How the USGBC and RealLifeLEED are alike...


I need to get off my shplunkis and answer some damn emails!

So the USGBC and I are alike in that we are victims of our own success. For the USGBC it's resulted in frustrating LEED-Online experiences and project review backlogs. For me the result is that I have a backlog of about 75-100 emails from faithful readers that I haven't responded to! Scaling sure is a bitch.

While the USGBC is outsourcing and renovating it's way to a solution, Real Life LEED unfortunately is not expanding until some time next year. I do plan on hiring correspondents (look for LEED-Homes, LEED-EB, and international LEED AP writers coming in 2009), it's not going to happen before Christmas, or maybe even the first quarter. I sincerely apologize for my slackness! Hopefully this puppy-dog face will accurately convey my feelings and in the process win you all back over:

Sad Face 1

LEED Risk Management - Meet Real Life LEED in Real Life!


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Shamelessly Self-Promote Corporate Seminars

Yes... Your humble author has agreed to (read: was conned into) speaking about various risk management strategies related to LEED and sustainable projects in general. I'll be handling about an hour and a half of a full day seminar, aided by some super knowledgeable (and in at least one instance hilarious) attorneys and an engineer. It will be January 7th in North Charleston, SC, just down the street from my house actually (no VIP tours are currently planned, but if the price is right...)

While it won't be a laugh riot, I've done my best to incorporate humor into the mundane world that is green risk mitigation... This is a real ad from somewhere (I'm guessing not a BAR journal) that didn't even make the cut:

The Setup

Sick Child - A Terrible Shame

...wait for it...

AACK! Lawyers!!!

The Punchline

Classic... Take that defenders of our children's rights! A lawyer friend of mine pointed out that you could tell this guy is an actor and not a real attorney by the fact that his suspenders are clip-ons and not buttoned... total busch league.

Further Reading

But seriously folks, there are some good lawyers out there. Half of them are going to be at this seminar, and the other half are fellow bloggers... Best known for, Stephen Del Percio, Esq. decided to start a spinoff blog focusing solely on the legal side of green real estate called Green Real Estate Law Journal. Of course I can't forget Chris Cheatham over at Green Building Law Update either, both are worth checking out!

Renewable Energy Credits - Get 'Em Cheap Now!

Real Life LEED just got an interesting email from Renewable Choice Energy about how right now (or at least a few days ago), prices for renewable energy credits (RECs) that are required to earn EAc6, Green Power are at a two year low.

Prospectors for LEED Gold

Off Topic? Yes, but you try finding a funny picture for RECs!

The kicker is that, of course, they don't expect these prices to stay low. From the email:

Looking into 2009, there is a high likelihood of the incoming Obama administration pushing through pro-green power legislation. This will likely be in the form of a national “RPS” (mandate that all utilities must have a certain percentage of renewable energy or pay penalties). This is great news for the industry and great news for our planet! That said, this increased regulatory demand for green power will likely result in higher prices for the voluntary green power market. While it is impossible to predict the future, it seems increasingly likely that in early 2009 we will see significantly higher green power prices than we have today.

So though prices may not rise soon, it's pretty clear that the costs are good right now. See this post for more information about estimating the price of RECs. Have you seen prices drop recently? Please share by leaving a comment!

Determining Occupancy: Hotel Edition

I was recently asked how to determine occupancy for hotel rooms, found a credit interpretation ruling that included an acceptable formula, and decided to share it with you here! A CIR dated 5/13/2007 for a LEED-NCv2.1 project essentially stated that you would count all of the employees as full-time equivalent (FTE) occupants, and that you could use a multiplier for the persons/hotel room to determine a transient occupancy for the building.

The design team proposed that you would take the number of hotel rooms and multiply that by an average number of guests per occupied room of 2 people/room. Then multiply that number by the average room occupancy per night, which according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association is 63.1% for 2007. That leaves us with the following:

Hotel Rooms * 2 Guests/Room * .631 Occupancy Average = Transient Occupants

So for a hotel with 100 rooms you would get a result of 126.2, which after rounding leaves us with a transient occupancy of 127 for the hotel. Add to that the number of employees provided by the owner and you have your peak loading. Determining the number of FTEs is unfortunately up to you, as I would suspect this number varies greatly depending on whether the property is full or limited service, budget or luxury, etc. If anyone has any advice for FTE rules of thumb for hotels please share!

BONUS! Another CIR dated 9.14.2006 discussed the fact that hotel guests could reasonably be excluded from the bicycle rack requirements due to the serious doubt that anyone will be traveling from city to city overnight via bike.

Prove them wrong, naked hippie cyclist!

Hippie Cyclist

Determining Occupancy - The Original
Determining Occupancy - Residential Edition

Job o' the Vague Time Period: USGBC Central Texas-Balcones Excutive Director

U.S. Green Building Council Central Texas-Balcones Chapter is hiring its first Executive Director.

USGBC CT-B is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the transformation toward sustainable building and land development practices in Central Texas through innovation, advocacy and partnerships. The Chapter seeks a strong communicator and relationship builder to serve as our first Executive Director and take our organization to new levels of sustainability and excellence. Proven fundraising skills, systems focus, and collaborative leadership approach a must.

Send letter of interest describing relevant experiences, resume, three references, and three-year salary history to by December 17, 2008. Interviews begin the week of January 4, 2009. We reserve the right to accept applications until the position is filled. Visit for a detailed job description and additional information.

Major Changes to LEED AP Accreditation - A One Page Primer

Immediately following the "LEED 2009: Lift Off" presentation was one from the Green Buildings Certification Institute (GBCI) titled: "GBCI: Accreditation, Certification, and More." If the previous presentation was big on fluff and light on details, this one had me scrambling to keep up at my keyboard!  Luckily, they posted a page that is uncommonly clear in listing dates for changes to occur!

Beth Holst, the Vice President Credentialing at GBCI, succinctly laid out the broad strokes of a completely revised, three-tiered accreditation system that I think is an enormously good idea! Before she started she did mention that 'legacy' LEED APs don't need to worry... "nothing is going to change for you." This is sort of a lie, but we'll get back to that later.

Tiered Credentialing

Instead of a one size fits all approach for each exam track, there is now going to be a flexible hierarchy of LEED accreditation that makes a whole lot of sense. A frequent complaint of the AP system is that it requires people to learn a lot of details that don't necessarily apply to they're everyday job. While it may be important for an architect to have detailed knowledge of every credit in the system, a contractor shouldn't be forced to memorize information about referenced standards for energy modeling or calculations for water efficiency. As a result, there is now a three tiered system:

Tier One - Green Associate

Many CEOs, marketing representatives, students, and other non-technical professionals are going to love this. The "LEED Green Associate" credential will test you only on the broad strokes of LEED... How does the LEED process work? Who needs to be involved at each stage? How do I know which rating system to use? Etc... This credential applies to all LEED systems. Once you earn this level of accreditation you can move on to the next stage:

Tier Two - LEED Accredited Professional

What was previously the only LEED AP designation is now the second tier. The basic idea is that this is where you would earn a specialized accreditation for each system. As Holst put it, "Homes are different... Neighborhood Development is really, really different", and there will be different tests for each rating system:

  • Buildings Design and Construction (LEED-NC)
  • Commercial Interiors Design and Construction (LEED-CI)
  • Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EB)
  • Homes (a new LEED-Homes track)
  • Neighborhood Design (a new LEED-ND track)

Omitted in the presentation but listed on the website is a requirement that to become a LEED AP you must now also have some form of "professional experience on at least one LEED project." This will frustrate some people for sure, but I feel it's a good step forward.

Tier Three - LEED-AP Fellow

"We're going to take our time with this through the year." This was about the only information provided about the highest credential of Fellow. Holst was very clear that they want to take their time to develop an appropriately rigorous standard for fellowship, and that was about all we heard about this.

