LEED 2009 an "interesting" challengeWe thought that being one of the first projects to use the new LEED 2009 Interior Design and Construction rating system would be an exciting challenge. It is turning out to be more "interesting" than "exciting" as in the ancient Chinese proverb. We started a 25,000-square-foot interior renovation project in summer 2008. Our client was committed to building a sustainable project and wanted LEED certification. The objective was to get as high a rating as possible without spending money on sustainable strategies just to earn additional credits without real project benefits. As we advanced the design, the LEED analysis showed us being comfortably in the upper end of LEED Gold certification. LEED 2009 was on the horizon so we suggested to the client that we not do a design submittal under LEED-CI v2.0 but wait to see what the final version of the new rating system looked like. So we waited and waited and waited and then in April 2009, it finally arrived – the LEED Reference Guide for Green Interior Design and Construction. We had been keeping an eye on the proposed changes through the drafts and public comments so we were aware of the major items like the new prerequisites. Now it was time to get into more detail. So we reviewed and compared and did more checklists and discovered that with LEED-CI v2.0 we were just shy of submitting for a Platinum rating but with LEED 2009 we were just over the Platinum threshold. So of course everyone got very excited and we decided to make the switch. The new Reference Guide is 450 pages long and similar enough to the old Reference Guide that it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. Then you hit one of the little changes buried in all that text and it's similar to driving over a speed bump – no problem if you know it's there and go slow, but like hitting a wall if you're speeding. As we move through the submittal process and actually filling out the paperwork, the little things start causing big headaches.
A few specific issuesIt all begins in Sustainable Sites Credit 1: Site Selection. SSc1 Path 4: Heat Island – NonRoof – In LEED-CI v2.0 SSc1 Opt D had listed under the 'Underground Parking' section an additional half-point would be awarded for Exemplary Performance if 100% of the parking was underground. This is not repeated in the specific "Exemplary Performance" section but seems very clear. The LEED 2009 version of this credit requires compliance with two of the compliance paths (instead of one) but the reference to 100% covered parking is no longer there. Since all of our building's parking is underground, this change prevents us from getting an easy additional credit. It turns out it almost doesn't matter, though, because this isn't the major change in SSc1. SSc1 Path 12: Other Quantifiable Environmental Performance only allows you to get one point. The comparable path in LEED-CI v2.0 (Option L) allowed you to get up to three points--the maximum allowed for the credit. Previously, if your building had many sustainable features that weren't listed in Options A–K, you could still maximize your credits. Now you can't. All you can earn is one point in the "other" category and that includes any Exemplary Performance points you might be eligible for under the listed paths. We were so surprised but this seemingly restrictive change that we even confirmed with the USGBC that they really meant to do this. MRc7: Certified Wood now has different submittal requirements. Previously you filled out the Letter Template and only provided back-up documentation if requested. Now the vendor invoices with specific information are part of the submittal. Fortunately the information required on the invoices is clearly outlined in the Reference Guide. Unfortunately, anyone who has done a LEED submittal knows how much paperwork is collected and filed. Though we had all the info on the certified wood products, going back through the files to extract the additional paperwork for submission and asking the contractor to provide more specifics and details is very time-consuming. IDc1: Innovation in Design no longer has a past. The library of CIRs that has been built up over the years of LEED submittals can no longer be used as back-up for the innovation credits. Without being able to reference the CIRs, there's no way to know if your proposed innovation will get you a point unless you prepare you own CIR and pay the fee to have it reviewed. More money, more time, more paperwork.
On the positive sideOne new feature that has been added to LEED Online that has great potential is the Licensed Professional Exemption (LPE). From the website: "Licensed Professional Exemption (LPE) is an optional credit documentation path in which professionals can submit license information and a declaration of compliance in lieu of a number of otherwise required submittals." We're still a little wary about this compliance path since it shifts all the responsibility to the professional rather than submitting documents for review. There are some liability concerns. However in some cases it does have benefits. LEED 2009 definitely has its positives. The new credit weightings heavily favor urban projects. We often joke there should be a checkbox on the Alternative Transportation and Development Density credits that says "New York City" and exempts you from having to fill in the rest of the form. For the SSc2: Development Density credit for this project we used the new "Streamlined Path: LPE." For other credits that have the LPE we might have some concerns about allowing the professionals involved to take full responsibility for the credits instead of doing the paperwork. For a project in NYC, you need to work to find a location that couldn't comply with the density requirements so it's not much of a risk. Also an improvement, EAc1.4 Optimize Energy Performance: Equipment and Appliances now has four points available with additional tiers of compliance. Previously there were only two tiers – 70% and 90%. With the addition of 77% and 84% levels we have the opportunity to encourage the replacement of minimal older inefficient equipment with new to get the benefit of an additional point as well as the energy savings for the client. For the materials credits, an expanded definition of what "material costs" means is now included. We always knew that the material costs meant material only and did not include installation. The new definition makes it clear that the costs should include all expenses to deliver the material to the project site, so transportation and taxes are definitely part of the total.
Nothing derailing our questThese are the things we've found so far though there will probably be more as we complete the submittal. So far these have been mostly headaches (sometimes big ones) and have not derailed our quest for LEED certification. Once you switch a project to LEED 2009 you can't go back, which is good because on some days it would make things so much easier to be back on old familiar ground--but what fun would that be?
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