Five Things you Should Know Before you Start your Next LEED Project

Green building has been dominated by the LEED rating system over the last decade. With LEED 2009 as the only option you can use now, and with LEED 2012 coming out soon, here are five things you should know before you decide to go green with the USGBC.

1. LEED 2009 is a lot more complex than the earlier versions. In the past, specific categories such as existing buildings or commercial interiors had its own system – each with its own reference guide. LEED 2009 has tried to combine several of the reference guides into one book. The result is that it’s very easy to misunderstand what is required for achieving credits. This can cause havoc for newbies to the system. Moreover, there are supplement reference guides for systems such as LEED for Healthcare. The LEED for Healthcare reference guide changes large chunks of requirements for certain credits to meet the needs of hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The problem is that the guide doesn’t answer many of your questions about how credits are applied to real-world projects. It can leave you guessing whether you are doing the right things to get the points you need. Of course, you can pay for a credit interpretation but that seems to defeat the purpose of having a reference guide.

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2. LEED used to be the only game in town, now you have choices. Make sure LEED fits best to your industry and your goals of connecting with your consumers. Though LEED for Healthcare reference guide isn’t the best document to come out of the USGBC, the rating system is the best green certification in the industry. Healthcare is behind many other sectors when it comes to green buildings. Thankfully, the USGBC saw the need to increase healthcare providers access to the rating system. LEED is the most popular rating system in the world, and most recognizable. Maybe if you are in the building industry, you’ve heard of HK-BEAM, BREEAM or Passive House, but it’s unlikely.
If you are going green for the good of mass market appeal, LEED is ideal.

However, if you are an hotelier in the Caribbean, Central America, Florida or another resort area, you may want to look at Green Globe or Blue Flag. These two certifications target hospitality, marinas, beaches and tourism specifically, and both have domestic and international penetration. If you are trying to do a project that is pushing the limits of green building or wants to stand out as something more than just another green building, you should look at the Living Building Challenge rating, or it’s supplemental rating system for NetZero system. Be forewarned, you will need an experienced team of green professionals to make your Living Building a reality.

3. LEED 2009 is harder than the older versions such as LEED-NC v2.2 or LEED-CI v2.0. Being harder also means you will most likely need to spend more on design services. Make sure you have a design team that knows how to play well with others. Integrated project planning and design is a prerequisite. Most design professionals aren’t trained nor are comfortable in truly collaborative situations. So get a group of passionate designers that are passionate about design and sustainability. You’ll likely come away with a LEED Gold project within budget that will start paying for itself from the moment you turn on the lights.

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Also, whole building simulation, computational fluid dynamics and other building information modeling are integrated into credits. These types of simulations can be expensive, and you should use companies that love doing this type of work. These additional services, if done correctly, will pay for themselves too. Plus, they are super cool and extremely helpful for designing a highly sustainable, high performance project. It’s worth the extra cash.

4. Don’t expect to sleepwalk your way into a certified project. I’ve witness several LEED 2009 projects where the architects and/or developer thought that they could just do what they’ve always done to get the minimum rating. LEED 2009 requires 40 points to even finish in fourth place. Credits that use to give you 2 or 3 points now don’t, and others that use to be freebies aren’t so free anymore. Word on the street is that LEED 2012 amps it up even more, and that the difficulty will be twice as hard. So don’t wait to get your LEED project started or else miss the deadline for using LEED 2009 before LEED 2012 becomes mandatory.

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5. LEED 2009 focuses more on technological solutions than in the past, and embeds ASHRAE even more. This hurts the approach to green building that sees it as more than a collection of devices, gizmos and gadgets. The credits that look to technology are the easier of the points – given the design profession more reason to believe sustainability is only about technology. This is all-around bad for sustainability.

The biggest blind spot for LEED 2009 is that it’s not scalable. Other systems like the Living Building Challenge engage different levels of scale for any project. With LEED 2009, it’s primarily about single buildings.

All of these things said, LEED is a must-have for any company talking the talk about being committed to sustainability. It’s recommended to go all the way with certification too, and not fall into the trap of saying you “designed to LEED standards, but didn’t do the submissions and review for a final rating level”. I hear this from lots of people and it doesn’t hold water. In that spirit is the magic of LEED, building a green project certified by a third-party is proof positive you are willing to put your money where your mouth is.

The best thing about LEED is that it gives designers the ability to bring ideas to the table that most project teams wouldn’t ever consider without the aim to be LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum. Many clients just want to know if they are getting the credit, and that it doesn’t cost more. The "HOW" is up to the talent of the team. This is a huge opportunity for innovation and creativity.

Lastly, say what you want about LEED and the USGBC. No matter your opinion, LEED 2009 shows beyond a shadow of doubt that they are trying to grow as popularity and understanding of green building increases. They could have just stuck with the same ol’ rating system (v2.2) and pushed it for another five to ten years. Instead, they worked to make it more comprehensive and challenging. I really believe they want to do the best they can in their non-inclusive, committee-driven, top down, imperfect way. Hats off to you, and keep it up the good work.

Tags: Architecture | Buildings | Green Building | Living With Less