Code of Ethics

From a brief description, there is going to be a LEED AP Code of Ethics that all current AND future LEED APs will have to abide by. Most interesting about this announcement was that Holst hinted at some sort of peer enforcement system. Apparently there will be some avenue for people to tattle on their peers who aren't promoting sustainable design as they should. In the past the USGBC has essentially steered clear of policing its ranks, so it will be interesting to see how this develops in practice.

What You Really Want to Know - Timing of Exam Updates

Aside from the times listed below, I have it on good (but not rock solid) authority that the last day to register for the current LEED-NCv2.2 and LEED-CIv2.0 exams is going to be March 31st, with GBCI to cutoff administering exams sometime around June. This should give you plenty of time to study, take, and pass the current exams should you so choose, but you don't have much time to wait!

LEED 2009 AP Exams Replacement Schedule

Straight from the GBCI Website

Credentialing Maintenance

"What do legacy LEED APs have to do? Nothing..." was what Holst said, but this ain't exactly true. With the new exams will come a new credentialing maintenance program. That's right, it's just another word for continuing education requirements... BLEH! Details are a little fuzzy, but the program works in two year blocks that will be consistent with the two year LEED revision cycle.

What you'll need to do every two years:

  • Tier 1 Green Associate - 15 hours/two years - 3 LEED specific hours required
  • Tier 2 LEED AP - 30 hours - 6 LEED specific

In addition to the fact that you have to do the continuing ed, you must also now pay a bi-annual maintenance fee of $50. Current LEED AP's will get the first FREE for first 2 years but will have to pay thereafter.

There's more to this than listed here, but I just wanted to hit on the high notes. Visit the GBCI page about the new system for more details. What do you think about the changes? Please let us know by leaving a comment.

Dates for LEED 2009 Releases Announced at Greenbuild

Full disclosure - I'm not at Greenbuild right now, but I am taking advantage of the live streaming seminars on  While 95% of the presentation was rehasing info that's been available for months, there was about a minute near the end that provided some extremely useful info!  Full disclosure number 2, I report the following as someone who watched a presentation that was frequently losing audio with no view of slides... as a result, I may have missed some info, and you should consider the following unconfirmed reports when it comes to dates.  I will be editing this post as I confirm the information.

Release Dates

Again... these are largely unconfirmed, but I'll change the post when I found out more certain information.

  • The LEED 2009 reference guides will be available in February
  • Registrations for LEED 2009 projects go live in May as well.  There is no word yet that I've seen as to when the last day for registrations will occur.

LEED-Online Improvements

On the LEED-Online front, he metioned that the 2009 rollout is built to handle a MILLION users! Hopefully the result is that staggering delays and slowness will soon be a thing of the past.

Favorite Quote

While discussing the future 2 year revision cycle for new LEED systems, Brandon mentioned that people are going to be relieved that the "USGBC has stopped acting like an organization that is so easily distracted by shiny objects." This was a perfect image of how the USGBC has acted in the past, adding rating systems in an inconsistent fashion and failing to really tackle the mundane but important logistical issues once a system is released.  I hope this marks the beginning of a new focus towards usability that will benefit everyone working on these projects.

Surprise (to me anyway) Announcement

There was mention that there is going to be a requirement to submit building performance data to the USGBC for all LEED certified buildings. Looks like I need to read through the final rating system draft to see how this is worked out. Expect an update soon.

FREE Online LEED Water Use Calculator

If you haven't found it already, Zurn has an online water use calculator that features a LEED option for comparisons. It allows you to quickly check the difference between various efficient fixtures for Water Efficiency Credit 3, Water Use Reduction. It isn't perfect (doesn't show total use reduction percentage), but it's extremely quick. It allows you to pick your scope (ie... if showers aren't in the project you simply don't include them), and the baseline fixtures are already loaded for you!

Zurn Water Use Calculator

Zurn Water Calculator

I could explain further, but just check it out yourself! Know of a better resource available for checking water use please share by leaving a comment.

Job o' the Vague Time Period: LEED Specialist, Saudi Arabia

LEED Specialist – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

We are seeking a degreed Architect to lead our sustainability initiatives. The candidate should have a minimum Accredited Bachelor of Architecture degree with 7+ years of experience in architectural projects of varying scale, including professional experience and a familiarity with the LEED certification process. The position requires work with the development team, architects, and contractors to establish procedures and practices that will position our client as the leader of green and sustainable housing initiatives and product. The candidate should have experience sourcing and specifying green building products, analyzing green building features, and documenting green building performance. Additionally, our ideal candidate will have a conviction and passion for green initiatives and practices to provide a solid corporate foundation and focus towards this end.


  • Accredited Bachelor of Architecture degree with 7+ years of experience
  • Outstanding communication skills required
  • In depth knowledge of residential building construction
  • Knowledge of green technologies and LEED rating systems
  • Experience in leading LEED design Charrettes a plus
  • AIA accreditation a plus
  • HVAC knowledge a plus
  • Willingness to relocate to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 

If you have an interest in exploring this international opportunity, please forward your updated resume to Lori Miller and we will contact you to discuss the specifics of the opportunity. Alternatively, please forward this notice to anyone you know who may benefit from knowledge of the opportunity.

RealLifeLEED's Greenbuild Wishlist - Reference Materials

With GreenBuild a mere six days away, I'm excited and hopeful for the new improvements and announcements that few days will bring. In some ways it's like LEED Christmas, and I've decided it might be fun to write a letter to Santa! I started writing this and determined I wish for too much for one post, so I've been forced to split my into many parts, so there's more to come. I've been good this year, so I'm hoping for at least a few of my wishes to come true by the new year!

See Part 1 of this installment - LEED-Online Wishlist.

FSC Christmas Trees

Make sure your Christmas Tree is FSC Certified... SFI certified trees do NOT contribute towards a Merry Christmas!

Part 2 - Reference Materials

No one can argue that the USGBC is a powerhouse when it comes to marketing sustainable design and LEED in particular. They create excellent presentations that are graphically clear and the content is concise. They compile advocacy campaigns that include presidents, almost presidents, and a whole bunch of mayors for good measure!

Given such impressive informative efforts, why should we as LEED AP's have to struggle through three sets of CIRs (see below) to find one answer? This brings me to the second installment of my Greenbuild wishlist, which focuses on reference materials I wish we had, and changes I'd like to see to things that already exist:

  1. Please send me a revised "LEED-NC Application Guide for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects" that offers more than 1/2 a paragraph worth of guidance for each credit.  Really I'd just like clearer guidance about how to set project boundaries, especially for projects in multiple phases.
  2. RealLife LEED would love an updated list that shows the likelyhood of attaining a credit based on the percentage of projects that have achieved it in the past.  This is super helpful when you don't have a lot of project information but the client wants a checklist anyway.  There was a file out there showing about 150 LEED-NCv2.0 and v2.1 projects and the points they achieved, but from what I can tell even that has been removed from the website.
  3. The USGBC needs to create a one stop shop for purchasing referenced standards.  In the past, there were even standards that were impossible to buy in the US! (I'm speaking of the Carbon Trust Good Practice Guide 237, which may or may not be available at the link provided?)  Tracking down these often obscure standards can be difficult to say the least.  I'd be willing to pay a small premium even for the convenience.
  4. An RSS feed or email subscription to LEED technical updates would be immensely helpful.  When the USGBC issues a PIECAP about changes to LEED-Schools VOC requirements, there should be a way to automatically get an email about it.  The "USGBC Update" emails have a very helpful section on "LEED Updates" on the side, but really I just want to know about those!
  5. Combined CIRs! There is no reason I should have to sift through the CIRs for LEED-NCv2.0, then LEED-NCv2.1, then LEED-NCv2.2, then LEED-CS, then LEED-CI just to find an answer about recycled content or something similar.  Browsing the CIR's should be by credit and not by rating system, even if there are slight differences in the structure of the credits.
  6. Free LEED AP educational materials!  If the stated goal of the USGBC is market transformation then the best way to transform is to inform. The USGBC should be making it as easy as possible to study for and learn about the LEED process. Online LEED-AP courses ($150), the reference guides (at least $125), and even the exam ($300-400) should be completely free of charge to those wishing to learn more about sustainable design and LEED. Lost income could be made up by charging more for membership or actual certification.
  7. Bring back the excel based credit checklists!
  8. Provide complete sample project documentation for each rating system. Though some documentation is starting to appear on the net (see here and here), example projects from the USGBC for each rating system would still be immensely helpful.

