Everything Your Customer Wants You to Know About the Latest LEED Changes

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Energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings can go beyond simply changing out incandescent lighting for LED bulbs. Contractors, architects and engineers are designing and constructing new buildings that are using renewable materials, investing in sustainable HVAC systems, and are improving the building envelope to reduce the amount of energy waste. These buildings are becoming certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

LEED is a green building certification program that is used by building design professionals and contractors around the world. This program is designed to help building owners seek out more environmentally-friendly building materials, construction processes and operations that lowers the amount of wasted resources while using other resources more efficiently. The LEED certification program can be used by architects and engineers to design new construction projects, for renovation projects, and for the retrofitting of green technologies in existing buildings.

Creating sustainable LEED certified buildings from the ground up has been on the rise for decades. In July 2016, there were a total of 81,000 LEED commercial and neighborhood development projects and a total of 245,000 residential LEED units, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Designing a LEED compliant building requires understanding the rating system, requirements, and registration so you can gain the credits needed to reach the desired LEED certification goals.

LEED Building Rating Systems

Before becoming LEED compliant, you must first decide on the type of building project and rating system you are pursing to understand the credits that you can apply for to reach the desired LEED certification. There are 5 different types of LEED certified rating systems:

LEED BD+C: Building design and construction (BD+C) applies to new construction projects or buildings that are undergoing extensive renovations. This project type also includes Core & Shell projects where the developer will also control the design and construction of the mechanical systems, fire protection systems, plumbing systems and electrical systems.

LEED ID+C: Interior design and construction (ID+C) are for projects that are seeking interior fit-outs as this includes commercial, hospitality and retail buildings.

LEED O+M: Operations and management (O+M) are for existing buildings that are not undergoing major construction work. This project type applies where you seek to improve the maintenance and operations of the building to increase efficiency.

LEED ND: Neighborhood developments (ND) projects apply toward residential, non-residential and mixed used buildings. The buildings can be new development construction projects or redevelopment projects.

LEED Homes: Residential homes can also be part of the LEED certification process. Single family homes, as well as low-rise and mid-rise multifamily units, can use this project type to seek certification.

Each project type may be further broken down into select buildings, such as schools, retail buildings, warehouses, data centers, hospitality buildings, and healthcare facilities. Once selecting the project type and rating system, you can read the requirements and establish the right project goals that will spur you to obtain the desired LEED credits and certifications.

Understanding LEED Credits, Points, and Prerequisites

When pursuing LEED compliant buildings, you will be given credits, points and prerequisites based on the type of project that is completed that meets LEED standards. The more credits and points the building receives, the higher the rating the building will obtain as this rating will determine the certification level.

Points: There are four different certification levels that can be pursued. Buildings that receive 40 to 49 points will become LEED Certified. If the design and construction project earns 50 to 59 points, it has reached the Silver certification level. The Gold certification level requires the project to receive 60 to 79 points. The highest level that can be obtained is the Platinum certification where the building needs 80 or more points.

A few changes to the point system were introduced during a recent update to LEED requirements. For example, now projects must earn a minimum of four points in the Energy Performance credits. This change will increase first costs, but will positively impact the longstanding rating system that serves as the benchmark for many building and construction initiatives.

Credits: You have the option to pursue any type of credits you desire when designing, constructing, renovating, or retrofitting buildings. The type of project you pursue will earn you credits, which will in turn lead to points that go toward certification. The list of credits is made available based on the rating system you have chosen for your building project. Certain credits may be paired with other credits in an integrated process that provides even more benefits. Usually LEED projects far exceed the rating system's minimum entry points, so getting a certification should be feasible.

Prerequisites: Prerequisites are the minimum requirements that the building must pursue to reach LEED certification. A building must fulfill each prerequisite even though there are no credits or points awarded upon completion. For example, prerequisites for projects that fall under the LEED BD+C rating system must meet the following minimum requirements: the building must be a permanent location that is on existing land, must fully comply with all project size requirements, and must use reasonable LEED boundaries.

Creating a Viable LEED Plan

Creating the right LEED certification plan at the offset will allow designers, architects and contractors to fully discuss and research the types of goals that can be reached to create a sustainable green building. Suggested steps include:

Analysis and information gathering: Gather important project and design data that can be used to establish building sustainability and efficiency requirements.

LEED certification rating system selection: Once you have your LEED goals established, you can use them to decide on the right rating system and project type that matches those goals. Then you can register for certification and understand the minimum requirements that must be achieved.

Perform a goal-setting workshop: The goal-setting project will allow you, the building owner and the contractor to iron out all the details such as project budget, schedule, owner's goals, quality, performance measures, and mapping out the LEED project scope.

Create a LEED scorecard: A scorecard will allow you to see what project goals will lead to LEED credits and points. It can also help you determine additional goals that may be achievable as well as a certification level that is desired.

The project scope and goals will continually change during construction and renovation processes. So you should perform additional data research and meetings to further talk about other benefits and detriments to the project to meet LEED certification.

Perhaps the most important tip about pursing LEED compliant building construction is to work on obtaining one credit at a time versus having multiple projects going on all at once. This process will allow you to focus all your time, energy, manpower and resources on a singular goal so that it is thoroughly completed and meets the desired quality and satisfaction level. Then you can move on to the next LEED credit goal.

This tactic also allows you to gather consistent documentation to perform quality assurance reviews of the project. Once the documentation is gathered, analyzed and finalized, it can be submitted for LEED certification.

Goal of LEED Certification

The purpose of the LEED green building certification program is to encourage designers, architects, builders and building owners to seek out technology and initiatives that adopt green, sustainable construction applications for environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient buildings. By gaining LEED certification and credits, buildings can operate more effectively, lower their energy expenses, and streamline their operations so they use resources in a more holistic manner. Building owners and designers can also market and promote the LEED certification and credits from completed projects as a way to brand their business toward clients and customers.