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!


Anonymous said...

Depending on when the project is registering, you might want to review the updated LEED 2009 checklist for Schools. It's different enough to be worthwhile. I've been having to do that for other rating systems including NC.

Anonymous said...


I was trying to contact you somehow but I couldn't find your email. My simple question is:

are my certification fees the same no matter if i choose to do a single submittal or separate design and construction submittal phases?

Thanks so much!

joelmckellar said...

Anonymous #2,

It doesn't matter if you split the phases or have a combined review, the prices are the same.

For future reference, my email is at the bottom of the page!


Diana said...

If you go to the USGBC national website, under schools, there is a comparison chart that summarizes the differences btween LEED NC2.2 and LEED for Schools. Its called "LEED for Schools Credit Modifications". I keep this with the reference guide for Schools. As another comment mentioned, LEED 2009 will change this.

Synkai said...

Does anyone know what you can get a exemplary performance point in LEED NC for EAc6 by doubling the requirements but in LEED for Schools you cannot?

BTW Thanks for the tip Diana! I am currently working on a LEED for Schools project and this will come in handy.