Well, that's all that comes to mind right now, but I'm sure you have a few things you'd like to see or to switch around. Please share your thoughts on the subject by leaving a comment!

NOTE: Items 7 and 8 were posted a day after the original publication of this article, as I thought of a few more before I went to sleep!

RealLifeLEED's Greenbuild Wishlist - LEED-Online

With GreenBuild a mere eight days away, I'm excited and hopeful for the new improvements and announcements that few days will bring. In some ways it's like LEED Christmas, and I've decided it might be fun to write a letter to Santa! I started writing this and determined I wish for too much for one post, so I've been forced to split my into many parts, so there's more to come. I've been good this year, so I'm hoping for at least a few of my wishes to come true by the new year!

Looks like a Christmas Wreath To Me

Add some holly and that there logo is a Christmas wreath!

Part 1 - LEED-Online

Since the letter from R.Fed about LEED 2009 mentioned "significant enhancements to LEED Online", I figured I'd start with my wish list for LEED-Online improvements:

  1. No more superslow servers!
  2. Move the "Enter" button far away from the "Remove Access" button on the project selector page... I could tell you how many times I've accidentally removed my self from projects I'm working on, but that would be embarrasing.
  3. List the project number and access code on the project selector page for the "Project Administrators" and "Project Managers"
  4. Fix the error where loading multiple supporting documents doesn't work.  I've had to upload one document, browse away from the credit page and then back to upload a second document more than a few times.
  5. Get rid of the "Expand all credit categories" button and just list everything on the main page.  Why add steps?
  6. Stop requiring that ALL project summary information must be loaded in order to edit ANY information.   A lot of times we only have partial information, and are forced to load incorrect info just to save a few correct portions.  
  7. Stop requiring every little edit to require the page to reload.  When assigning roles the first time around the page has to reload for every single credit!  This wouldn't be as big a deal if it didn't take 30 seconds to a minute for the page to reload.  Why not just have an update button at the bottom so we can make a bunch of changes at once before reloading?
  8. Allow me to pre-assign roles to people I invite to join the project.  It's an uneccesary step to invite them, wait for them to join, and then assign them a credit... It also means that they can't start working until I take the time to assign them a role. 

That's it for LEED-Online recommendations that I can think of right now. In future posts I'll tackle an LEED education, membership, and customer service! Is there something you're wishing for that I missed? Leave a comment and share with all of us!

Market Transformation and the Importance of Paperwork

Nothing is as dangerous in architecture as dealing with separated problems. If we split life into separated problems we split the possibilities to make good building art. Alvar Aalto


Fulfilling the promise from my last post, I want to step back and explain that something I witnessed last weekend that confirmed my belief in the power of LEED.

There are a number of articles and posts out there decrying how LEED doesn't work because it only uses modeled energy, because it doesn't guarantee good design, or some similarly narrow complaint. In all fairness, each author may have a point, but to say that LEED is broken is a substantial overstatement.

LEED is not perfect, and it never will be. The recent notice that the ASHRAE 189 task force disbanded is a testament to how hard it is to create a standard that reflects the ideals of sustainable design. I once heard Bob Berkebile say that "LEED is not good, it's just less bad." This is true, and that's ok.  The ultimate mission of the USGBC is market transformation.  If LEED were only attainable by the top .01% of buildings it would never be more than a passing fad. 

This voluntary rating system is successful because it has provided a common measuring stick that we can all build upon and one that is accessible to the masses.   Most importantly, it provides a method by which architects, engineers, and other professionals can compare environmental solutions on something other than cost.  Is a 20% reduction in water usage the same as a 20% reduction in energy?  LEED gives a method for answering that question, however imperfect that is.  Criticized in the past for an arbitrary assignment of points, LEED 2009 will use a weighting system to more properly credit those points which provide a true benefit to the environment. 

I'm sure we've all been surprised at times by how easy it can be to reach certified status, but if it means that one more developer can find it in their hearts to spring for a few bike racks then that's a few bike racks that wouldn't have been there otherwise. Sure the effect may be minimal on any one project, but combined these efforts are truly creating a new industry. It is the USGBC's job to slowly raise the bar on LEED until the industry is ready to accept perfectly healthy, net-positive buildings that are socially beneficial as the norm. Until that day "LEED Certified" must stay just above conventional practice in order to push "normal" design in the right direction.


Last weekend I was invited to speak before a group of sales reps for a large construction product company. I was asked to give the architect/specifier's perspective about what influences our decisions with regard to sustainable sourcing of their product type, but before I spoke I sat in on an internal presentation about where they stand with regard to LEED credits and other environmental features.

The resulting conversation astounded me! This small group was able to clearly articulate the composition and environmental impacts of each of their products. They have identified areas of their supply chain that could be better optimized, and are examining ways to incorporate more local sourcing into all of their products. They are in the process of a comprehensive life-cycle analysis of their entire product line, searching for ways to further reduce their carbon footprint.

What was so interesting was that most of these discussions were centered around how their products affect the LEED rating system. For better or worse, it was clear that they were committed to LEED, presumably because their customers were.  They felt they needed to prove their merit in hard numbers and real reporting, and couldn't get by with exaggerated claims of greenwashed hype.   

Were their products perfect? No. Could they beat competitors on every environmental level? No... but they were taking a real hard look at how to inch in that direction. This meeting proved to me in a real way how the USGBC and LEED are transforming our industry for the better. Even if this company was only motivated by how to sell more products (I don't think that was the case), they are now in a position to do so by greening their company.  

If you asked the typical architect what a VOC was 10 years ago I doubt one in a hundred would be able to answer correctly. Many manufacturers still fail to clearly report basic data such as recycled content, manufacturing locations, and other environmental attributes of their products. It is vital that we allow time for the industry to adapt before we declare any system a success or failure. Manufacturers need stability in order to make a substantial investment in improvements and reporting. Testing for materials alone can easily reach into 6 figures, and they're not going to do it unless they feel it provides them with an advantage over their competitors. In many cases, it's the LEED system requirements that are the foundation for that advantage.  It's a slow, tedious process rife with hiccups, missteps, and mistakes, but until somebody suggests a better way I'm all for it.

7 Reasons the New PDF LEED Checklists Stink

UPDATE (07.15.10): The USGBC has now updated the official checklists incorporating pretty much all of the features called for in the post and from your comments! Check out this post for direct links to each of the checklists that are now unlocked, feature a notes section, and highlight whether the credit is part of the design or construction review.

UPDATE (01.25.10): I've created much improved unprotected versions of the v3 checklists, and linked to a set of slightly better than previously reported official USGBC checklists on this post!

I realize I haven't sounded like much of a supporter of LEED lately, deciding instead to rant about problems like slow LEED-Online service. I do promise a post this week about why I love the USGBC and LEED in particular, but for now I have a little more bitching to do.

Horrible New PDF Version of LEED Checklist

BOO creepy PDF Checklist...Hooray BEER!

