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Editor's Note: Erica Godun, AIA, LEED AP, an associate with FXFOWLE Architects shared the following account with us. I've included links throughout to specific credit guidance (including the official credit language) on our LEEDuser website (available by subscription). By the way, LEED projects can upgrade to 2009 anytime. We've analyzed whether it's worth it here.

LEED 2009 an "interesting" challenge

We 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 issues

It 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 side

One 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 quest

These 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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Comments

1 I'm sure someone will figure posted by Bill Lodato on 02/08/2010 at 01:00 pm

I'm sure someone will figure out a way for sharing of CIR's.

Perhaps this site is a good venue for folks to share their CIR requests, Acceptance, Denial, Etc.

2 Bill, great comment. Building posted by Tristan Roberts on 02/08/2010 at 01:23 pm

Bill, great comment.

BuildingGreen (the publisher of this blog) publishes another site that would be the perfect venue for people to voluntarily share their CIRs. It's at http://www.LEEDuser.com and for every credit in the LEED 2009 rating systems, there is detailed guidance on achieving the credit, along with a user forum. People using the forum (which is free) can also start a discussion thread on any topic: http://www.LEEDUser.com/discuss

So... do you have a CIR? Please consider sharing it at LEEDuser!

3 Thank you for the input, as a posted by Denise Brooks, R.A., AIA on 01/06/2010 at 12:01 pm

Thank you for the input, as a member of the local USGBC-LI, I have been asked about some of these issues. As I go forward with my next project I will certainly go by the new book. Additionally, thanks for the information on LPE. You have reminded me to follow up thank you.- having studied for the NC Exam and not taken it due to scheduling issues and because the strangest people had Leed AP after their names, I was feeling that it was becoming meaningless.

4 My initial reaction to the el posted by Bill Swanson on 01/14/2010 at 04:02 am

My initial reaction to the elimination of the CIR was positive. The amount of content we needed to read for each credit was becoming an obstacle. I liked the CIR's. I always felt the Guidebook would stop short of providing real advice. The CIR's were nice because at least there were answers. As the number of CIR's increased though so did the reading needed to find the answer. So when I heard about consolidating all of the CIR into the new Guidebooks I was hopeful. Was. Anything labeled as "project specific" was simply dropped. I thought the project specific answers were the most useful. I'm sure with a little bit of effort the staff could have incorporated the lessons from the project specific CIR's into the general wording of the new guidebooks.

This reminds me a bit how the user guides for complicated equipment (like medical scanners) are not written by the developers of the equipment (their time is too valuable) but instead written by others with only a cursory knowledge of what they're explaining to others. So when the tough questions come up we're left with having to send in CIR's. And I don't like having to pay to ask a question. How would you feel if your college professors charged you for every question you asked in class? You are using up their time after all. (Am I asking because I'm slow or because the information is presented poorly? Does it matter?) I'd feel a little less bitter about this if they went back to allowing each project two free CIR's since CIR's are no longer precedent setting.

Whenever things become less publicly disclosed it get more suspicious. Why hide the information unless there's something worth hiding? I'm left with guessing. Maybe they were embarrassed by the number of CIR's. Or that some CIR's canceled previous CIR's. Maybe the CIR's showed too many problems with some credits. I leave feeling that this was done to relieve USGBC of the liability of providing due diligence in the performance of their product.

5 Thanks for the comments. One posted by Jonathan on 01/13/2010 at 06:55 am

Thanks for the comments. One thing that I think is really a BIG deal is the change so that now CIRs are not public, but only project based. You allude to it in the discussion about ID credits, but it's mindboggling to me that I haven't seen anything else written about it. How did it happen? Why? It feels to me kind of like the Supreme Court just decided that there is no precedent case law, every issue has to start over.

Anyone have thoughts on this?


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