Certifying Multiple Buildings Together? Part 2

While Part 1 of this soon to be made-for-tv mini-series (I've got even money on actor Martin Donovan playing USGBC founding chairman Rick Fedrizzi) focused on money, today we're going to look at how your decision to certify buildings together or separately may affect your the time it takes you to complete the documentation. Unfortunately, that is going to require a little more learning about the three systems the AGMBC uses to organize multiple buildings projects.

Multiple Buildings Application Guide 101

I've been working on two large LEED projects that each contain multiple buildings. On one we decided to certify each building independently, on the other we're working on certifying a group of buildings under a single certification. In theory, the guide should be able to save us money (on certifications) and time (which is money). In practice I haven't noticed too many benefits to the recommendations in the guide. I'm going to point out where I've seen it help and parts I throw out the door.

View the "LEED-NC Application Guide for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects(AGMBC)".

When discussing paperwork it's important to remember that the application guide is only a guide, and you can at your discretion flip between the requirements of the guide and those of a regular LEED-NC project. Page 6 of the AGMBC clearly states that "Credit requirement alternatives in this Application Guide may be used instead of the regular LEED-NC requirements, but are not mandatory as they may not apply in all situations."

The Systems

Certifying a Single Building in a Campus or Master Planned Development

This essentially allows you to include master plan elements that may be off-site in your documentation. On one of our projects, our stormwater is handled in a retention pond within the development, even though it's not technically on our "site". We've also accounted for shared parking garages and light trespass issues by including the larger site. The guidance here is almost universally helpful, as you can pretty much throw out any problems you previously had regarding shared amenities.

Certifying Multiple Buildings in One Phase of a Project

This path causes some problems. The goal here is to allow for shared site amenities as above, but there's also guidance about where you can average savings across buildings. The main problem here is that for many points each building must meet the requirements individually or ALL do not earn the point. I've tried this once and haven't been impressed with the results. Remember, you can always gain the bonuses of the first system for shared amenities and certify each building individually.

One development that we tried this on we lost the (EQc8.1) daylight credit due to one building while the rest had ample lighting. Another place you can have problems is (EQc4) Low-Emitting Materials credits. Here's a list of credits where one building missing the credit will void the entire project. Given the long list, I'm sure at least one will trip you up:

  • SSc1, Site Selection
  • SSc2, Development Density & Community Connectivity
  • SSc5.1, Site Development - Protect or Restore Habitat (Greenfield sites only)
  • EAp1, Fundamental Commissioning
  • EAp2, Minimum Energy Performance
  • EAp3, Fundamental Refrigerant Management
  • EAc3, Enhanced Commissioning
  • EAc4, Enhanced Refrigerant Management
  • EAc5, Measurement and Verification
  • EQp1, Minimum IAQ Performance
  • EQp2, Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) Control
  • EQc1, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Monitoring
  • EQc2, Increased Ventilation
  • EQc3, Construction IAQ Management Plan
  • EQc4, Low-Emitting Materials
  • EQc5, Indoor Chemical & Pollutant Source Control
  • EQc6: Controllability of Systems
  • EQc7, Thermal Comfort
  • EQc8, Daylight and Views

Conversely, the averaging of some credits can allow single buildings that may not achieve a credit to comply within the group. This is mostly where you would expect (energy and water use, shared site amenities like bike racks and showers, parking requirements, MR3-7 credits, etc.) so I won't waste your time with a full list. There is guidance on how to weight each calculation across buildings as well. The biggest savings will likely come from not needing showers (for bikers) in all buildings.

Certifying Similar Buildings to a Set of Sustainable Standards

Think design "prototypes"... architect kryptonite! This makes a lot of sense if you're a Wachovia or Starbucks and want to build a bunch of cookie-cutter buildings. You're allowed to designate a set of "prototype" credits that will be applied equally to all buildings. The first building's credits will be carefully scrutinized, but then you don't have fill out all the paperwork for subsequent buildings on the prototype credits. Sounds great, but then you find out they will audit a few of these credits each time, so you still need to collect all those materials invoices!

I haven't worked on a project like this yet, but if the buildings are really similar, you can likely save a good deal of time. If the floor plan is the same you can avoid daylight and views calcs, which are some of the most time-consuming. The more design freedom you have the less sense this makes.

What to do?

Ultimately, any time you're working in one of the three systems you're going to need the application guide. My limited experience with certifying multiple buildings together has left me recommending certifying them independently, but sometimes the certification cost savings can't be ignored. Either way, you need be clear about how the "reasonable project boundary" is going to be setup with civil engineers, landscapers, the architect, and whoever's designing the site lighting.

It seems silly, but be aware 1 certification = 1 plaque, regardless of how many buildings are involved. USGBC won't fork up another one, even if you try to buy them off. If the client is interested in marketing a LEED facility, this might be an issue!

As always, please leave your experiences with certifying multiple buildings in the comments section. I'm sure someone will point out a few mistakes by the end of the week, so check back later for corrections!


Anonymous said...

Where do I find the list of fees for multiple building certification?

Regina said...


As far as I understand, if you want different certification for different building in your development, the fee is charged separately for each building. Otherwise, it will be charged according to the floor area.
But you can always write to the USGBC for their confirmation.

Kriss said...

I am working on a small college campus in Colorado that is seeking certification. If I understand your post correctly Joel, you're using the multiple buildings option for New Construction. Is there a multiple buildings option for Existing Buildings?

Anonymous said...

Kriss asked if there is a multiple building option for existing buildings. I work for a large Army installation and had the same question. I know the chairperson on the LEED for campuses committee. I just asked him this question an hour ago. He said no (for multiple existing buildings) and they (green bldg council) are not planning on it. So it appears we will have to address it building by building.

joelmckellar said...

Thanks for the update anonymous... Though there's not multiple building path for EB, I would argue that if you've written all of the policies and have tracking in place for one building, it would be fairly easy to transfer those policies to other similar buildings without much effort. A pest management plan for one building on a campus can't be much different than for another in the same area. Ditto for procurement, green cleaning, etc.

Anonymous said...

The problem I am running into is that I have a project with two new buildings (of completely different design and construction, one going for Certified, the other for Platinum) and several older buildings on the site. The other professionals on the project have already defined the site boundary for each of the new buildings to include all of the buildings on the site, old and new, and now I have to evaluate for SSc8. My question- do all of the buildings need to meet the interior light requirements, or just the new ones that are up for certification?

heather said...

I have two projects that might be suited to multiple bldgs, but I am not sure. project one is a project with a multifamily bldg (likely highest rating would be certified) and an office bldg (silver certification) that share open space, stormwater management, parking, etc....could I use the set of standards path? ie set standards for housing/certified bldg then move up to silver with office? The client is a non-profit with tight resources so i don't see being able to pay for submitting the bldgs as separate projects.
The other project is phased redevelopment of a single historic bldg - can i treat each phase as a "bldg" and use either "set of standards" again or the group of buildings as a package option..
any thoughts?

Eli said...


I am about to register a project under LEED NC v 3.0. The project consists of two buildings that are phase 1 of a two phase development. We are planning on certifying the first two buildings under a single certification and then the second phase sometime in the future. My question is if the first two buildings will meet the "LEED Boundary" definition allowed under the new Minimum Program Requirements outlined in LEED 3.0. They two buildings in phase 1 are on either ends of the property, therefore they will not have contiguous site boundary, but rather two separate LEED Boundaries. The second phase will include the remainder of the total site, so I believe that it will meet the minimum program requirements. Does anyone have any experience with this? Thanks