This post is all about a horrible new development that the USGBC silently rolled out: a new Adobe LiveCycle PDF version of the LEED-Checklists. This is a horrible development for a number of reasons, which I'll explain later.

Since Rick Fedrizzi left a comment after the report about the LEED-Online hangups (a simultaneously gratifying and terrifying moment for someone who started "reporting" less than 8 months ago), I realized that this blog actually might make a difference! For that reason I hope the good people at the USGBC abandon whatever contract they have with Adobe that made this new PDF checklist a reality and return to the earlier days of humble Excel spreadsheets. From what I can tell, checklists for all systems have been updated to the new format sometime in the recent past, and I can only hope it's not too late to go back.

Why the Old Version was Great

The old excel version was amazingly versatile, easy to use, save, and modify. It condensed a huge amount of project info into a two page document, and allowed you to add additional information in the margins as needed. I made one spreadsheet that took a list of about 150 certified projects that listed every single credit they earned, and turned that into a chart showing how likely it is to earn a each point given different certification levels (green is good, red is bad). On almost every project we add a few bars on the right to show things like credit assignments, notes from status update meetings, etc. Take a look for yourself:

LEED Checklist with Credit Prevalence

Handy List with Percentage of Projects Achieving Each Credit (NC version 2.0 and 2.1 only)


Points, Problems, and Notes!

Why the New Version Sucks

I'm a pretty long-winded fellow, but a few bullets can sum this one up:

  1. You can't save changes!!! Every time I need to make a small update I have to generate a completely new list? Ridiculous.
  2. You're supposed to print the file to have a record of any information. Amazingly the USGBC is moving back towards a paper-full office??? I do recognize that you could print to pdf to solve this problem. Irony at its best...
  3. It takes twice as many pages (4) to display the same amount of information as the original excel version.
  4. You can't add additional information or notes to the side... as if you could save them after you did.
  5. It's impossible to have multiple people (contractor, architect, MEP, etc.) make comments on the same document. We do this on projects all the time, typically I generate an "official" checklist after a meeting and distribute to all involved parties via email to add what I missed.
  6. Drop down boxes are annoying. I could fill out the entire excel version without using a mouse.
  7. Once you enter an answer, you can't delete it (you can only put back in "0"). Like many architects I have a streak of OCD in me that would force me to start from scratch so everything looks perfect.

I suspect the ultimate result is that when LEED 2009 rolls out and we all need checklists many people will either adapt their old ones or start from scratch, which could make for an interesting contest on this site... BONUS for me! In any case, I would love to hear the reasoning behind the switch to the new version. I can't come up with a single reason why anyone would think this is an improvement, but someone must have. Smarter than I? Most of you are, so please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

LEED-NC vs. LEED for Schools: What's Different?

If you're like me, you grew up with LEED for New Construction and have a penchant for sapphire martinis. Earlier today I was helping a few people in my firm run through a checklist for a feasibility report for a local school we're designing. I was extremely embarrassed when half-way through the checklist I realized we should be using the LEED for Schools system instead of LEED-NC! The entire rating system somehow slipped my mind. Not having any LEED-Schools materials handy, I decided to the easiest thing to do was finish the NC checklist and get back to them later today with a revised LEED-Schools version.

A similarly embarrassing mistake

A slightly more embarrassing mistake

While this meant extra work for me, you're lucky enough to reap the benefits! Since I've run through every credit in the LEED-Schools reference guide and compared it to LEED-NCv2.2, I figured a nice tidy post about the differences was in order... so here we go.


The following is intended as a quick reference for people who already have a fair understanding of LEED for New Construction to learn how LEED for Schools is different. As you'll see, many of the credits are largely the same, and I won't waste time covering those. If you're not already familiar with LEED-NC you're going to miss a whole lot of information. If starting from scratch I recommend starting here.

8 Completely New Credits

  • SSp2 - Environmental Site Assessment
    • This new prerequisite requires that a "Phase I Environmental Assessment" complying with ASTM E1527-05 be performed on ALL sites.  Essentially this means testing for toxins even if your site is not listed as a brownfield.
    • Also, your site can not be within 1000 feet of a landfill.
    • If your site is on a brownfield, you must remediate it, though you'll still get the SSc3 point for doing so.
  • SSc9 - Site Master Plan
    • This basically says you must create a master plan for the site involving the parties you'd expect and taking into account potential future construction.
    • Also, if you achieve at least four of the following credits, you must recalculate those credits including the data from the master plan (essentially including future site changes, additional hardscape, parking, etc.):
      • SSc1 - Site Selection
      • SSc5.1 - Site Developement, Protect or Restore Habitat
      • SSc5.2 - Site Developement, Maximize Open Space
      • SSc6.1 - Stormwater Design, Quantity Control
      • SSc6.2 - Stormwater Design, Quality Control
      • SSc7.1 - Heat Island Effect, Non-Roof
      • SSc8 - Light Pollution Reduction
  • SSc10 - Joint Use of Facilities
    • Option 1 allows you to gain credit for making portions of the school available to the public
    • Option 2 allows you to earn credit for housing additional public services (health clinic, family center, etc) within the facility
    • Option 3 allows you to gain credit for using other public facilities for the school children in place of building new ones.
  • WEc4 - Process Water Use Reduction
    • Here you can earn credit for reducing water use for refrigeration equipment, not having garbage disposals, and other equipment such as clothes washers, dishwashers, ice machines, food steamers, and pre-rinse spray valves.
  • EQp3 - Minimum Acoustical Performance
  • EQc9 - Enhanced Acousitical Performance
    • These two additions are potentially problematic.  I'm not an acoustician, but this report found that "While many of these requirements can be performed by architects using manufacturer’s material data and simple calculations, unique construction assemblies and mechanical sound levels need the attention of an expert."
    • See also this document from the USGBC clarifying and alternate compliance path for the prerequisite
    • I don't know much about this at the moment, and will report back when I do, but if any of you have experience with this please share your knowledge by leaving a comment.
  • EQc10 - Mold Prevention
    • This doesn't seem like an unreasonable credit assuming that you can meet the requirement to have 60% or less relative humidity across all load conditions. I'm guessing this will be either easy or hard depending on your local climate.
    • In addition to having your HVAC run under those conditions, you must develop an IAQ management program based on the EPA's "Building Air Quality: A Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers."
    • AND you must also achieve these credits:
      • EQc3.1 - Construction IAQ Management Plan, During Construction
      • EQc7.1 - Thermal Comfort, Design
      • EQc7.2 - Thermal Comfort, Verification
  • IDc3 - School as a Teaching Tool
    • Here you can get credit for developing a curriculum based on the building becoming a teaching tool, specifically exploring "the relationship between human ecology, natural ecology, and the building". It must be implemented in less than 10 months from project certification.

