Top 10 LEED Lessons Learned
A client recently asked my firm to put together a presentation
focusing on our highest rated LEED buildings, highlighting things
that worked and those that didn't work. My associates and I asked
ourselves an important question: "What story are we trying to
tell?" If we emphasized the cutting-edge technological attributes
the presentation would just be a show-and-tell of those types of
products. But our message was to actually convey the lessons we
learned. The show-and-tell of products would have been easier, but
the right thing was to really explain what we have learned through
our experiences. Our brainstorming session resulted in a top 10
list of LEED lessons learned:
#10: Labels can be deceiving.
An emerging trend is to advertise a product or material as
eco-friendly. Some product manufacturers choose to rely on their
memberships with various organizations market the "greenness" of
their products. Some manufacturers go as far as stating their
products achieve certain LEED points. LEED requires a more holistic
approach, and all materials and products used during construction
must be evaluated for compliance with individual credit intent and
requirements. No one product can single-handedly achieve a LEED
#9: It doesn 't have to "look" sustainable to be
Many things that contribute to a building's overall
sustainability look like any other construction product. Structural
steel is a good example. The structural steel used in a LEED
certified building is the same as that used in a noncertified
building. But structural steel is usually comprised of a high
percentage of recycled content, which, when incorporated into an
overarching sustainable materials plan, can contribute to
achievement of the Materials and Resources, Recycled Content
credit. And, in most cases, the contractor does not have to ask for
any special documentation or verification, other than what is
usually provided by the manufacturer.
#8: Good design is often not enough.
If a building has lots of windows and clear glass, then it has
to be able to achieve the LEED daylighting credit, right? Not
necessarily. An abundance of clear glass can cause problems with
glare and excessive heat gain in the building. Glare is often
controlled by window shades or blinds that occupants close to block
out harsh light, which prevents them from enjoying the window in
the first place. Excessive natural light also forces lighting
designers to add fixtures to balance the light in the space. More
light means more heat, and more energy must be expended to control
the temperature. Window placement and glass type must be designed
in concert with other building attributes to most efficiently use
natural light. The LEED daylighting credit takes all of these
variables into account; so simply designing more or bigger windows
into a building will not achieve the point.
#7: Certified wood can be challenging.
Responsible sourcing of materials and achieving the LEED
Material and Resources credit for the use of certified wood can be
a difficult task. LEED requires precise documentation to certify
that the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain of Custody (COC)
was maintained throughout the supply chain-from manufacturer to
installer. Making sure the specification calls for certified wood
is a relatively simple task. It is quite a bit more challenging to
make sure a minimum of 50 percent of all new wood in the project is
secured through FSC COCcertified suppliers and all the
documentation meets LEED requirements.
#6: Decide which shade of green is right for you.
The phrases "green building," "sustainable building" and
"high-performance building" are often used to describe the same
thing. Those who have worked in this industry will tell you that in
most instances, these three phrases have different meanings. The
LEED rating system provides certification to one of four different
levels. Each project and each team is different. It is important
for teams to decide which shade of green is right for the project,
and define the terms, which will be used to measure the success of
#5: One size does not fit all.
LEED strategies that may have been successful on one project may
not work well on all projects. For example, using a light-colored,
SRI-compliant roofing material can contribute to achievement of the
LEED credit for heat island reduction for roof surfaces. However,
if you are working on a project in cold climates, it may be more
beneficial to use a dark-colored roofing material, which could
provide savings on the energy needed to heat the building.
#4: Use LEED as a guide, not a result .
Project teams often use the LEED rating system for the result it
provides, rather than a guide toward design and construction of a
building. When the rating system is used as the overall guide
during design and construction, the team looks for innovative ways
to improve all aspects of a building. Too often a team just looks
for the easiest ways to get to the plaque instead of using LEED to
drive the design and construction to the best building
#3: It doesn't count if it 's not documented.
Documentation is the key to success when a team is seeking
certification. Start early in the process, stay diligent through
design and construction, and the submission to the certification
authority will be much easier to compile. If you wait to start or
allow a lapse in the documentation process, your road to
certification will be much bumpier.
#2: Buildings do not run themselves.
Once the construction crews are gone and the commissioning
process is complete, someone on the owner's staff will be
responsible for making sure the building stays operational. Once
the building is occupied, mechanical systems and lighting levels
may need to be adjusted to suit occupant preference and operational
needs. Unless someone takes responsibility to understand how the
building and its systems were intended to operate, it will never
achieve the efficiency it was designed to reach.
#1: The key to a successful project is the plan.
On every one of our most successful projects, more time was
spent planning than doing. The aspect of planning goes beyond
creating a schedule. The planning process should include answering
the following questions: Do I have the right talent set on my team?
How will the building be used now and in the future? Can the
building help with the way you do business? What design features
will help the employees be more productive? After the building is
complete, who will be responsible for its operation? How will it be
maintained? Will the products we're using last? Do we want a great
building or just a certification?
These lessons are invaluable to any development team seeking
LEED certification. Being equipped with knowledge and experience
will result in a smoother, and often less costly road to LEED
certification and will give any development an edge.
Thomas Taylor, a 30-year veteran of the
construction industry and noted expert on sustainability, is the
general manager of St. Louis-based Vertegy. His recent book, "Guide
to LEED 2009: Estimating and Preconstruction Strategies," provides
step-by-step information about the LEED 2009 for New Construction
process. To learn more about Vertegy or Taylor's new book, visit
www.vertegyconsultants.com for more information.