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How to Mess Up Your LEED Rating

Tips & Tricks to Certification


How to Mess Up Your LEED Rating

Smoking in LEED buildings is a major no-no, even during construction! Keep tobacco smoking at least 25 feet away from windows, doors and mechanical systems.

© Getty Images

Having been a LEED reviewer on behalf of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), I can tell you that there are many ways that I have witnessed project teams messing up their LEED certification.

From silly mistakes to plain old 'gaming the system', LEED reviewers have seen at all. Here are the ten major pitfalls and common problems teams get into when working through (and documenting) LEED projects. Ways to mess up:

  1. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Adding LEED at the Last Minute. The first way to mess up your LEED rating is by adding it at the end of the project. Why? This adds cost, complexity, and ensures that green features are not integrated into the building performance, but tack ons that can be 'value engineered' out of the project just prior to construction.

  2. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Missing a Prerequisite. Smoking in the building during construction? Not meeting the erosion and sedimentation control requirements and keeping up on it throughout construction? Miss one prerequisite and your whole LEED rating goes down the tube.

  3. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Not Having a Point Buffer. I know you have a great team and you're feeling optimistic - you need at least a six-point buffer. On average, teams loose a bucket load of points, and not for lack of trying. Sometimes the LEED requirements are just plain old misunderstood. Sometimes a sub-contractor applies the wrong paint, you know the one that doesn't comply with the VOC limits? Sometimes, try all you can, the mechanical engineer / contractor / owner / architect [insert responsible party here] just doesn't live up to expectations - despite having reviewed those credits a million times, the documentation just isn't up to snuff. Plan on a six-point buffer, and that should cover the unknown and get you to the LEED rating of your desire.

  4. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Including Photos that Don't Match the Documentation. Do you demonstrate full cut-off fixtures for SSc8 yet show a night photo with lighting projecting upwards to show off the building (and into the night sky)? Do you show a tiny site, but then the LEED reviewers visit Google Maps to realize that really, your project is a part of a larger campus and really should have included that parking area? Is it me, or does your glazing area make your buildings' butt look big, even though it's not shown in the energy model or elevations? Make sure your documentation matches your photos people.

  5. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Lying. Please don't lie on your LEED application. LEED is a) a leadership standard and b) voluntary (well, unless your project is government funded). It looks very poorly upon you as a team, and you as an owner, when we visit Google Earth to see that your project is located next to a forest listed as habitat to endangered species! Once I sent a friend out to visit a project site and there was no green roof installed as claimed. DENIED!!!

  6. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Forgetting to Assign A Responsible Party to Assign the Assignments! Once in a while it is clear to the LEED reviewer that no one working on the project was really in control of what was happening with the green building features and/or LEED documentation on the project. Be sure to assign the LEED top dog, LEED project manager, or LEED guru on the project to assign work to those who really need the guidance.

  7. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Gerrymandering Site Boundaries. Please, draw one site boundary and use it consistently throughout the project. Typically, this is the property line, or limit of construction as demonstrated by the construction fence. Whatever you do, do not change it up to meet your fancy (and to achieve Sustainable Sites credits). What a no no!

  8. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Not Calculating and Sticking to the FTE. Same as the site boundary. Pick an occupancy and stick to it. And if you are not sure how to calculate your full-time equivalent occupancy, please refer to the Reference Guide for your rating system. It's super straightforward - calculations and all. Really.

  9. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Not Having an Experienced Team. Okay, so, if you are still reading this, and am not sure what I am talking about, then, YOU NEED HELP. Take a LEED workshop, become a LEED AP, and sign up for LEEDUser.com. If you must, hire a mentor who can help you on your first time through. And, if your project team is new to this, then it's about time you inspire them to get educated, or you threaten them to do so (joke). Promise a big party (and a big media and publicity splash) at the end IF they achieve the desired result.

  10. Mess Up Your LEED Project by Not Submitting the Design Review. Be sure to utilize the opportunity of a USGBC review at the end of the design process. This will ensure that your team of designers can sigh a breath of relief after their job is done, knowing that at a minimum, they have achieved all of the LEED requirements within their scope of work. Plus, the contractor knows how hard he has to work to achieve the desired rating, and the owner knows how much more he or she needs to pay in order to get the LEED bang for the buck.
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