12 Altered Credits

  • SSc4.1 - Alternative Transportation, Public Transportation Access
    • Offers an additional compliance path if 80% of the students live within .75 miles for grades K-8 or 1.5 miles for grades 9 and up. The school bus system can count for one of your two public bus lines.
  • SSc4.2 - Alternative Transportation, Bicycle Use
    • Clarifies that shower calculation is based on staff only and bike spaces for staff and students in grade 3 or above
  • SSc4.3 - Alternative Transportation, Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicles
    • Option one allows you to get credit for having 20% of the school bus and maintenance fleet use alternative fuels
    • See if you can figure out the language in option two: "Provide preferred parking for 5% of the total vehicle parking capacity of the site"... so far so good... "and at least one designated carpool drop-off area for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles." Whaaa? I think this means that those parents with priuses who are also carpooling get their own drop-off area? Try explaining that one to the PTA.
  • SSc8 - Light Pollution Reduction
    • A few small changes to the timing for interior cutoffs and an exterior requirement exemption for sports field lighting is included.
  • WEc3 - Water Use Reduction
    • The former exemplary performance level of 40% reduction is now a credit, making this credit worth up to 3 points. There is no longer an exemplary performance option.
  • EQp2 - Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control
    • No smoking is allowed in the building at all.
  • EQc4 - Low-Emitting Materials
    • You can now choose between additional compliance paths that also cover furniture selection and ceiling and wall systems. There are six options total.
    • For more info see this post about alternative compliance options.
  • EQ5 - Indoor Chemical & Pollutant Source Control
    • Essentially the same, but it offers better clarification as to what constitutes a "hazardous" chemical storage room
  • EQc6.1 - Lighting System Design and Controllability
    • Other spaces are the same, but classrooms have a special requirement to be able to switch between "general illumination" and A/V modes.
  • EQc7.1 - Thermal Comfort, Design
    • Essentially the same, but there are separate requirements for natatoriums
  • EQc7.2 - Thermal Comfort, Verification
    • Essentially the same, but doesn't require surveying children in the grade 5 or below.
  • EQc8.1 - Daylight & Views, Daylighting
    • LEED for Schools expands this credit into three points and differentiates between classrooms (1-2 points) and "other spaces" (1 point). The three calculation methods are otherwise the same.

~40 Credits Stay the Same

Everything else is the same, including the entire Energy & Atmosphere and Material & Resources categories being identical. Those of you who've been through the LEED-Schools process before, please share your experiences by leaving a comment!

LEED and Parking - Lessons Learned

I've been working on documentation for SSc4.3 Alternative Transportation - Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicles and SSc4.4 Alternative Transportation - Parking Capacity. We're providing less parking than is typically required and providing preferred parking for both carpoolers (5% of all spaces) and Low-Emitting Vehicles (LEVs - another 5% of all spaces) for total of 10% required preferred parking.

Must have been a slow ride

In our project, 10% of total parking spaces is over 200 spots, as this is an enormous building. In the interest of reducing costs, I decided on a strategy where we would group the two preferred options together and simply designate the closest 10% of the parking to both LEV and carpoolers, thus allowing the spaces to fill up in a more efficient manner than if we separated the two into parking clusters. In addition to that, instead of buying and installing 200 signs I proposed that we just stripe the preferred spaces in a different color and have a explanation sign posted at each entrance to the lot. We need paint stripes anyway, and it seems incredibly wasteful to use materials to create 200+ signs saying the exact same thing.

Everything was going fine until our contractor wanted to know whether this had been done before and whether I'm sure we're allowed to mix the spots... Damn his entirely reasonable questions!!! You can probably guess the answers, so I browsed through the reference guide (didn't find the answer), then the Harvard files (they cover a lot of multiple building issues, but not this one), and finally the credit interpretation rulings (CIRs) and learned a whole bunch of stuff that I thought was worth sharing:

Preferred Parking Discounts

You may have noticed the reference guide indicates that for parking passes can be used in exchange of preferred designated spaces. You may also have noticed that they don't mention how much of a discount is required! Fortunately this has been cleared up in a LEED-NCv2.2 CIR dated 07/05/2007:

In order to establish a meaningful incentive in all potential markets, the parking rate must be discounted at least 20%. This approach is acceptable as long as the discounted rate is available for all customers (not limited to the number of customers equal to 5% of the vehicle parking capacity) and publicly posted at the entrance to the parking deck.

Defining "Low-Emitting Vehicles"

The reference guide indicates that anything with a score of 40 or higher on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy vehicle ratings. The fine folks at Harvard pointed out that these ratings don't come out until some time after a vehicle is released and suggested an alternate standard be available. As a result, you can also use the EPA's SmartWay Elite certification in it's place. This was confirmed in a LEED-NCv2.1 CIR dated 10/02/06. The vehicle must be rated as "SmartWay Elite" and not just "SmartWay". Using this database has the added benefit of being completely free, as opposed to the ACEEE database which requires a subscription. I'm not sure if one is more stringent than the other.

A number of requests for using a high MPG rating (say 35 mpg or above) were DENIED by the review committee, so don't plan on making that argument stick. The reasoning is there is a consideration for the life-cycle emissions of production of the car and not all MPG are created equal with regard to emissions (the classic example being that 2-stroke engines are much dirtier than 4-stroke).


At the end of the day I never did get an answer to the questions about combining and sharing parking spaces for LEV and carpool users, or about the striping and signage. This could be due to the fact that the benefits are so obvious it wasn't deemed necessary to state, but I'd really like to have confirmation. If one of you have tried this and it was accepted please share with all of us by leaving a comment!

Full Access to 13 LEED NC and CI Documentation Submittals... MOTHER LODE!!!

This post makes me extremely happy for two reasons. The first is that I can let you know about a website that gives you access to completed documentation for 10 LEED-NC certified projects and 3 LEED-CI certified projects!!! (Sidenote - I realize I've been pretty heavy on the exclamation points lately, but there's just too much good info lately to resist! I promise I'll calm down soon)

The second is that it's a culmination of why I started this blog in the first place. I know a tiny bit about LEED and share it with you, you let me know what I've missed, I share that info, and then we all know everything! Super special thanks to Edgar Farrera of MarmonMok Architecture. Edgar read the post about the free LEED-EB documentation, realized that he knew a far more comprehensive resource, and decided to let me know about it. The result? This post! ...and there we come full circle.

Harvard LEED Certified Building Submittals

Gooooooo Crimson!!!

Not to be outdone by a mere public school, Harvard has amassed an impressive collection of LEED documentation that is very conveniently organized by credit. If ten buildings earned EAc4, then you can see all the buildings that earned it at a glance. There is only one LEED-NC version 2.2 building completed to date (seven for v2.1 and two for v2.0), but they have an additional nine buildings listed as "In Progess". Of those, five are scheduled for completion in 2008, so I'd check back frequently for updates. In any case the only credits they don't have LEED-NC documentation for are:

  • WEc2 - Innovative Wastewater Technologies
  • MRc1.3 - Building Reuse
  • MRc3 - Materials Reuse

I could go on about how great this is and all the features (many of which have not been mentioned), but really you should just check it out yourself.

My new best friend Edgar also pointed out "that the reason some colleges and universities are making this type of information available to the public is that as signatories to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment they are called upon to share and disseminate their campus greening initiatives and action plans." This means that it's likely we will see other colleges reporting the same information. If you know of another resource we missed, please let us know by leaving a comment!


I sometimes help out with LEED AP study classes, and lately I've been fielding a lot of questions about when the current LEED exam will end. (ANSWER - I'm not sure, but my guess from the LEED-EB process is that it will be at least a few months after LEED 2009 is implemented before they update the test tracks. I'd say but cannot guarantee that you'd probably still be able to take the current NC and CI exams at least through the first quarter of 2009.) While searching for an answer, I happened to notice a small paragraph mentioning a call for beta testers of the new LEED-EB Operations and Maintenance test:

If you register for an exam, but do not schedule an appointment, or if you cancel your scheduled exam appointment, you will have the option to participate in the Beta testing of the new EBOM exam for free. Beta testing will occur in November, 2008. Although specific details will follow, please know now that if you participate in the Beta testing event, it will take several months to receive your pass or fail notification. If you are interested in this option, please contact GBCI at

As far as I can tell this is still open, and of course you're currently limited to LEED-EB, but with LEED 2009 on the horizon I think it's reasonable to assume a similar testing track will be available as the LEED-NC and LEED-CI exams get reworked.

Waiting a few months for your results could be tough but is likely worth a $300-$400 savings for many people. Worst case scenario you take the test later at regular cost. I'll keep my eyes peeled for more info on this subject and will be sure to post about any updates... If you see something I missed please let everyone know by leaving a comment!

Full Set of LEED-EB Documentation Online!!!

