Residental LEED Projects Already Surpass Commercial Projects in Total Certifications

I noticed a while back from the USGBC updates that residential certifications were quickly catching up to their commercial counterparts. A USGBC Update from 03.11.10 there are now 5,000 'residential' certifications and 4,890 commercial projects in existence, though there are still slightly more commercial registered projects... amazing growth considering the first LEED-NC system was released over ten years ago while LEED-Homes was only launched in April of 2009...

Comparing LEED residential certifications to commercial projects

USGBC Update from 03.11.10

I think this is great news... at this point everyone in the industry knows about LEED, so the only growth in awareness is going to have to come from the general public. As LEED Homes grows in popularity it only stands to reason that the other systems will gain wider recognition and demand as well. Wider demand means better benefits for certification (in higher lease rates and such), which will then spur increased demand for certification, which means more awareness still, and the glorious feedback loop continues on and on...

Details and More Details

When I first noticed this I shot off a quick email to the USGBC communications department to get some clarity on the distinction between 'residential' and 'commercial' projects. (Before you ask... I got a very timely reply... the fault for the delay in the post is all mine!) Residential projects are comprised of residential units, not necessarily project certifications (e.g. a multifamily building with 8 units earning a single LEED Homes rating counts not once but eight times) certified under traditional LEED for Homes or the LEED for Homes Mid-Rise Pilot systems. Commercial buildings are presumably everything else...

The next question I asked was whether the growth LEED Homes speciality accreditations were outpacing the other systems, but the response from the USGBC was that this is not the case yet...

LEED Green Associate Exam Advice + FREE Study Materials

NOTE - 02.07.11 - As of today I'm sad to report that I can no longer offer the 100% free study guide that was previously posted below, as that guide is now for sale. The good news is that some of the components of that study guide are still available for free on the Studio 4 website. The sections of this post originally referring to the free study guide have been edited accordingly.

Last week I wrapped up a four week training course training people at my day-job to pass the LEED Green Associate exam. As part of preparing this course, I asked various companies to provide me with their training materials. The result is hopefully a high pass rate from the people in my class and a great opportunity to make some recommendations about what (not) to buy if you're preparing for the same test... I'll also cover a four week curriculum that I think should be sufficient for most people to pass the test.

What this post will not cover are the logistics of applying and registering to take the test and everything about the various tiers of accreditation. The Green Buildings Certification Institute has done a pretty good job of explaining those subjects in their Step-by-Step guide and the Candidate Handbook. If you have not read the Candidate Handbook at this time, I strongly suggest you do so before reading the following. This post is about how to study for exam, not how and why you do it.

In addition to the guidance below, there is a lot of guidance from those who have taken, passed or failed the exam on the ARE forum's LEED section...

How Long Do I Need To Study?

I believe that you can learn what you need to pass the exam on a four-week regimen. I developed the following reading assignments for those in my in-house class. For that group I also used a variety of third-party study guides for homework assignments and practice questions, but I've pared down the suggested reading here to only include the primary references (documents that the LEED-GA exam questions are pulled from). All of the primary references save one can be found via the LEED GA Candidate Handbook free of charge, just go to page 14 and click on the links. The problem is that the references don't really tell you what's important... learning everything listed would be insane (way too much info), and it's tough to get a feel of what to skip and what to focus on.

I was happily surprised to see my class schedule mirror guidance from the PPI study guide (reviewed below), so we can't both be too far off the mark. I think it's appropriate to spend 2 weeks on the USGBC, GBCI and the LEED system itself, and another two weeks on sustainable design strategies and concepts:

Week 1 covers test eligibility and registration logistics LEED AP tiers and credentialing maintenance, and an introduction to the USGBC and GBCI organizations. Suggested reading:

  • LEED GA Candidate Handbook - All
  • Green Building and LEED Core Concepts - 15-17 (stop at "LEED Rating Systems")

Week 2 provides an introduction to the structure of the various LEED rating systems, and background information about green buildings. Suggested reading:

  • Cost of Green Revisited - pg 3-9; 24-25
  • LEED for Homes Rating System - pg iv-xvii (pg 4-7 in pdf)
  • LEED for New Construction Rating System - pg i (3 in pdf); xi-xvii (13-19 in pdf)
  • LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Reference Guide, Introduction - All
  • Sustainable Buildings Technical Manual, Part 2 - All
  • Guidelines for CIR Customers - All
  • Green Building and LEED Core Concepts - pg 3-13; 17-24 (start at "LEED Rating Systems")

