As a LEED® Construction Project Manager, I find myself answering a similar set of questions from General Contractors (GCs) each time I kick off the LEED construction process for a new project.

Whereas this may seem annoying to some, I actually find it encouraging because it’s a sign the GC is actively engaged in understanding the details of the LEED construction credit requirements. Much of LEED is in the detail, which is why GCs often see the credit requirements as just one more nuisance they have to contend with.

That being said, it is important for them not only to understand what is required, but also to understand what is not required. The LEED construction process that I use on my projects is intended to make things as streamlined as possible for GCs, as I am well aware that LEED is just one small portion of their project responsibilities. Below is a list of “Frequently Asked LEED Questions” (FALQ’s) by GCs, followed by my corresponding answers.

FALQ #1: LEED MR Credit 2 – Construction Waste Management

GC: I understand that the demo/construction waste data must be sent from the associated hauling subcontractors on a monthly basis, but what about data from excavation and land clearing activities? Does dirt and associated debris get included in the waste diversion calculation?

Hawkins: Dirt, shrubbery, trees, grasses and all other types of land clearing debris are not to be included in the waste diversion calculation. It is possible that your hauling subcontractors will provide this information in their monthly waste material breakdown reports, but just ignore it. The only demo/construction waste data you need to be concerned about is the tonnage of material diverted and/or sent to the landfill.

FALQ #2: LEED IEQ Credit 4.1 – Adhesives/Sealants & LEED IEQ Credit 4.2 – Paints/Coatings

GC: I get the concept of using low VOC products, which is standard on LEED projects these days, but what types of VOC products must be tracked and LEED compliant?

Hawkins: All fluid based VOC products that are field applied (on-site) within the building’s waterproofing system must be reviewed for LEED VOC compliance. If the product is shop applied or applied to the exterior of the building then it is not applicable to LEED requirements, nor does it need to be included in the VOC product tracking for this credit.

FALQ #3: LEED EA Prerequisite 1 – Fundamental Cx & LEED EA Credit 3 – Enhanced Cx

GC: When is it a good time to meet with the project’s Commissioning (Cx) Agent to begin discussing the LEED Cx requirements and schedule?

Hawkins: It is very important to know who the Cx agent is on your project before construction starts, as they may be reviewing MEP submittals as they come in from subcontractors. However, the Cx team will not perform an official site visit for some time into the project. This depends on schedule (as with anything), but a formal LEED Cx kick-off meeting will need to occur right around the time ductwork is beginning to be hung on-site. Your Cx agent should be able to explain the scope for the project, discuss scheduling for site visits to witness equipment start-ups, etc.

FALQ #4: LEED IEQ Credit 3.1 – Construction IAQ Mgt. Plan – During Construction

GC: The implementation of indoor air quality (IAQ) measures and provisions is a best management practice on every project, LEED or not. Since I have to take pictures of those measures throughout construction based on the LEED credit requirements, how do I know when to start photo documentation and why do I have to time stamp the photos?

Hawkins: First, you need to make sure you read in full detail and understand the finalized LEED IAQ Management Plan requirements. This plan should be project specific and identify all the measures that will be implemented on-site. Two specific provisions found in every LEED IAQ Mgt. Plan are “Proper Storage of Absorptive Materials” and “Proper Storage of Mechanical Systems/Equipment.” This is a good place to start with photo documentation because drywall/gypsum board systems, insulation and ductwork are materials that directly correlate with the measures mentioned above and are typically some of the first items to arrive on-site when building interior work begins.

Therefore, check your construction schedule to see when these items will be delivered. Specific to these measures, you will want to take photos of these products covered/wrapped and elevated off the ground to prevent dust infiltration and mold growth. Regarding time-stamping the photos, it is very important that the photos serve as documentation exhibiting that all measures were monitored and maintained throughout construction and not just a certain time period.

FALQ #5: – LEED IEQ Credit 4.3 – Carpet/Flooring Systems

GC: I have worked on multiple LEED projects that have pursued this credit and sometimes all the hard-surface flooring (with the exception of natural or mineral based products) must be FloorScore® certified and other times it does not. Why is that? Obviously, it is important for my flooring subcontractor to understand what is required.

