Five Lessons Learned from LEED Projects

Each time we complete LEED certification on a project, we pat ourselves on the back for the success, lick a few wounds, and start on the conversation that opens up with, “Next time will be different – we will…”  So, to spare you some grief on your own LEED projects, or simply to commiserate, here are 5 of our recent LEED Lessons Learned:

1.       Calculate Early, but Upload Late: Although it is critical to assess LEED opportunities early in the process when little changes can make a big difference, we were uploading to LEED Online too early in the CD’s.  For the Hilton Hotel we used the ‘final’ permit submittal set for the documentation, but a late plan-check correction required the addition of an interior stairwell, triggering a ripple of change for every credit, and all new uploads and calculations.  Duh-oh!

2.       Even a Little PV Helps: Renewable energy, typically Photovoltaic panels, double counts for LEED, meaning it applies to both the energy optimization credit and the renewable energy credit.  When we first started this process in 2006, I thought there was a bug in the online forms, like it was cheating to ‘double-dip’, but renewable energy is so critical to a green building, that it really does count twice.  Without PV’s, Hilliard Bruce Winery was 12% more efficient than baseline, earning 1 point for Energy Optimization. But by adding a small PV array, just 10 kW, they covered more than 20% of the energy costs, earning 10  points for energy performance and 8 for PV’s, plus a Regional Priority Credit. 19 points, with 5-6 year payback.

3.       Regional Materials = Easy: Unless you are working on a project without concrete or site work, almost any new construction can earn at least 20% and often 30% regional materials.  500 miles is a big radius for California, and the extraction distance can be even further if the material is moved by rail or sea.  For an office building in Bakersfield, the gypsum board was fabricated in the Bay Area but the material came from southern Mexico.  With a couple of phone calls, though, we learned that the 2400 miles were covered by ship, which counts as just 160 miles for LEED.

4.       Recycled Materials, Not So Much:  Recycled content is surprisingly difficult to track down.  Steel fabricators in particular buy from many sources and have a long supply chain making it almost impossible to document.  Specify recycled content where you can, but if you want the points, don’t bank on recycled glass aggregate counters; commit to a few big ticket items like carpet, rebar and aggregate to get to the 10%.

5.       Green Power Still a Great Deal: Purchasing Green-e certificates is worth 2 points and can cost less than $500.  And the process really is helping the creation of renewable energy sources, mostly wind, around the country.  You may have to have the “an-electron-is-an-electron” conversation with your client to explain how it works, but usually they jump on board.  Unless your project is a monster data center; then the Green-e costs some real bucks.

There you go – our top 5.  If you some others to add, pass them along!  Of course, as we transition to LEED v4, we’ll have another steep learning curve and probably a new top 5.  Here we go!