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.


Anonymous said...

Any chance you'd post the whole "Handy List with Percentage of Projects Achieving Each Credit" so that I can use it as back-up when someone on my team says, "Credit ____ should be no problem! No worries. Easy point." ???

joelmckellar said...


I found that list a few years ago and tried to locate a link to it when I wrote this post. Unfortunately I was unable to track it down.

If you want to shoot me an email I'd be happy to forward for you. My email is at the bottom of the page.


Anonymous said...

The new checklists use the same bad PDF forms approach as many of the downloadable forms from the IRS.

Maybe USGBC thinks they've hit the big time. I'm sure they think it's an upgrade.

Kudos to you for addressing this in detail.

pjkkennedy said...

Couldn't agree with you more. It's bad enough they have copy protected pdf's of the manuals. I can't tell you how much time I've spent physically xeroxing sections to snail mail to sub-consultants. Also, the pdfs seem to re-set themselves to always open with Adobe Reader, even though Apple's Preview program is way faster and better (I'm on a mac). It's super annoying to have to right click and say "open with" every time you want to look at a pdf. I did find a good work around for the protected Excel files: if you open them in OpenOffice.org calc, you can then unprotect the sheet and add columns, move things, etc. I'm sooo glad I'm not the only one annoyed by this! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if I have a revised Excel checklist. The one I've downloaded from USGBC doesn't allow for filling any cells with color on the margins. The spreadsheet is protected, so while I can type in the right margin, I cannot change any formats. I've tried a couple obvious passes at a password, but with no luck.

joelmckellar said...

Latest Anon...

Later versions of the excel spreadsheet are protected, which I completely don't understand... The version I used is from a few years ago.


Anonymous said...

Check out this site: XL files available. http://www.us.sbt.siemens.com/siemensleed/complete.html

Joe Malone said...

My first post here. I hope this helps. I liked the V2.2 checklist as well. I have developed my own Version 3/2009. It has the same feel and look. Visit this link to download


joelmckellar said...

Thanks anonymous and Joe! The siemens link is dead, but for those of you who can't get the v3.0 link to work, you can pull up the file by clicking here.

Joe, I've linked to your spreadsheet on a separate post. I'm not sure how many people will be downloading it, but if it starts to kill your bandwidth I'll be happy to host it for you. If there's a particular website or company you'd like me to link people to I'd be happy to do so in exchange for you putting this together. Thanks!

Eli said...

for anyone who has not yet seen it, the USGBC has published an Excel version of the LEED 2009 Project Checklist.

Ashley said...

Even the USGBC's supposed fix to our gripes is protected!

This is definitely a hinderence rather than a help...grrr!

beth said...

Joe, Thanks againg for the wealth of information and "gifts". The checkist for 3.0 you created- the link does not work any longer. Beth