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!