Regionalization, Public Comments, and LEED 2009... Oh My!


Your One Stop Shop to Understanding The Proposed LEED 2009 System Without Sifting Through 8000 Pages USGBC Material

NOTE - 03/28/09 - As the new LEED 2009 reference guides have been released, I poured through page by page to give you detailed review of the changes which can be found here. It's still worth reading below for a general introduction, but the new post reviews what was actually approved.

Well folks... just as you get comfortable with LEED 2.2 it's time to start gearing up for the release of LEED 2009 - formerly known as LEED 3.0. (I guess USGBC is taking it's cues from Autodesk, Microsoft, etc. on coming up with new naming conventions every few years to keep things "fresh"). As the resource for LEED AP's everywhere, Real Life LEED is here to give you a concise and poorly copy-edited guide of overviews of major changes and a plea for all those who like to bitch about LEED to actually submit comments and change the system!

What's Changing?

The "LEED 2009 Vision and Executive Summary" basically states that LEED is growing at an exponential rate, will now start to be revised on a periodic basis much similar to code improvements, incorporate a "transparent environmental/human impact credit weighting" scheme, and add some form of regionalism into the point system. LEED-NC, LEED-CS, LEED-CI, LEED-EB, and LEED for Schools are all being edited under the new system.

The credits themselves are barely touched. Looking at the updates to LEED-NC, only a few things jump out at me. Your water use reductions jump from 20%/30% to 30%/40% and the 20% threshold is now a prerequisite. The EAc1 points are now based on ASHRAE 90.1-2007. The credit for CRI Green Label carpets (EQc4.3) is now expanded to include pretty much all other flooring options. There are now "bonus" points that you can earn that are dependent on the building location (see explanation below).

Other than that, the changes are mostly semantic clarifications and updated "Requirements" sections that incorporate the latest credit interpretation rulings (CIRs). You can see the updated LEED 2009 draft rating systems at the following links - all in annoying .zip format!

Credit Weighting

The easy to use 10-step weighting process (<-sarcasm) that is proposed is described in a series of utterly incomprehensible documents that can be found here. My best summary goes something like this:
The reason for the weighting change is that points were previously assigned in a less than scientific way and the USGBC would like to have a better argument for why one credit is assigned a higher point value than another. The new weightings are based on a complex system based on the EPA's "Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts", aka TRACI. In an effort to provide transparency, the USGBC releases far more information about the weightings than any reasonable non-academic should be willing to digest. Credits related to energy use, water use, and transportation now have more impact on your total score. Credits related to siting (non-energy related), materials, indoor environmental quality, and waste managment have less of an impact. Overall, I think the changes make sense. Using the proposed LEED-NC point allocations, water use eekes up from 7% of the points to 10%, a number I think should go even higher. Energy use now accounts for 35% of possible points instead of 25%, and transportation credits (SSc2 and SSc4.1-4.4) make the biggest jump from 7% to 17% under the new system. Long story short, all of the systems under review will know have 110 points including 5 Innovation and Design points, 4 "Regionalization" points (see below), and 1 point for having a LEED AP, which is now separate from the other ID points. The new thresholds for certification levels are as follows:
  • Certified: 40-49 points
  • Silver: 50-59 points
  • Gold: 60-79 points
  • Platinum: 80-110 points

Regionalization Credits

There is no information currently available as to what these points will look like. All I've been able to find in the documentation provided by the USGBC is that "These Regional Bonus Credits will be identified by the USGBC Chapters and Regional Councils for each “environmental zone” and a maximum of four points are available for project teams to pursue. This work is currently underway."

It sound like each USGBC Region will have the authority to create six potential bonus credits, of which you may pursue a maximum of four. This is a very good idea, though it will be interesting to see how the balloting process (if any) is handled within each region. Being from coastal South Carolina (the land of 100% humidity), I would love to credits for harvesting water from air.

Yes... I know this is a horrible photoshop effort

Public Comment Period Ends June 22nd!

Have a problem with the LEED system? Now's your chance! Be sure to comment on the draft 2009 systems before the deadline to make your voice heard. I get so frustrated when I hear people complain about LEED seeking to serve private interests when the whole process is so democratic...

What are your thoughts on the system updates? Share them with us in the comments section, after you share them with the USGBC first of course!


Christopher said...

Great summary, I would like to see the regionalization aspect to have points given to buildings that are designed and are built to respond to the potential natural disasters that occur most in that region - floods, hurricanes, forest fires, tornados, and other extreme weather. Help abate future Katrina's, Greensburg's, etc.

joelmckellar said...

