The decision to apply for LEED Certification is both exciting and daunting for designers and managers. Having your building recognized by the USGBC is a badge of honor in the design and construction industry, but it also means more planning, measuring and upfront costs. What's more, a simple “LEED Certified” designation no longer holds the same weight as it once did; in fact, the most common designation is now LEED Gold. This requires getting at least 60 out of the 110 possible points under the current LEED rating system. Points vary tremendously in ease and cost, so make sure not to miss any of the low hanging fruits in this list. Also, you shouldn’t worry about whether these options will still be available under LEED V4; a project can still apply to the current system, LEED 2009, until mid-2015.
In terms of ease and benefit, the number one thing any project should do is to make sure you have a LEED AP on the team. LEED AP’s have passed the LEED Green Associate and LEED AP Exams, as well as documented experience on a project seeking LEED Certification. They will have the expertise required to design a building to LEED standards and to coordinate the application process. LEED APs also go through continuing education to ensure they understand the latest in integrated design and how to consider interactions between the various credit categories. Remember that they must have a LEED AP designation, which tests for advanced knowledge of a particular rating system; not simply a LEED Green Associate, which only tests a fundamental understanding of green buildings.
Fortunately for everyone, the use of low-emitting products are becoming common practice across the paint and coating industry and the more environmentally friendly option is often no more expensive than their counterparts, with the same level of durability and performance. The only thing a project manager needs to do is to specify which paints and coatings comply with the LEED requirements for Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) limits and then enforce that standard on the jobsite. It should be noted that others in the past have made the mistakes of purchasing products that have “Low VOC” on the label and did not check the product’s technical data sheet or material safety data sheet to see if it actually met the requirements. Also remember that if a material not meeting the LEED requirements is used in a different section of the project, the associated point can be lost.
It is not difficult to find materials that use recycled content and including those in the project. There are a growing number of manufacturers that are finding it economical, on both a production and marketing stand point, to use recycled materials in their process. This credit can take some time however, due to the fact that the cost and exact percentages of post- and pre-consumer materials must be collected for each recycled item used. Still, it is considerably easier than other Materials and Resources credits, such as using rapidly renewable materials like bamboo.
The USGBC defines regional materials as those that are within 500 miles of your project. Many project managers are surprised by how much a 500 mile diameter encompasses and how much material is extracted and produced in their regions. These manufacturers sources are often already in the standard business practices of many construction companies and can often be cheaper than materials produced from farther away. This is not a catch-all however, while materials may be extracted from a nearby area, there may not be the local manufacturing needed to deliver the credit. Still, the 10% threshold is usually very easy to achieve.
When designing a project from scratch, it is a wise idea to install permeable pavers instead of concrete sidewalks. Thanks to a growth in popularity in recent years, the costs of new systems have fallen and many have the same look as traditional pavers. More importantly for LEED Certification, studies have shown that permeable paver systems can reduce rainfall runoff by up to 60 percent, well above the 25 percent needed to get the point. The one major deterrent is the amount of physical labor generally needed to install these systems, which often involves having to lay individual blocks by hand.The growth of LEED as a brand and as a standard is simply remarkable. In 2006, there were 660 buildings that had achieved at least a “LEED Certified” rating, today there are over 14,000 LEED Certified buildings. Despite some backlash from various industries, such as chemical and wood producers, LEED has continued to grow exponentially. The introduction of LEED 2009 restructured the process for certification, but left the technical rigor of the system in-tact for the most part. As the fifth comment period for LEED V4 comes to a close, it is clear that more effort a precision will be required to attain certification. Building owners and project managers have been granted a three year extension for LEED 2009, one which they would be wise not to waste.