Week 3 covers topics related to sustainable site selection, water efficiency, and energy and atmosphere. Suggested reading:

  • Cost of Green Revisited - pg 12-17
  • The Treatment by LEED® of the Environmental Impact of HVAC Refrigerants - pg iv-2 (pg 5-8 in pdf)
  • LEED for New Construction Rating System - pg 1-45 (21-65 in pdf)
  • Green Building and LEED Core Concepts - pg 25-51

Week 4 covers topics related to indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, and innovation in design. Suggested reading:

  • Cost of Green Revisited - pg 18-23
  • Guidelines for Innovation in Design (ID) Credits - All (1 page)
  • LEED for New Construction Rating System - pg 47-85 (67-105 in pdf)
  • Green Building and LEED Core Concepts - pg 53-67

What Study Guides Do(n't) I Need?

There are a great many study guides out there. As mentioned above, all but one of the primary references are completely free, and if you're willing to slog through everything and figure it out on your own you can make it work. What the primary references don't do is tell you what's important, and I do believe that each of the following guides have a lot to offer...

Official USGBC Core Concepts and LEED GA Study Guides

LEED Core Concepts Guide

The USGBC offers two official study guides, the Green Building and LEED Core Concepts Guide ($35-50 based on membership) and the LEED Green Associate Study Guide ($70-85 based on membership). These represent the only official study materials from the USGBC, and for a variety of reasons they annoy me a great deal...

LEED GA Exam Study Guide

Cons - First, the LEED Core Concepts Guide is the only primary reference listed by the GBCI that costs money to access. I can understand third parties developing content and needing to get compensated for their work, but the USGBC should make every effort to minimize costs for educational purposes. (NOTE: I don't have a problem charging for the accreditation, but I think the education should be free.) Second, the two books are almost identical in content, and they should have been combined from the start. It's frustrating having to bounce between the two to find the one or two things mentioned in one that isn't mentioned in the other. Third, the books are much smaller than the images the USGBC website (also shown on the left) would have you believe. The cost to content ratio is not very favorable.

Pros - Despite the above, I did find a few things helpful in these guides. First, the practice exam questions listed in the study guide (60 total... not enough for a full test) are the only questions available that have been approved by the USGBC. Second, as someone teaching a LEED GA training course, the way the GA Study Guide was organized was well suited for teaching the content. Third, though I might argue it's possibly too concise, these guides don't waste time with unnecessary details. I also liked the definition flash cards they created that comes included in the GA Study Guide.

Who should get these? - I would not recommend buying these unless you plan on teaching a LEED GA class, as some of the questions, exercises, and some of the graphics listed in the LEED GA Study Guide were quite helpful. I wouldn't recommend anyone buy the Core Concepts Guide... save your money!

The Green Associate Walkthrough

LEED Green Associate Walkthrough

Pat at the Green Exam Academy still keeps a fair amount of free resources on his website, including some very helpful, very basic info in case you're just getting started. He's also created a study guide and companion audio series called The Green Associate Exam Walkthrough ($29.95 for ebook or audio files alone, $44.95 combined) which is truly a study guide in that it features bulleted lists summarizing the most key points and does not waste a lot of space explaining things in detail. Purchasing the guide also gets you a duplicate version of the guide with a bunch of keywords omitted so you can fill them in as practice.

Cons - Those very new to LEED or design and construction in general will likely have a hard time given how condensed the material is. No hardcopy edition available.

Pros - Well organized and concise. If you have the magic ability to memorize everything you hear you could get the audio sessions and be done studying in just over an hour. The fill in the blank edition is the only study guide I've seen that offers study tools beyond practice questions, though the USGBC study guide does offer some group work. No hardcopy edition available (depends on your perspective!).

Who should get these? - If you're already generally familiar with LEED but haven't gotten around to making that last push for the exam, this is probably the best guide for you. It's short and to the point without skimping on details, but complete newbies may have a hard time understanding some of the bullets. Though well prepared and even more concise than the study guide, the audio files are likely unnecessary for most purposes. This may just be my preference for reading over getting lectured to showing up... If you're thinking of only getting one or the other, definitely go with the guide and not the audio files.