Have you heard the term "passive survivability" before? It's a pretty interesting concept from a design standpoint.

Read this if you have a BuildingGreenSuite membership or here for a similar article in GreenSource

Courtney said...

I don't know much about the ins and outs of LEED (quite yet), but I'm glad to hear that there are so many people jumping on the LEED bandwagon. Sounds to me like the requirements are just getting more stringent - not really a bad thing, but I hope it doesn't turn into a deterrent.

joelmckellar said...

It seems like the requirements always get a tiny bit harder year to year, which is a good plan.

It's important to note that I ALWAYS recommend registering a project ASAP, as it effectively locks you in to the requirements at that instant. If you wait, you might get stuck with new regulations.

upendahaja said...

hi i think your photoshop was great. i was convinced uncle sam was me to comment on LEED 2009. so here i am.

other than that thanks for the summary. i just download LEED 2008 and am glad to know you read all 8000 pages of the 2009.

Dave M said...

It was getting to the point where a knowledgeable design team could produce a LEED certified building for 0% to 2% above the cost of a conventional building and produce a better project. That's the main reason the program has really started to grow and gain traction in the market place. The question used to be why build green-- to now it's why not? The big question with the new rating system is will it drive the cost of a first project to the point where it's a no go. It would be a shame to undo all the progress that has been made.

joelmckellar said...

Good point Dave... I'm particularly curious to see how the elevated water efficiency prereq will pan out after the initial comments. There are a number of situations where waterless urinals are less than optimal(BuildingGreenSuite subscription needed...sorry!), and that might make the benchmark difficult.

Julie Janiski said...

A 20% water reduction is usually very easy! If a project has equal male/female occupancy and urinals in all the male restrooms, then the savings per piece of equipment looks like this:
6.50% - low-flow lavatory
18.7% - ultra low-flow lavatory
4.40% - low-flow shower
2.20% - low-flow kitchen sink
12.5% - low-flow WC
13.4% - dual flush WC
40.0% - composting toilet
6.20% - low-flow urinal
12.4% - waterless urinal

These numbers and the coordinating flush/flow rates are from the LEED-NC v2.2 PDF worksheet.

An examples using this as a guide: you could add ultra low-flow lavatories (18.7) and low-flow kitchen sinks (2.2) to get 20.9% to meet the minimum 20% requirement.

Of course, you should always use the credit template with the actual project details (this is my liability statement), but this might be helpful as a way of establishing what kinds of equipment impact water savings the most!

joelmckellar said...

Julie... Thanks for the comment, but I'm curious about the assumptions behind the "percentage reductions" you listed... Would they not change based on what's included in the building? If my project doesn't include showers won't that affect the percentage each reduction contributes to the overall water use (i.e. percentage reduction from other low-flow fixtures would increase)?

Julie Janiski said...


Mike said...

good post

Todd said...

As an interior Designer, I looked through the LEED '09-CI changes and was really excited to see a move away (points wise) from the aesthetic materials decisions which are mostly cost or weight driven and towards the truly sustainable design decisions (water and energy use, IAQ, etc.).

This revision gives me hope that LEED will now have the growth capabilities to affect significant change over the coming years.

Somer said...

Very good article. Thank you for the summary, it was a task trying to find the information on the usgbc webpage.

Anonymous said...

Can we get a "Glossary" of Abbreviations?

I know that we should know for example what LEED CI is but I get tired of clicking around all over aimlessly searching for these things.

joelmckellar said...


Sorry for the jargon, but I tend to be lazy about these things and type quickly.

LEED has a variety of rating systems that are commonly abbreviated into two letter acronyms:

LEED for Commercial Interiors = LEED-CI

LEED for New Construction = LEED-NC

LEED for Core and Shell = LEED-CS

LEED for Existing Buildings = LEED-EB

LEED for Neighborhood Development = LEED-ND

I'll try to be more careful about this in the future.


Regina said...

Hi Joel,
Just want to clarify. The weighting system can only be utilized by USGBC is that right? I looked through the document and saw that the weighting is also determined by the building prototype and the extent of control the developer has over transportation. So how does that translate into use for different regions? Are the weightings fixed for now in their draft version?


joelmckellar said...


The weightings are reflected in the new point totals, effectively "utilized by USGBC" alone. In other words, designers and LEED AP's aren't going to have to deal with any new weighting calculations. The weighting system is important for when new credits are added to the entire system determine how many points are attributed to them.

As for the 2009 draft, it is currently up for vote, so there's not much you or I can do to alter them.

Hope that helps!


Bill Swanson said...

