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.