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How I Learned to Love Shameless Self-Promotion

My new best friend Zach Mortice decided to write a short profile on my less than humble blog! If you want to learn a little more about me and the origins of this blog check it out...

LEED-EB Fees Explained

I've wanted to post about LEED fees for awhile, but my desire to keep my REAL job has kept me from doing so. Nobody likes a colluder anyway (that is a word). Luckily I'm able to live vicariously through the meticulous studies of others... Thanks Leonardo Academy!!!

People Who Know More Than Me

Apparently the Leonardo Academy is a non-profit group that calls themselves a "Think and Do Tank" that I'd previously never heard of. I'm going to chalk this up to poor PR consultants who may or may not have drafted the "Think and Do Tank" tagline. Last week I began to look at costs and fees associated with LEED-EB certification, and it just so happens this same group dropped a killer report on the subject less than a month earlier!

First Thoughts

The study is well put together, and breaks down costs into owner staff costs, consulting costs, USGBC fees, and hard costs. I was struck by how in almost every situation, the owner staff costs were roughly double that of all other soft costs (which include consulting and USGBC fees). Based on fourteen buildings, the median prices per square foot break down as follows:

  • Staff Costs: $0.46/sf
  • Consulting Costs: $0.23/sf
  • Registration and Application Fees: $0.03/sf
  • Hard Costs: $0.44/sf
  • Total Costs: $2.48/sf

Yes, I know those fees don't add up to equal the total costs, and if you need to know why you should learn about the definition of "median". The study goes on to provide mean, minimum, and maximum costs, and further breaks down the numbers based on certification level. It's very important to note that these figures are not for the latest LEED-EB O&M rating system. They are all based on "LEED for Existing Buildings for Individual Buildings" as described by the report. Real Life LEED has been told but can't confirm that the new system was designed to be more user friendly and should reasonably see lower costs for completion. Only time will tell if that holds true.

The report goes on to highlight inexpensive or easy to achieve credits as indicated by owner surveys. Also useful to a consultant will be the comparisons of actual operating costs of LEED-EB buildings to BOMA averages. Slightly more LEED-EB buildings had lower operating costs when compared to industry averages.

Owner Intensive

As one might expect, LEED-EB requires a great degree of owner involvement, especially when compared to the other LEED systems, which could more or less be completed while the owner is on extended vacation in the Bahamas... Obviously it would be preferred to have the owner involved in all LEED systems, but I don't see how you could get by without 'em in LEED-EB.

What's Missing

The most critical information I'd like to see is at least SOME description of the square footages involved. Previous experience in LEED-NC and LEED-CS has me believing that costs for documentation and management are not scalable with building size. Given that LEED-EB is so focused on drafting policies and tracking performance, I have a hard time believing it takes 100 times more effort to draft a integrated pest management policy in a 5,000 sf building than for a 500,000 sf building.

What are you're experiences with the LEED-EB system, new or otherwise??? Please share with everyone in the comments section below!

The Economics of LEED for Existing Buildings For Individual Buildings: 2008 Edition

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!

Job o' the Vague Time Period: Atkins Dubai

I've decided to start a new series of job postings for experienced LEED AP's. As you can see, I don't want to tie myself down to doing this every week or month, as I'm not sure how many of these will pop up...

Experienced LEED AP Required - Atkins Dubai

Atkins Dubai is a multinational engineering and design consultancy, providing expertise to help resolve complex challenges presented by the built and natural environment with sustainable solutions. Atkins recognizes the tremendous opportunity and responsibility, and is committed to the sustainable design awareness, proficiency, and innovation to create green icons. Atkins is one of the founding members of Emirates Green Building Council in Dubai, U.A.E with more than 20 LEED AP’s. Since its establishment, Atkins has worked towards integrating sustainability into their entire practice. Evidence of which includes many buildings such as the Bahrain World Trade Centre with the inclusion of wind turbines for the first time in high rise towers, Lighthouse Tower (aims for LEED Platinum) and many more – please visit for more details. Atkins has over 15 projects pursuing LEED certification and would like your expertise to join our dynamic team to built green icons. If you are a LEED AP with experience in more than five LEED certified projects, please contact Sejal Agashe at

Want to post a job offer? Real Life LEED can offer very reasonable rates(probably too reasonable if you get the good face discount) for access to a highly targeted audience of sustainable design and construction professionals!


Have a renovation project and are concerned about construction waste management (MRc2) issues? There is a non-profit corporation (501c3) called Help1Up who will come to your project, remove all of the old furniture, give you a tax-deductible receipt, and then give the furniture to families in need. The only issue you're likely to encounter is an efficient way of weighing your furniture before it is sent off for your MRc2 documentation.

I haven't used the service yet, but it's pretty easy to plug in your zip code and they'll list a variety of participating "furniture banks".

That's right... I used a LOLcat image in a post about furniture recycling...

This seems to be part of an increasing trend to commoditize the deconstruction of buildings in general. In Charleston, SC where I live, there's a company called SC Sustainable Deconstruction that performs much the same service except that they will come in and take apart the building for you and haul off all the good stuff to be resold. Also a 501c3, you get the same receipt. As these systems get more sophisticated, the demolition process which used to be cost negative is turning into an income stream, all while reducing our impact on the environment.