Not sure if anyone noticed but the new WE prereq now uses 0.5 gpm for the baseline of restroom lavatories. This will make the mandatory 20% savings more of a challange. These are my calcs on the new baseline based on default use rates.

NA% - low-flow lavatory
0% - ultra low-flow lavatory
5.5% - low-flow shower
1.6% - low-flow kitchen sink
15.7% - low-flow WC
12.6% - dual flush WC
50.2% - composting toilet
7.8% - low-flow urinal
13.7% - ultra low-flow urinal
15.7% - waterless urinal

Since owners seem to hate waterless urinals to the point that I've seen them removed from a LEED building less then 1 year after occupancy I'm going to guess that the most common strategy for getting 20% water savings now will be low-flow urinals and dual flush wc for a total savings of 20.4%. Not too difficult.

I don't see how the 30% point is possible without the pint or waterless urinal and the 40% point will need the composting toilet. Unless I've missed my math.

Bill swanson said...

I check my numbers again. With the kitchen sink baseline at 2.2 gpm I could only get to 39.6% without the composting toilet. With the kitchen sink baseline at 2.5 gpm I could get 40.3% without the composting toilet. I'm sure everyone will breathe easier now.

(I also had to add 1.2% for the 20% time savings with an auto sensor on the lavatory.)

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you get to the higher water use reductions through other means, as in using rainwater to flush the toilets, rather than potable water, using rainwater for irrigation. Using grey water for irrigation. Lots of other ways to reduce water use other than simply putting in low flow toilets.

Bill Swanson said...

Yes, a grey water system would be great at reducing potable water use. Eliminating potable water use for toilets and urinals would save 65%. And maybe this newer version of LEED will encourage more designers to consider a grey water system. Wonderful. My point was the ease of showing huge water savings in the current version of LEED will be gone.

Right now if someone designed a building with
18.7% - ultra low flow lavatory
12.4% - dual flush toilet
13.4% - waterless urinal
44.5% total potable water savings for a total of 3 points. (1 for exemplary)

In LEED 2009 these same devices would total like this.
0.0% - ultra low flow lavatory
12.6% - dual flush toilet
15.7% - waterless urinal
28.3% total potable water savings for compliance but zero points. It's not going to be such easy points any more.

I think USGBC kinda sneaked this in since the 0.5 gpm value for lavatory baseline wasn't shown in the first or second public comment.

Yim Lincoln said...

I found your site today. Good work. I passed my exam in Sept 08 as LEED AP, went on job network and found most jobs required LEED AP have prior requirements as AIA or ME, PE Commissioning engineer.
I have some friends studying hard for the LEED exam hoping it is a ticket for a job, and it is completely untrue. I wish the USGBC would put a disclaimer saying that LEED AP is an add on value to an existing professional degree. The seminars are expensive, the exam is expensive, for a lot of new comers the message to a job future is misleading.
Yim Lincoln, LEED AP, Laguna Beach, CA

Anonymous said...

What I'd like to see change is the way the reference guides are written. It looks like they intentionally try to make them incomprehensible, so they and their friends can make tons of money teaching people what those books say. Why called it "Innovative Wastewater Technologies" instead of "Sewage Conveyance and Wastewater Treatment"? I think there's something wrong with obfuscating language and/or big words, if it's to the point they're actually discouraging people from becoming involved in green building by making the language inaccessible. Yes, it's a technical field, but why not say what we mean, regardless? With the new "Green Associate" program that is not necessarily for technical people, they ought to reconsider their approach, IMHO.

cantstopwontstop said...

has anyone successfully transitioned a LEED NC v 2.2 project to LEED 2009 ONLINE?? I am wondering if the switch is worth the hassle just based on the supposed improvements in the version 3 online system.... I sure hate waiting for 1 minute just to assign one credit to the HVAC engineer.... !!


Frederik said...

When analyzing the new templates for WE prerequisite and credits 2 and 3 it was observed that the calculation methodology differs at some points from the previous one on LEED NC v2.2 and LEED CS v2.0.

For flow fixtures (faucets, showers) the cycle duration is fixed. However, there are companies that set different cycle durations for the product optimal use.

Is it acceptable to calculate the flow rate using a correlation based on different cycle durations? For example, it is installed a 10 second-cycle 0,5 gpm lavatory faucet. On the template the fixed cycle duration for lavatory faucets is equal to 15 seconds. Thus considering the cycle duration of 15 seconds the installed faucet flow rate will be 0,75 gpm.

How should I procedure in such kind of situation?

Best regards.

Tim LEED AP said...

Great post and information. We all need to get that LEED AP cert now since it will just keep getting harder.