LEED GA Power Pack

LEED Prep GA - PPI2Pass

The professional test help juggernaut PPI has developed the most expensive set of study materials in their LEED GA Power Pack (Individually: $89.95 for the study guide, $54.95 for two hardcopy practice exams, $34.95 for flash cards, $9.95 for an online practice exam - All four combined: $170.85). I've only reviewed those mentioned above, though there are a litany of other options on their site ranging from a $299.95 multimedia CD-ROM to LEED GA flashcards for your iPhone ($19.95). The flashcards are taken directly from the primary references, and the study guide itself is quite comprehensive.

Cons - First, cost. Second, the flashcards are terrible... not because they are wrong or provide misinformation but because they require knowledge so in-depth that I would wager they request information you wouldn't even need to pass the second Tier II exams. I've taught classes on this and have been working on LEED projects for four years and could probably not answer more than half of these questions... The study guide itself probably also goes into more detail than is required by the exam, but as you'll see in the Pros section I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing... At the same time, you can get the same level of detail in most instances with the free guide from Studio4 listed below.

Pros - For those that are unfamiliar with the actual practice of design and construction or completely in the dark about sustainable practices, this study guide gives you some clear but comprehensive discussions about the sustainable design strategies component of the exam. The author did a great job explaining the larger issues surrounding sustainable design and construction. For the most part, the practice test questions seem to mirror those provided by the USGBC, and they have an online test simulator that mirrors the timing and format of the actual exam. Note that I did not actually review the online simulator, only the hard copy tests.

Who should get these? - Out of the package that I reviewed, I found the practice tests to be most beneficial and would recommend them to anyone who was looking for such a tool. The study guide itself would be excellent for anyone very new to LEED or the design/construction industry in general, but anyone who has worked in the field for some time or is generally aware of LEED would likely find the comprehensive nature of the guide a little frustrating. No one should buy those flash cards unless you want to know far more than you need to pass the exam.

Studio4 Study Materials

Studio4 LEED Study Guide

Larry Sims of Studio4 (aka rookwood on the ARE forums) compiled a pretty good study guide that until recently was offered free of charge. While a PDF copy of this guide now costs $34.95 (+$9.95 for a 101 question practice test), many free materials are still available on his website. I'm generally impressed with these materials, but they're not without fault...

Cons - The study guide is the largest of the bunch, clocking in at over 250 pages! Significant portions of the content have a narrative style more akin to articles than the concise language typically found in a study guide, but you can rest assured that if you need to know it it is likely in there. Though most of the question content seems appropriate, a fair amount of the test questions are vague and could be frustrating, but that's probably good practice for the real thing! At the same time I would probably still recommend the PPI practice exams over this one. The BD+C chart is great... but you don't really need to know all of that for this test either.

Pros - The language is straightforward and the concepts are clearly presented. Larry's done an excellent job of linking within the document to official USGBC and GBCI website and guidance where appropriate for more information. There are resources in here that would benefit people who aren't even studying for the exam (e.g. info on the Harvard resource on page 14), and in general it's peppered with statistics and ideas you might find useful to convince a client about the benefits of sustainable design... LEED project administrators will find the timeline and project management section helpful outside the scope of this test as well. Those ultimately desiring to take the BD+C tier II exam will find the summary chart quite helpful. Oddly enough, this is the only guide I've seen with a significant amount of pictures included!

Who should get these? - Similar to the PPI study guide, I think this guide will serve well those with limited experience in the field or those who are completely in the dark about LEED. I think those project administrators who aren't even taking the test may find this a handy reference to keep nearby. Those who are well versed already and are looking for a more concise tutorial would be better served by the Green Associate Walkthrough or the USGBC's official GA Study Guide.

Full Disclosure

I wouldn't be doing my job well if I didn't point out a few conflicts of interest. I stand by my positions on all of the above materials as my honest opinion free of financial bias, but the fact remains that I received free copies of the PPI materials, the Green Associate Walkthrough, and the Studio 4 Study Guide. I also have an affiliate relationship with Green Exam Academy, the company that produces the Green Associate Walkthrough (see ads on right). I received no money or incentives beyond those just listed.

If you have LEED GA training materials beyond those reviewed here, I will review them if you're willing to provide a free copy. Contact me via email for more info.

Think I'm completely wrong? Is there something you found helpful that I didn't mention above? Please share by leaving a comment!