Thank God for the good people over at University of California, as they have made an ENTIRE set of LEED-EB documentation available in pdf format for FREE online!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (<--not enough exclamation points)  The project is their 1111 Franklin Street building, pictured below:

1111 Franklin Street

The Best Building (Documentation) Ever!

The downside is that this was not for the latest version of LEED-EB O&M but rather LEED-EB v 2.0. Not a huge deal though, especially for those working on your first projects. RealLifeLEED was hoping to be the first to post a full set of documentation online, but will have to settle for posting the BEST set at a later date.

Super-special thanks to Ashley Silvernell of erstad ARCHITECTS (apparently they do a lot of chicken coups?) for the heads up!

NOTE - This page was updated on 02.04.09 to update link changes. Previously this post listed links to each credit individually, but I've decided to make it easy on myself and just send you to their site:

Go here now!

Thanks Keith for the heads up!

I'm going to punch LEED-Online in the face!

I don't know if you've experienced similar issues in the past week or so, but I haven't been able to log into any of my projects, much less edit them, in at least a week. I can sign in (only took 44 seconds on my last attempt), then I click on the project, and then everyone's favorite "Please be patient while we process your request. This may take up to three minutes" box pops up. I especially despise the furiously unhelpful tracking bar that scrolls along the bottom of the box that has no real connection to the amount of time I need to wait for the next page to load.


that's seven minutes, not seven seconds

After just over seven minutes I get a page telling me that "this page cannot be loaded" or something about a server error that I don't understand.

The last time I was able to do anything was to setup a new project, and the simple act of assigning roles for each credit took over 1 hour and 13 minutes (yes... I timed that too). Any of you experiencing similar problems or should I talk to my IT department?

Hopefully the "significant enhancements to LEED Online" mentioned with the release of the LEED 2009 draft will help to solve some of these issues.

Finally, a big thanks to the fine folks over at for their help making this post possible.

Energy Modeling Further Demystified

Building on the previous post on energy modeling, there is another introduction to the process posted over at BuildingGreen called "Understanding the Energy Modeling Process: Simulation Literacy 101". Great read for beginners such as myself.

I found out about the above article thanks to Suzanne O'Leary of ThinkDwell--a company that designs homes making the occupants absurdly and a bit creepily happy according to the picture on their homepage. Suzanne has started what is sure to become a very helpful forum on energy modeling issues called The site is brand new and will need to develop an audience (that's you!) before it really provides a good base of info, but RealLifeLEED supports any and all online communities that could make sustainable design simpler for everyone. Check it out now!

Job o' the Vague Time Period: USGBC Regional Advocacy Consultant

The US Green Building Council is seeking four (4) regional advocacy consultants to assist in coordinating and maximizing the advocacy work of our 78 chapters across the country. The regional advocacy consultants will work at the state, county and local government level to coordinate and assist our chapters in developing and implementing public policy strategies that advance green building practices and market transformation to a sustainable built environment. The four consultants will be selected on expertise, experience, geographic location, and overall ability to achieve the objectives articulated below. Scope of services required includes:

  • Continuing to establish USGBC as the leading authority and primary point of contact on green building; 
  • Enhancing and improving the coordination and organization of USGBC chapter activity within a specified region in their efforts to monitor and influence legislative, regulatory and policy initiatives;
  • Expanding opportunities for chapters to build and strengthen relationships with state and local policymakers including elected officials and key government officials;
  • Acting as a liaison to the national office and local chapters to promote chapter communication and increased collaboration;
  • Initiating briefings for elected officials, other policymaking officials and community leaders on an as-needed basis;
  • Attending and reporting on state and local policy activity representing the USGBC;
  • Providing outreach to the state and local community, stakeholders and USGBC members about Council initiatives and activities.
For more information please contact  

LEED Specs - Materials, Paperwork, and CYA

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how LEED requirements are incorporated into the building's specs lately, in no small part due to the fact that I had to give a presentation on the subject last week. The result has been an interesting discussion on the 4specs discussion board (skip down to Anne Whitacre's first comment) and a realization that I've been too harsh on MasterSpec's LEED language in their guide specs...


I know more about LEED than I know about specs, so don't think I'm some expert on this subject (or LEED for that matter). As you'll see in a second, there's a few differing schools of thought about how to arrange LEED requirements in the specs. I strongly encourage you to share what's worked or your concerns by leaving a comment!


Your project specifications should include language clarifying:

  • Material procurement issues (recycled content, regional materials, etc.)
  • Documentation requirements (LEED-Online credit templates and supporting documents)
  • Required plans and procedures (indoor air quality, construction waste, and erosion and sedimentation control plans)

To me the main issue is how much control does the architect/designer retain and how much is given to the contractor. Do you write erosion sedimentation control, indoor air quality, and construction waste management plans and simply require the contractor to follow what's included, or do you require that they draft, implement, and verify implementation for each plan themselves? Do you specify recycled content levels for each individual material, or do you simply set a 20% recycled content level for the whole project and let the contractor figure it out themselves? Do you give the contractor direct access to LEED-Online, or do you have them send the architect the necessary supporting documentation and let the architect ensure everything is filled out properly?

In a perfect world, we would all be in design-build projects where the team of architect and contractor work together to solve these issues. Unfortunately we still live in a time where design-bid-build construction contracts get in the way of truly integrated project delivery, and without clear boundaries you're setting yourself up for some serious liability problems.

Sustainable Materials Requirements

When it comes to MRc3-7 and EQc4.1-4.4 I like to set individual LEED product requirements in the material sections (MF04 divisions 02-10) instead of setting a blanket credit achievement goal for the total project (MFO4 section 018113) and letting the contractor figure it out on their own. I feel that the architect should be responsible for determining and considering how to earn these points at least as much the contractor. If I design a wood framed structure with little chance for recycled content, how can I require a contractor to achieve 20% recycled content by cost? Also, I've heard from a few people that subcontractors sometimes don't read the division one sections, and having clear performance requirements in the later divisions helps to ensure important elements aren't overlooked.

Assuming a premium for sustainable purchasing, by placing reasonable requirements for each material there's no incentive for the contractor to only reach the minimum content levels required to earn the point. In one project where we set individual requirements, we're earning exemplary performance for regional materials, with a total project rate over 40%. I'm not sure contractors would necessarily maximize sustainable purchasing if they're only required to meet a lower level. Conversely, by setting performance requirements for more materials than is required to earn the point, the architect/specifier may be unnecessarily raising the total cost of the project.

There are a number of people who disagree with me about setting levels for each material. One person with significantly more specification experience than myself claimed that such a strategy "smacks too much of means and methods". I can't say I completely disagree, especially when considering regional materials requirements. The argument is that we're effectively telling the contractor what to buy and where, limiting their ability to construct efficiently. There is also a significant amount of due diligence required by the architect/specifier to ensure that at least three companies can meet whatever requirements are set for public bid projects. If you're not getting paid for that it can be a serious impediment for profitability.

Lucha Libre LEED Spec Fighters

Don't ask why I made this graphic...

Talking to a contractor with significant LEED experience, I've learned that they tend to see both. Recycled content and VOC levels may be listed in individual sections, but a blanket regional materials requirement will be set allowing them to pick and choose the most efficient methods for purchasing. This seems to me to be a very reasonable approach.

Documentation Requirements

It's very important to clearly state what the contractor is required to do regarding additional paperwork and LEED-Online documentation. If you don't you could get half-way through construction expecting things to be loaded online with the contractor refusing to do so because that scope of work wasn't included in the bid. Typically all of this information will be described in 018113-Sustainable Design Requirements.

