The Evolution Of LEED

By Jeff Gavin | Jul 15, 2014
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LEED v4, the latest version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, reflects an ultimate goal by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC): make a LEED-certified building forever green. A theme of “trust but verify” emerges as you look at the changes in LEED v4. You’ll see an emphasis on incorporating energy metering, measurement and verification, and ongoing commissioning.

“Globally, you are seeing an emphasis on building performance,” said Brendan Owens, vice president, LEED Technical Development, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “That trend is not accidental in LEED. You’ve seen it in previous versions for Existing Buildings [EB], which established a requirement for sustaining building certification through measured performance over set periods of time. In LEED v4, that effort is cross-pollinated throughout all the rating systems and market sectors. More than ever, incorporating green building systems will also require maintaining their performance.”

Substantive changes

Electrical contractors (ECs) will find in LEED v4 an added focus on lighting management systems, daylight harvesting and metering.

“Sub- or advanced metering is now a prerequisite under the Building Operations and Maintenance [O&M] LEED program,” Owens said. “Whole-building energy metering is also a new prerequisite under several programs. Both efforts will help owners understand how their building is using energy based on the building performance investments they have made. Energy metering has also made its way as a prerequisite in LEED for Homes. Perhaps new to some ECs will be the opportunity to wire and install water meters, allowing owners to earn LEED points in their efforts to conserve water.”

Another new earned LEED credit is an owner’s participation in a utility demand-response program. This is found under O&M and Building Design and Construction (BD&C). Project teams will now look to ECs to help building systems operate when they shed load under high-energy-demand events.

New markets and certification direction has also been added to include data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail, and mid-rise residential projects.

USGBC has also been growing the size and expertise of its LEED certification review team, managed by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), to include more licensed engineers, architects and other specialty building professionals.

[SB]Emphasizing integrated project teams

LEED v4 emphasizes the idea of integrated design. For a time, project team members began falling back on what those contractors knew in their specific purview, working only to earn the points that fell to them.

“In LEED v4, we wanted to challenge that and highlight the benefits of integration,” Owens said. “USGBC wanted to make sure project teams were investing together on decisions that fostered ongoing performance, including project analytics and trending analysis. The cheapest way to accomplish that is in the design phase.”

Owens cited lighting quality, referenced throughout all the v4 programs, as one EC-related example where team integration can help achieve success.

“We’ve been encouraging successful lighting of the space from the beginning,” Owens said. “The EC can help the project team think of lighting quality early on so it stays high in mind. For example, one of the things you often don’t plan for in your design is resulting glare. An EC will consider this in a discussion of lighting quality and lighting control, such as daylighting. They’ll know that successful daylighting will be more guideline-established as it must adhere to provisions in ASHRAE 90.1 2010.”

LEED v4 has also added credits for enhanced commissioning, allowing owners to integrate commissioning agents during the design phase so they can better understand the project and systems expectations, then continue their services though completion and one year after occupancy.

To help owners and project leaders from a procedural level, v4 also features fewer forms, less-time-consuming documentation, and better organized print and electronic reference guides, tutorials and videos.

Influence on the market

In essence, LEED represents aspiration. The foundation, or floor, of building practices (standards and codes) has risen accordingly, influenced by LEED, Energy Star and other green-certified building program accomplishments. Achieving ASHRAE 90.1 2010 is standard throughout LEED v4.

“This will drive a lot of what I feel will be very positive change and change with more rigorous requirements,” Owens said. “Project teams have gotten better and better at delivering LEED projects. They are also figuring out how to shoot higher in their goals and objectives. Four years ago, far more projects simply achieved the entry certified level of LEED. Today, those projects are the minority. The majority aim for Silver and Gold designations. Platinum-level projects have declined a bit but remain the most challenging certification to achieve. The market has transformed to ever greener sustainable building practices. We wanted to capture that rigor and promote it in LEED v4.”

A test run

Nearly 100 building projects across the globe tried LEED v4 in a beta form before the final version was introduced in fall 2013. Paladino and Co., a green building and sustainability consulting firm with offices in Seattle; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C., tried out LEED v4 in the design of its new office space.

“We wanted to test v4 to gain an in-depth knowledge of the rating system before our clients asked for help with it,” said Patrick Leonard, LEED AP, portfolio services practice manager, Paladino. “We also helped USGBC write the LEED v4 Reference Guides, so we’re eager to test drive our own guidance material.”

Pursuing LEED CI v2009 would have earned Paladino’s new office, a tenant space in a historic building, LEED Platinum. Using the more rigorous LEED v4, it dropped to LEED Silver.

“This definitely changed the certification goal for the project but not the core goals we had for a green and collaborative workspace,” he said. “As a tenant improvement of an existing suite, we focused heavily on two areas of energy performance—efficient lighting and energy monitoring. LED lighting throughout and the ability to submeter our space using lightweight [low cost] sensor technology rather than utility-grade submetering gave us the opportunity to test ideas and participate in trends we are helping our clients to explore.”

The new focus areas for LEED v4 brought both opportunity and challenge, but Leonard said he likes the focus.

“Ongoing building performance is a necessary trend,” he said. “It’s essential to have data to validate your investment in certification. This is where electrical and controls contractors can add significant value to projects without making it complicated and expensive.”

Paladino deployed simple current-transducer technology, connecting it to cloud-based utility-management tools. The company can now identify where and how to improve space performance. The system communicates to building systems to make changes to schedule, set points and shutoff thresholds based on algorithms that have learned how the building operates.

“The data streams from these systems have the potential to save owners tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lease or life of the property,” Leonard said. “By keeping abreast of the last trends and technologies, ECs can be that educator and integrator for owners and the project team.”

When it came to meeting the LEED-mandated ASHRAE 90.1 2010 requirements, the lighting density threshold wasn’t a problem for Paladino’s tenant space. There were challenges related to expanded use of economizers, LED lighting and daylighting controls.

“The electrical contractor can face increasingly complicated specifications without clear guidance from the engineer in how everything is meant to tie together,” Leonard said. “Make the time during the bid to clarify the design intent and review the mechanical and electrical and controls drawings. It is becoming increasingly important to prevent surprises and finger-pointing in the field. Our commissioning team often works with electrical subs to troubleshoot installations and help get the owner to the performance they were targeting.”

Paladino has been involved in the development of the LEED rating system since its inception and sees v4 as, “a first step towards ongoing performance management.”

“My hope is that certification as a submittal-based process ends and to the largest extent possible certification is based only on actual performance,” Leonard said. “I think of it this way. As an investor, I would want to know my asset [my building] has the highest performance and, hence, is producing the greatest return possible over the life of the investment, not just that it was certified green when I made the investment.”

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected]

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