First Impressions: LEED V.3 One Year Later Draws Praise, Criticism

Published previously on
Engineering News Record: New York | November 2009 | p53-59

by Diane Greer

Changes in LEED version 3

also known as LEED 2009, are focusing project teams on strategies to save energy and water, reduce CO2 emissions and address issues impacting their region. In prior versions, credits were all created equal.

 “Measurement and verification of your mechanical system was given the same weight as a bicycle rack,” says Michael Deane, vice president and chief sustainability officer at New York-based Turner Construction.

Critics charged that weighing credits equally did not properly emphasize energy consumption and climate change impacts. Others complained LEED did not account for regional differences in environmental priorities.

With v.3, released in November 2008, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) revised LEED to address these criticisms, upgraded LEED online and created the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide third party certification and professional credentials.

Reweighting Credits

“The basic application of the credits, the technologies, the strategies and the way you use the rating system in an integrated design process is the same,” says Jason Kliwinski, director of sustainable design, The Spiezle Group, Trenton, N.J. “The biggest change overall is the way the entire rating system was reweighted based on carbon footprint and fossil fuel use.”

Now credits promoting energy efficiency and CO2 reduction receive more points. For example, the credit for alternative public transportation access is now worth 6 points since it has a tremendous impact on fossil fuel use and carbon footprint,” Kliwinski says.

With the reweighting, energy and atmosphere credits account for 32 percent of potential points, compared to 24 percent in LEED for New Construction v 2.2. Point ranges for Optimize Energy Performance increased from 10 to 19 and On-Site Renewable Energy points jumped from three to seven.

 “For renewable energy, USGBC doubled the number of available credits by fine tuning the point gradation and adding a lower category,” says Robin Auchincloss, Senior Associate, Dattner Architects, New York. “We anticipate more opportunities to try renewable energy since there is now this lower credit point that you can achieve.”

All LEED rating systems have been standardized on a 100-point scale, with10 additional points for innovation and regional priorities. Projects earning 40 points qualify for certification, 50 points are needed for Silver, 60 for Gold and 80 for Platinum.

The reweighting and standardization changed the relative value of each point. “If it takes 26 points for certification under LEED-NC v2.2, each point is worth 1/26 or 3.85 percent,” explains Bill Bobenhausen, president, Sustainable Design Collaborative, Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. “Under LEED 2009, 40 points are needed for certification, so each point is worth only 2.5 percent.”

Points available for Materials and Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality now account for less of the total. “For anyone interested in indoor air quality, their points have been devalued a lot,” Bobenhausen says. “I think this is an area where you will see a little bit of outrage.”

On the flip side, credits for development density (5 points) and alternative transportation access (6 points) favor projects in urban environments. These “urban credits” can provide nine extra points, Bobenhausen says. “Those two credits are basically equal to one jump in certification [since certified, Silver and Gold certification categories are separated by just 10 points].”

Energy & Water Credits

Energy requirements under v3 are more stringent. The prerequisite for minimum energy performance calls for new construction to be 10 percent more efficient than ASHRAE 90.1-2007. LEED-NC 2.2 required 14 percent greater efficiency than ASHRAE 90.1-2004.

Since the ASHRAE 2007 standard is more stringent, projects saving 30 percent under 2004 now might save 25 percent, Bobenhausen explains.

Anthony Brower, Associate with New York-based Gensler, is working a 50,000-sq.-ft. commercial interiors project for a law firm in Stamford, Conn., seeking v.3 certification and says he’s finding that tougher energy targets are getting clients thinking about lifecycle costing. “They may have to spend more money for a more efficient fixture today but they are going to make that money back in 1.5 years and then continue saving on utility bills,” he says.

Water efficiency requirements are also stricter. Reducing water usage 20 percent is now a prerequisite rather than a point, and the baseline for measuring reductions are lower, Bower says. The baseline for lavatory faucets has dropped from 2.5 gallons/minute to 0.5 gallons/minute.

“I can’t just change lavatory faucets anymore, I have to look at urinals, toilets and other things,” Brower says. “It is making water efficiency more challenging.”

“The baseline for a commercial office building is basically what used to be a 40 percent savings that earned three points,” says Andy Hathaway, director of sustainability consulting, Steven Winter Associates, Norwalk, Conn. “It is not difficult to meet the baseline. It is just more difficult to get any points on top of that.”

To earn water efficiency points Kliwinski is looking at ultra low flush toilets. “We are also looking at rainwater catchment systems, but they are expensive and water is still cheap.”