I prefer to require the contractor to complete the credit templates themselves and load any required supporting documentation on their own. If the architect/LEED consultant asks for the supporting documentation only to fill out the credit templates and LEED-Online information themselves, they're essentially verifying the contractors work... in writing! This seems to be a ridiculous way to submit yourself to unnecessary risk. At the same time, I like to see progress reports on where we stand with the points as construction proceeds, so we frequently will require updates on a regular basis.

Regarding the various management plans required for the contractor to follow, Len Harding, CDT suggests in an article in the Construction Specifier that it's best to dictate as much of the potentially ambiguous requirements as possible to the contractor to prevent them from just throwing unnecessary money into the bid. In general, a construction waste management plan from one project could easily be adapted to another. This shouldn't be an issue for contractors with LEED experience, but you have people who may be bidding on their first LEED project you will want to provide as much information as possible upfront.

Guide Specs and Other Resources

The article I just mentioned from Len Harding is titled "Specifying LEED Under Public Bid Rules" and contains some practical advice for cost control and general structure that I found very helpful.

Specifying LEED Under Public Bid Rules

If you subscribe to ARCOM's MasterSpec they have a page describing the location and comments for all of the LEED related language online. Their language included is quite in-depth, though they provide specs that include all LEED rating system options instead of separate guide specs for LEED-NC, LEED-CS, LEED-CI, etc. I got a bit confused working from the section 018113 word document without having the commentary on screen as well.

Building Green provides FREE guide specs for only four sections of Division 1, but those four sections are packed with a great deal of information, including benchmark recycled content levels for various products based on the EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, which is about to be the subject of a new post...

The First LEED Lawsuit... Great...

RealLifeLEED just stumbled upon an excellent summary of what could be the first LEED-related lawsuit at gbNYC. Let the frenzy begin! There are a few really scary issues involved, and unfortunately (or perhaps it's a good thing) it appears as though the case has settled out of court, so there's no ruling to work from at the moment.

What is clear is that the major issue was not the LEED certification so much as the incentives (in this case tax credits) the certification should have triggered. Also, it looks like the specs and contracts were a bit weak as well. I'm not going to go into a full description of the suit, as gbNYC has done it already. You can expect more posts on the subject in the future, particularly related to contract, proposal, and marketing language.

What are your main liability concerns related to LEED? Please let us know by leaving a comment!

New EAc1 Compliance Path: No Modeling Required

RealLifeLEED learned the hard way (from people I'm supposedly teaching about the LEED AP exam) that the USGBC has added another prescriptive compliance path for EAc1, Optimize Energy Performance, that can earn 2-5 points, thus allowing you to comply with the relatively new 2 point prerequisite initiated in June 2007.M

The Basics

If your project isn't a health care, warehouse, or lab project and is under 100,000 gsf, you're able to use the Advanced Buildings Core Performance Guide to earn anywhere from 2-5 points based on the number of strategies you implement and the project type you have. Offices, schools, public assembly and retail projects are eligible for up to 5 points, while all others excluding the healthcare, warehouse, and lab projects can only earn 4. The guide is available for $95 from here, OR you can get a free, slightly edited version courtesy of Efficiency Vermont here!!! FYI - you'll need to email for the password. From what I can tell requirements for other regions are still contained in the guide, though Vermont folks are lucky enough to have all of their standards highlighted! Where the standards aren't listed there is a link to the AdvancedBuildings website with a password (in the VT edition) that earns you access to more reference materials.

Advanced Buildings Core Performance Guide - VT Edition

Free is Good!

From what I can tell, much of this is similar to ASHRAE 90.1-2001 performance requirements, but I'm a blogger and as such have only really skimmed the requirements. Components of the guide align with other LEED points, and there are handy guides to help you see where these overlap. The main point here is that many projects will be able to earn a significant amount of EAc1 points without the need for frequently costly energy modeling services. To be clear, I certainly suggest using energy modeling, preferably early in the design process, but sometimes such detailed modeling required by other EAc1 options is not necessary.

I have yet to have any experience implementing this guide and would really appreciate to hear from those of you who have! Please leave a comment about your experiences!

LEED-Schools VOC Requirements Simplified!

Those of you working on LEED-Schools projects may have noticed the incredibly vague referenced standard for all VOC levels in EQc4: California Department of Health Services' Standard Practice for the Testing of Volatile Organic Emissions From Various Sources Using Small-Scale Environmental Chambers including 2004 Addenda.

Don't Bother Reading This

All you want is a concise table with VOC requirements in grams per liter, but instead you're given multiple pages of testing procedures and nearly indecipherable text related to requirements. Based on some new information (dated July 7, 2008), the USGBC has apparently recognized this problem and allowed design teams to default to the old LEED NC 2.2 requirements for four of the six compliance options:

It's all better now...

RealLifeLEED strongly suggests throwing your "Standard Practice..." standard out the door and falling back on the slightly less confusing LEED NC 2.2 references as provided in the table above. You're allowed to do this thanks to a "PIEACP", which is not as delicious as it could be... It stands for "Performance/Intent Equivalent Alternative Compliance Path".

Have some further insight to share about LEED-Schools VOC levels? Did you actually find products compliant with the original LEED-Schools standards (and manufacturers who could actually verify they complied)??? Let us know by sharing your experience via comments!

FREE LEED-NC Reference Guides!!! ...sort of

As you may have guessed from the glaring caveat in the title, RealLifeLEED is waaaay too cheap to hand out legit reference guides for free, and I'm not yet ballsy enough to do it the illegal way either. What I'm writing about today is the fact that those who purchased old reference guides (NCv2.2 First Edition (Oct 2005) or Second (Sept. 2006) or CIv2.0 editions one and two) from the USGBC you get access to updated digital versions free of charge via this link (login required)! You can't print them, but that's why I love dual monitors so much...

Old Faithful... It's surprisingly hard to find a picture of the old reference guides online, so you get to see a scanned copy of mine!

I didn't realize this until a few weeks ago, and it has since come in handy. While the jump from my trusty first edition to the second was mostly fixing typographical errors and website addresses, the latest October 2007 guide seems to have some more important changes. There are much needed clarifications from the CIR's and also additional exemplary performance options. This new book means more points!

This does not mean that if you purchased a reference guide from an earlier version of the rating system (say... an NCv2.1 guide) that you automatically upgrade. I'm going to guess that when LEED 2009 rolls into town I'm going to have to upgrade again, and am currently waiting for the new LEED-EB O&M edition to be released, so if you don't have a guide now you may want to consider waiting for those, or it's going to be a few hundred dollars right down the toilet.

On the Cheap

For those who could care less about digital updates and want to save some dough, you can find used copies for sale on ebay every once and awhile or on the AREforum more frequently.

Lighten up already

A warning... The following post is about a long list of "How many ____ does it take to change a light bulb" jokes created by Tristan Korthals Altes of BuildingGreen... Unless you're REALLY into the green construction industry and all the people associated with it, you're probably going to hate me for sending you to this post about Green Building Jokes. They pretty much target everyone... owner reps, code officials, "William McDonoughs", and even USGBC Cascadia members (<-those guys are apparently pretty hardcore).

My favorite joke? My own of course! (Nobody said RealLifeLEED was modest, even after so many servings of humble pie) ...It's buried in the comments, but I'll save you the trouble:

Q. How many LEED Reviewers does it take to screw in a light-bulb?

A. One, but it will take three months to decide if the light-bulb changing procedures comply with the applicable referenced standard. During this time they must determine if the supporting documentation of this compliance also includes images of the broken bulb and a schematic illustration of the light-bulb replacement strategy. Then they must wait about two weeks for the design team's response to the clarification request for a Sustainable Light-Bulb Purchasing and Replacement Plan asking for an outline of how custodial staff are trained to comply with the requirements of the plan. After three more weeks of review a final decision is issued that states that light-bulb replacement is anticipated, assuming no changes to the status of the light-bulb occur in the construction phase.


LEED Forum Fun!