Hawkins: It sounds like you have worked on projects with different LEED rating system versions. LEED v2.2 and older do not have FloorScore certification requirements and only require that carpet and carpet cushions/pads are Green Label Plus and Green Label certified, respectively. LEED v2009 has the additional FloorScore certification requirement as one of two options to achieve this credit (learn more about Option 2 here). This relatively small detail can have a huge impact on the flooring and flooring subcontractor selected for the project, which is why it is critical to understand which LEED rating system version your project is registered under.

FALQ #6: LEED MRc4 Recycled Content & MRc5 Regional Materials

GC: Many of my subcontractors are hesitant to provide dollar values for the associated products they are using in the building. This is due to disclosure of profit margin or in some cases, like concrete or steel, they won’t know the exact dollar values until after concrete operations are complete or after steel mill certifications are available. First, why do my subcontractors have to provide you with this information? Second, how do we get around this but still provide information to be included in the contribution calculation for these two credits?

Hawkins: Recycled and regional credit achievement is based on percentages (by cost) of the total estimated construction value of the project. Therefore, you must receive dollar values for the materials that contain recycled and regional contribution in order to determine the total percentage as products come through via the submittal process.

Unfortunately, there is no way getting around this. However, what you can do is identify trades/materials that will have the highest contributions to these credits and go hard after those. That way once you hit your project’s percentage goals for those two credits, you can stop requesting this (obviously troublesome) information from the subcontractors.

You have a valid point regarding exact dollar values for particular types of materials like concrete and steel. What I would suggest is getting an estimated dollar value for these types of materials so that you can at least include something in your percentage tracking to get an idea of where the project stands.

After steel fabrication, concrete pouring, etc. is complete you can do what I call a “LEED close-out submittal” and replace the estimate values with actual costs. LEED does not require you to validate your material cost values for these two credits. Obviously you want to make sure that the dollar value you provide is as close to accurate as possible, but it doesn’t have to be down to the exact cent.

FALQ #7: LEED Construction Submittal Review Process

GC: On my last LEED project, the subcontractors were terrible about providing LEED information/product submittals in a timely manner. We ended up having to circle back multiple times to get the information, which slowed down the whole submittal review process. We almost ended up losing a credit because the product data was approved before the LEED information was reviewed, which discovered a non-compliant product. How do we hold our subcontractors accountable and what can we do to mitigate having to circle back on missing LEED information?

Hawkins: Bottom-line here is that you have to use the project’s specification book. That spec book is the project’s contract documents and is the law of the land. The LEED submittal and product requirement language found within each spec section is ultimately your contractual leverage to get this information from the subcontractors. They bid the project based on the spec book, meaning it is their contractual obligation to understand the requirements found within. All LEED projects should have undergone a LEED design review process, which is when the LEED requirements should have made their way into the spec book.

Regarding having to circle back on LEED information, the best way to ensure that non-compliant products are not getting approved in product data submittals is to enforce that product data and LEED information must come together in one package or (at a minimum) be sent at the same time which allows for a simultaneous/concurrent review by all involved team members.

FALQ #8: LEED WEp1 – Water Use Reduction

GC: Why do you need to review the plumbing fixture product data submittal for LEED?

Hawkins: It is imperative that the plumbing fixture product data is reviewed for LEED compliance because you must validate that the selected flush/flow fixture rates match the project’s water use reduction strategy. Water isn’t cheap, especially for large scale residential/commercial building developments. We have the ability to create added value to owners by reducing water usage, resulting in lower utility bills and more money to invest in other areas. Often I find that the fixture rates identified in the plumbing schedule and spec book are not the same as those issued in the submittal review process. That being said, it’s best practice to make sure that this gets cross checked.

Evolution of an Industry

As you can see from a few of the FALQ examples above (believe me, there are more), there are many intricacies involved in the LEED construction process. The ins and outs can keep your head spinning if you aren’t careful, which is why I see how it can be difficult for GCs to stay ahead considering all the other balls they are juggling every day.

However, based on my close interaction with GCs on my LEED projects, their engagement and willingness to conform or adapt is increasing. That’s because LEED/sustainable construction science isn’t going away anytime soon and this increased acceptance is evolving the entire construction industry to the benefit of the owners, the environment and building occupants.

Hawkins Thomas is a Green Building Consultant, LEED® AP BD+C in Paladino’s DC Office. This post has been edited to clarify that there are two options to achieve LEED IEQ Credit 4.3.

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