Being Green: LEED Certification

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is an industry organization made up of many parts of the construction industry including owners, designers and contractors. The USGBC promotes the construction of environmentally friendly, high-performance buildings through its sponsorship of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The purpose of this rating system is to provide an objective standard for certifying that a building is environmentally friendly or “green.” As a result of the public's rising concern about the environment and rising energy costs, there is a growing movement among public and private building owners to have their buildings LEED certified.

Although the foundation for LEED certification is laid during the design process, the design intent must be implemented through the construction process. The electrical contracting firm needs to be aware of LEED requirements because they can impact material and equipment procurement as well as construction requirements and costs. In addition, understanding LEED requirements will allow the electrical contracting firm to effectively analyze and value engineer the project within the LEED requirements for the owner.

LEED certification process

LEED certification of a building project starts with the owner's decision that the project will be “green.” In the early stages of design, the owner registers its intent to have the building project LEED certified with the USGBC. The owner's decision and registration must happen early in the design process because LEED certification will drive many fundamental decisions throughout the design process. It could even impact site selection if that has not been determined.

As part of the registration process, the owner establishes goals for the project in the following six categories:

°Sustainable Site (SS)

°Water Efficiency (WE)

°Energy & Atmosphere (EA)

°Materials & Resources (MR)

°Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ)

°Innovation & Design Process (ID)

LEED certification is based on the owner's ability to demonstrate that the building project meets the requirements of the LEED Green Building Rating System for New Construction & Major Renovations. The LEED rating system is based on the above six categories and each category includes prerequisites and credits for meeting criteria in excess of the category prerequisite.

Core credits are included in the first five categories and extra credits given for meeting the criteria the ID category. For example, Erosion & Sedimentation Control is one prerequisite for the SS category that should not impact the electrical contracting firm. However, the SS category includes Credit 8, which addresses light pollution reduction and could impact the selection and layout of exterior lighting equipment, as well as interior luminaires near exterior building windows.

Throughout design and construction, the owner, designers and contractors document how they are meeting the category prerequisites and credits for points toward certification. Beyond fulfilling category prerequisites, the owner is free to determine what categories and credits within those categories will be sought to obtain certification. Not every credit within the LEED rating system needs to be addressed in the building design and construction.

The number of credits earned by the project will, however, determine the level of LEED certification. To be LEED certified, a project must earn at least 40 percent of the core credits. After certification, a project can earn LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum rating by achieving more than 50, 60 or 80 percent of the core credits, respectively. Currently, all new U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) buildings are required to achieve a LEED certification with LEED Silver certification recommended.

To assist the project team in meeting the requirements of the LEED rating system, the USGBC has published the LEED Reference Guide and LEED Letter Templates. The guide provides invaluable information about the intent of each prerequisite and credit, requirements and submittals required, design strategies, and case studies.

LEED Letter Templates help the construction team prepare the LEED certification application by providing electronic forms for documenting that prerequisite and credit performance requirements have been met. The LEED rating system is available on the USGBC Web site at, the letter templates are available to the project team when the project is registered with the USGBC. The reference guide can be purchased from the USGBC.

At the completion of the project, the owner submits an application, which consists of the required project documentation to substantiate each prerequisite and credit claimed, to the USGBC for LEED certification. Other supporting documentation includes a project narrative with at least three project highlights and the application fee.

Following receipt and review of the application, the USGBC issues its preliminary findings along with a request for any additional information that it needs to perform its final review. Within 30 days, the project team makes its final submittal to the USGBC, which is followed by the USGBC's final review and award of LEED certification to the project.

Projects, not products, are LEED certified

Only building projects can be LEED certified. The USGBC does not certify building products for use on LEED projects. The focus of LEED prerequisites and credits is on building life-cycle performance and meeting specific goals that are aimed at improving the environment, reducing energy use and increasing occupant comfort and productivity. The LEED rating system is really about optimizing the building as a system rather than optimizing individual systems or components that may lead to less than optimal building performance as a whole.

LEED-accredited professionals

While not required, a LEED-accredited professional can be a valuable asset to a building project seeking accreditation because of knowledge of the process and requirements. Anyone can become a LEED-accredited professional by taking the USGBC's examination that tests the candidate's knowledge of green construction, sustainable building design and the LEED certification process. Having a LEED-accredited professional on a building project is worth one extra point toward accreditation under Credit 2 of the ID category.

Having one or more LEED-accredited professionals on staff may be advantageous for the electrical contracting firm from an operational and marketing standpoint. Operationally, someone familiar with the LEED accreditation requirements and process would be valuable in value engineering, bid preparation, procurement and project closeout where specific documentation is required.

For instance, in the MR category, there are prerequisites and credits for construction waste management, use of recycled building materials and the use of materials manufactured within a radius of 500 miles. These and other LEED prerequisites and credits could impact the electrical contracting firm's project costs and productivity. In addition, having a LEED accredited professional could also be a valuable marketing tool because it shows that the electrical contracting firm is interested in sustainable construction and understands LEED requirements giving it a competitive advantage.

LEED electrical project requirements

Lighting and power distribution systems are both influenced by the LEED rating system. As previously noted, the reduction of site light pollution is covered under Credit 8 in the SS category. Prerequisite 2 of the EA category requires that the building comply with ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1 entitled Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. This prerequisite impacts the selection and layout of interior lighting, lighting control requirements and the selection of transformers and motors.

Further, there are credits in the EA Category for improving energy performance beyond the ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1 minimum as well as for integrating renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics (PV) into the building. EA Credit 5 also requires the continuous metering of lighting, mechanical and other building equipment and system operation. Potentially, LEED requirements could influence not only the lighting and power distribution system but also the building's control and communication systems.

Lead the way with LEED

By all indications, LEED certification will continue to grow in popularity. In addition, its scope will also continue to increase from its current focus on new commercial building construction to other types of buildings as well as tenant finish work and building renovation.

The electrical contracting firm should be aware of LEED and its potential impact on the electrical contracting firm's market. Being on the leading edge of the trend toward more environmentally friendly and efficient buildings and being familiar with LEED may provide the electrical contracting firm with a competitive advantage, thereby becoming the customer's preferred supplier of electrical services. EC

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas and is a frequent instructor for NECA’s Management Education Institute. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or


About the Author

Thomas E. Glavinich

Freelance Writer

Thomas E. Glavinich was an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. His tenure as one of Electrical Contractor's most trusted and reliable source of industry research...

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