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Lessons Learned during LEED for Existing Buildings Certification

Insight into common LEED EBOM pitfalls and emerging certification challenges from a team of battle-tested LEED consultants

LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM) projects have recently skyrocketed in popularity, surpassing the number of certified new construction projects in 2009 and exceeding the square footage of LEED-certified new construction space in December, 2011.  As building owners and operators turn to their existing building stock to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and gain a competitive market advantage, new characteristics and challenges of the certification process have come to light. As LEED consultants, we’ve noticed a host of emerging trends in the review process.

An unprecedented level of review and a growing role for third party consultants

The LEED EBOM project review is more intense and in-depth now than at any point in the past, and it often results in an overwhelming project review report (we recently saw one 19 pages long!).  Because the process has become increasingly arduous, a third party review to ensure the completeness and accuracy of every detail of each credit has become essential. Outside consultants can often add particular value to the client by addressing likely review team comments prior to submittal and preempting potential problems. Consultants tend to be well acquainted with the review process, rating scales, and underlying intent of the various credits and can quickly identify problem areas.

Increased dialogue between reviewers and project teams

As the review process has become more intense, back-and-forth communication between reviewers and project teams has greatly increased. It has become much more common for review teams to request mid-review clarifications from project teams prior to issuing formal review comments.  While this may lengthen the review process, the increased level of dialogue with reviewers gives project teams  an opportunity to correct any issues that may help to clarify a credit response, often saving time in the long run.

Keep an eye out for these often problematic credits

There are several credits that routinely prove to be sticklers for project teams to document according to their requirements. One is the Energy Star score. When an individual company submits its information to Energy Star Portfolio Manager, assumptions and generalizations are sometimes made. These inputs are automatically accepted by the system without any review or verification (if the information is not verified by a professional engineer during Energy Star certification). When submitted to LEED, however, review teams carefully dissect and review Energy Star inputs and often request adjustments in order to meet program requirements. This often leads to an unexpected decrease in the Energy Star score and a loss of points.

Another source of heartache is the Minimum Indoor Plumbing Efficiency prerequisite, which documents the flow and flush rates of a building’s plumbing fixtures. The LEED-Online form for this prerequisite is often misinterpreted and miscalculated. Where weighted averages were once allowed, more detailed space breakouts are now being required by reviewers. In general, this prerequisite requires far more time and attention by project teams than is often given, and it must frequently be corrected following review.

You can never have too much documentation

We’ve always been told that less is more, right? Not so with LEED project documentation. From photos to purchasing logs, the more documentation you can provide, the better, and the earlier you start documenting your efforts, the better off you will be. Even if you do not include all records as part of your submittal, you may need to reference them down the line if you are subject to an audit.

Be prepared for LEED version 4

Although the release date has been extended a few times, LEED version 4 is coming. With it comes a whole new set of prerequisites and point values. For example, the Minimum Energy Star score prerequisite will be increasing from 69 to 75, which could be a deal breaker for some buildings.  Consider registering your projects now so you can have the option to certify under LEED 2009 or LEED 2012. For a given project, one rating system may hold a significant advantage over the other.

Katie Raymond is the Energy and LEED Sustainability Services Technical Director at EBI Consulting, a national environmental and sustainability consulting company. She can be reached at kraymond@ebiconsulting.com.

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One thought on “Lessons Learned during LEED for Existing Buildings Certification

  1. Katie,
    Thanks for your article. Can you expand on the role electrical sub-metering, in a “drill down”, granular form, will have in qualifying for LEED and Energy Star certifications in the future?

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