I ♥ Online Communities

Believe it or not, there are times (read: most of the time) RealLifeLEED has a question he needs help with and can't find an answer. As a general rule, that's when I fish the question out to the internet at large. Between AREForums' LEED section,'s Sustainable Design Topics Section, and to a lesser extent DesignCommunity's LEED and Green Certification forum, you can normally get an answer or some form of guidance within a day or so. Of the three, AREForum is the most responsive, 4specs is the most credible, and DesignCommunity... well... there's a fair amount of yelling but it can be interesting.

Not This Forum

The USGBC hosts a Member to Member (M2M) exchange, but as the name implies you must work for a USGBC member company to have access, so it's usefulness is limited. It's organized by profession (architect, engineer, contractor, etc.) which is a pretty useless organization strategy given sustainability's emphasis on INTEGRATED design. Worse still is the fact that comments are ordered by the date the initial post instead of last comment, so new comments are frequently buried. Hopefully a rework of this system will be unveiled alongside the LEED-Online improvements scheduled with the roll-out of LEED 2009.

Getting to the point...

So what this all means is there's a fair amount of usefull information available buried in many of these forums. I'm going to start posting helpful forum posts on RealLifeLEED on a "vague time period" basis starting... NOW!

Forum Round-Up 1

Job o' the Vague Time Period: USGBC South Carolina Executive Director

My local USGBC South Carolina Chapter has put together a some money (thanks in no small part to USGBC national's Chapter Challenge Grant program) to hire a much needed executive director:

Executive Director/Chapter Management Services

  • Contract Award: $30,000 - $40,000
  • Contract Term: One Year
  • Reports to: USGBC-SC Chapter Board of Directors
  • Posting Date: August 8, 2008
  • Closing Date: September 5, 2008

The USGBC South Carolina Chapter requests qualifications from energetic individuals/firms for the position of Executive Director/Chapter Management Services, preferably located centrally within the State of South Carolina, but not required.


The Executive Director/Chapter Management Services of the USGBC-SC will report directly to the USGBC-SC Chapter Board of Directors and will represent all aspects of the USGBC-SC in fulfillment of its mission. In general, the Executive Director will be responsible to the Board of Directors to:

  • Promote the organization’s goal through public relations and outreach; Sustain growth of the organization by advancing membership efforts and by developing diverse and reliable funding sources
  • Accomplish the goals set forth in the USGBC-SC Chapter’s 2008 Strategic Plan
  • Improve the Chapter’s communications and marketing efforts
  • Ensure proper management and reporting of the organization’s finances in coordination with the treasurer
  • Advance USGBC-SC Chapter’s educational efforts


  • Organizational Excellence (Administration)
  • Advocacy and Influence
  • Educational Program Development and Implementation
  • USGBC as a Community (Membership)

Click here for submission requirements and the official request for qualifications.

LEED Design Review Delay Update

Just received a design review back from the USGBC... this time no humble pie... at least so far! It took 3 months and 6 days from the time we submitted to the time we received the initial comments from USGBC. You may have seen this press release from the USGBC about how they are expanding service, so these delays should be going down soon. For a more complete picture of the current review timeline process (including the final review) see an earlier post on the subject.

Obligatory LEED Exam Advice

EDIT 03/30/2010 - I've finally gotten around to providing exam advice, study guide reviews, and a set of FREE study materials for the updated LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) exam here... At this point, the info below is so dated that it doesn't really apply!

EDIT 12/01/2008 - See this page for information about upcoming changes to the accreditation process and a time line for when it will happen.

Real Life LEED is all about the practicing professional, but I can't help but notice how many of you reach the site via "LEED exam" searches and send me emails asking advice. All you future AP's listen up cause I'm only going to say this once! The rest of you die hard current AP's can stop reading and get yourself a beer...

The Basics

The test is a multiple choice test graded on an incredibly vague rating scale split into four parts. It is administered now by the Green Buildings Certification Institute, and any official information about changes can be found there. There are three exam tracks available that are aligned with their respective rating systems: LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC), LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI), and LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB). Once you pass though, there is no meaningful distinction among the exam tracks. In other words, someone who passes the EB exam will still qualify to earn the bonus ID point on a LEED-NC project.

I know someone's already emailed you this, but it's funny anyway

Unless you're a facilities manager whose job is optimizing existing facilities, take the LEED-NC exam. LEED-NC is sort of like the motherland of all other systems, which are in one form or another just derivatives of the NC program. LEED-EB, LEED for Homes, and LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) are all fairly distinct from NC, but of the three there is only an exam track for LEED-EB. EB is currently nowhere near as prevalent as the other systems, so unless all you do is operate and manage facilities (renovations are still likely part of the NC program), you might as well take NC. The LEED for Commercial Interiors track is kind of a joke in my opinion. The credits are pretty much the same and even interior designers and architects are likely to be working on NC projects as much as CI projects.


Everything you need to know about how to sign-up for the exam can be found in the Candidate Handbook, so I'm not going to waste my time explaining costs and numbers to call. Just understand that you can take the test whenever you want. I normally recommend giving yourself two months to study, and to go ahead and reserve your spot at the testing center before you start studying. Knowing that you could just blow three or four hundred dollars by failing a test you've already signed up for was a pretty good motivator for me. You're going to need to dedicate at least five hours a week to studying, preferably with a good cram session the day before the test. Simply signing up for one of the workshops (see below) and expecting to pass after one day is not a good strategy.

What You Need To Know

The short answer is a whole lot. You need to know the reference guide of your exam track backwards and forwards. Really knowing and understanding the credits is by far the large majority of the test. There are four sections to the test, and a solid knowledge of the individual credits will more or less get you through three of them. The "Implement LEED Process" section is a bastard of a category that can be difficult to find answers to. I took the Essentials of LEED Professional Accreditation online course and found it did a good job of helping provide "official" responses to those types of questions. Spend some time studying when you should register the project with LEED-Online, what system applies to various project types, and all about CIR's and other such goodies.

Studying the Reference Guide

You may notice the reference guide is a few hundred pages long. Luckily there is a fair amount of fluff you can more or less skip. Don't waste time reading the "Resources" section, and I don't feel you need to go through all the "Definitions". The most import things to know are the intent, requirements, referenced standards (yes you do need to know the difference between ASHRAE 90.1 and ASRAE 55), calculations, and submittal documentation required. You only need to know as much about the referenced standards as is provided by the reference guide, so don't worry about studying the intricate details of SCAQMD Rule 1168, but do know that it applies to sealants and adhesives for EQc4.1. Don't forget to learn the exemplary performance thresholds either.

Quality FREE Resources

There are a number of free resources out there, but understand at some point you need to get a copy of the reference guide, which may be difficult to find for free unless you work in an office with copies lying around. That said, there are a number of sites I recommend visiting:

  • - This was a blog by a guy named Pat who decided to just blog about his experience studying for the exam. The result is a site chock full of tips, tricks, cheat sheets, etc. that is all available free of charge. I would say this should be your first stop, and if you have any questions email him and not me...
  • - This site is setup to be a forum for people studying for the architectural registration exam, but they have a section devoted to LEED that is well trafficked. If you're searching for a used reference guide or get stuck trying to find an answer to a practice question this is the place to go. You'll even see my humble mug answering questions when I can... I also recommend taking a look at all the "brain dumps" you'll see from people who just passed or failed the test (about a 50/50 split)...
  • Building Green Suite Practice Exam - I really like BGS, as can be evidenced by this post. They have written a free practice exam (see comments on the linked page for a few bugs), which I always recommend people taking before they take the real test. The level of detail necessary to pass can be an eye opener for many.

Good luck to all of you, and when you start your first project be sure to come back here and get ready for some real learning! Disagree with my advice? Tell me where I'm wrong by leaving a comment.