Regional Credits

To recognize regional issues, USGBC chapters identified six credits for each zip code in their regions to receive bonus points. Projects can earn four bonus points by implementing four of the six regional credits.

In New Jersey, regional credits are available for development density, clean water, building reuse, brownfield redevelopment and stormwater control. “Teams are getting rewarded for pursuing things they might not have,” Kliwinski says.

Brower’s interior project in Connecticut is seeking three regional materials credits, 40 percent water efficiency and optimized energy performance for HVAC.

Changing Emphasis

While projects are not changing overall strategies, emphasis is shifting to credits earning higher points and regional bonus points. “We have focused a bit more of our attention on the credits that have a bigger impact on carbon footprint and fossil fuels because of the way they weighted the point structure,” Kliwinski says.

“All credits are not created equal anymore,” Brower says. “The first thing I tell my clients on a new project is to forget about the rest of the check list. There are 100 points and 48 are in them are in water efficiency and energy. If you can’t get a significant number out of that group, you are going to have to go after everything else to get certified.”

To Switch or Not to Switch

All projects after June 27th are required to register under v.3. “We registered all our recent projects under 2.2 before the June deadline,” Bobenhausen says. “We are analyzing projects and comparing their performance if we continue with 2.2 or upgrade to version 3. “The biggest change overall is the way the entire rating system was reweighted based on carbon footprint and fossil fuel use.”

Bobenhausen says his early impression is that there may be some advantages to certifying urban projects under v.3. A project such as the renovation of an existing building to house the 7,000-sq.-ft. Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College can achieve density and transportation points, he explains. “The Bronx project is also likely to include some photovoltaics. Those are all the items that achieve more points in v.3 than in version 2.2.”

In contrast, a 30,000-sq.-ft. medical office building in northern New Jersey will not be eligible for the “urban credits” but does expect to use some solar. “For projects that are not getting those 9 points chances are pretty good that we are going to be sticking with version 2.2,” he says.

Brower has compared a number of his interior projects under both systems. “Any project in an urban area that is already doing some water-based scope and are actively chasing the energy credits fares well under v.3, either maintaining their existing rating or actually jumping a little. Conversely, if a firm is doing a project and not looking at water efficiency or energy conservation, it is likely to no longer comply or drop a rating category.

Most of Hathaway’s current projects are in urban areas and would pick up extra points for alternative transportation and development density. “But they would lose a couple of points in water,” he says. “So generally, it is about a wash. You end up with more points but the same level of certification.”

For projects underway, switching to v.3 would result in extra work. “There is already a large administrative burden from the design point of view,” says Beth Greenberg, principal at Dattner. Switching projects would add to that and would probably not be of any significant benefit in terms of the point evaluation.”

Professional Accreditation

In conjunction with the release of LEED v.3, USGBC transferred the certification of LEED professionals and building certification to the Green Building Certification Institute. The process for accrediting professionals has also changed.

Now there are three tiers of LEED professionals; LEED Green Associates, LEED AP+ and LEED AP Fellow. “Prior LEED accreditation was something accessible to people regardless of their role on the design team or their expertise in working with LEED and sustainable design,” explains Andy Hathaway, Director of Sustainability Consulting, Steven Winter Associates, Norwalk, Conn.

“You have over 100,000 LEED accredited professionals right now and a fraction of that number of LEED certified projects,” Hathaway says. “Suffice it to say you have a number of LEED professionals that have not worked on a LEED building.”

Now to become a LEED AP you must have experience working on a LEED project within the last three years. “I think this is a good thing,” Hathaway says. “It is an added value to owners and developers that write an RFP that requires a LEED professional on a team. The credential means that they are getting someone that actually has experience on a project.”

But while everyone agrees the tougher standards are a good thing, the changes in the rules are causing some confusion. “They changed the rules in a way that was a little bit fuzzy,” says Michael Deane, vice president and chief sustainability officer at New York-based Turner Construction.

“We have invested heavily to get our people trained,” Deane explains. About 18 months ago Turner took LEED AP training in house. To date over 1,100 Turner employees, or about 25 percent of the company, are LEED APs. “Seventy-five percent of our profession staff still needs to and wants to become LEED accredited.”

“The rules have all changed, we are not sure what the new rules are and we are not so sure of the implications,” Deane says. “We know that there is continuing education required to maintain your credentials, which is a good thing, but it has taken the GBCI a long time to determine exactly what would qualify. So we are in a state of limbo. I look forward to those standards being clarified so we can start achieving them.”

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