Ecolect Review: Tastes Great, Needs Filling

Ecolect - A Sustainble Materials Community

This is my second review of a site I've find helpful in the tedious process that is sustainable materials selection. The first review covered the Building Green Suite, which is to date still my favorite source for this info. Today we look at Ecolect, which is a young upstart that has the potential to be the next big thing, but still has a little growing to do before I become truly addicted.

The Good

My favorite part about Ecolect is that it will often give you hard numbers about things like recycled content or renewable content right on the site, instead of having to fish through the manufacturers' pages to get what you need. If they're willing to report it, that's enough evidence for me to list on my MRc3-7 templates. If anyone has had an issue with reporting third party figures in these situations, please let us know by posting a comment below.

I really like the interface as well. Though you can't search by MasterFormat divisions, their search bar does a pretty good job of actually returning materials you're searching for. The simple button interface provides large enough pictures to see the material without having to click and move further along.

The Okay

The materials listed on the site are heavily weighted towards finish surfaces, paints, and textiles. This site seems oriented mainly towards interior designers, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. Many of the products aren't building materials at all, though the site makes no claim to limit themselves to architectural products in the first place. Anyone working on a LEED for Commercial Interiors project will likely find Ecolect very helpful, but those working on LEED Core and Shell buildings may want to spend their time elsewhere.

More Filling Please

By my count a few minutes ago there were 470 materials, and I would estimate that about two-thirds of those are variations on single product types (multiple sheens/colors of low VOC paint, different colors of cork flooring, etc). Again, if you're an interior designer searching for the perfect wall covering this is a bonus, as every option is in front of you. On the other hand, there's really not a whole lot of diversity in product types.

Like a Fine Wine...

In the end, it's hard to create any database that has everything you'd need without some time to grow and mature. Like BuildingGreen, their articles section is starting to feature some interesting, in-depth reviews of larger issues in materials, from biomimicry to bioplastics. A little more volume is all this site needs to make it THE resource for sustainable interiors...

Have a site you'd like to recommend? Please share your experiences with a comment!

via SallyTV!

The ID Credit Gold Box!

Innovation in Design Credit Catalog

This may be old news for some of you, but for those of you who haven't seen the "Innovation in Design Credit Catalog" from the USGBC you're really missing out!

This is essentially a giant, FREE spreadsheet that chronicles EVERY IDc1 credit submitted (and presumably accepted) before the Summer of 2007. Much like any commercial for financial services, there is a disclaimer that essentially says "past performance does not indicate future results". With that in mind, you can't assume that directly copying one of these past strategies will work for you.

Forgive me for my point-mongering ways, but if you're right on the border between gold and silver you might find a few things already in your project that you could submit if you have a few IDc1 slots left (there are four total). These are organized by category.

I was surprised by how little it can take to get a point. One project applied for a point by stating that the owner would provide all employees with reusable coffee mugs to reduce waste, along with using fountain drink machines instead of can dispensers. While a great idea, this probably costs next to nothing and could be used in any project. As a whole though, most of the submissions were rather robust examples of great sustainable design ideas.

If you have any suggestions for great ID ideas that could work for many projects, please share you thoughts in the comments section!

LEED for Projects Under Construction

At some point in your illustrious career as a LEED AP a client is going to come to you asking what it will take to get his non-LEED-and-already-under-construction-project certified. You likely brought it up 6 months ago when this sort of thing would have been easy, but he just read an article in Fortune or BusinessWeek about how LEED certified projects have higher lease rates and any office building without a LEED stamp won't be considered "Class A" space in three or four years or something... In any case, it's your job to see if it's possible.

The Real Life LEED Guide to Determining Certification Feasibility for Projects Under Construction

If anyone wants to join RealLifeLEED as a title and header editor please let me know. I'm obviously not very good.

First things first... Check the Prereqs!

I suggest going in order of easiest to hardest things to do to get this done. Check with the contractor to make sure they're complying with the requirements of SSp1. Then start talking to your mechanical engineer. You'll need them to look at the refrigerants, IAQ, and energy performance of the building. Hopefully they'll be able to tell if you've exceeded ASHRAE 90.1 by 14% to meet the new prerequisite requiring at least two EAc1 Optimize Energy Performance credit without having to run through a costly ASHRAE 90.1 calculation. If you can't meet the prereqs you can go ahead an give up now.

Second round: The Money

If it's looking like we'll meet the other prereq's I go ahead and get a rough estimate on the fees for a commissioning services if one isn't already on the project. Add that to the registration and certification fees, and any fees you (or other consultants) would charge for the additional service. It's typically a significant enough amount to get the owner to think about how much they want to do this.

Also make the client aware that this is likely to increase the amount of change orders from the contractor. He may need to now purchase things like bike racks, metal grates for the entrances, etc.

Third round: Checklist Time

If you passed the first few tests it's time to pull out your trusty credit checklist and take a look at where you stand. A lot of easy points when designed from the beginning may have to be thrown out. If the contractor hasn't been worried about VOC levels, sourcing regionally, or diverting waste there are a lot of MR and EQ points that are a lost cause. If you're early in the construction schedule there may be opportunities to salvage some of these, but generally it's too late.

If you think you have enough to make at least a certified level start running through the paperwork and get on the contractor about collecting receipts, managing his waste stream, etc. Hopefully when everything's finished you end up with a plaque, but I'd be very clear to the client about how you can't guarantee anything rating wise.

Been through this before? Please share your experiences in the comments section.