is not fair.
The new building operates under an “entirely different scenario” with “different expectations about thermal comfort ratings,” Eijadi said.
The bottom line is LEED officials are “trying to find out what is working and what is not,” he said. And at least with LEED, “There is something to check. Without LEED, we would have no metric to check. So it’s still good news.”