We achieved a Gold rating using the LEED Commercial interiors program. It is only the seventh project in the world to have successfully certified under version 4, launched at Greenbuild in November 2013.
What We Learned
Being the first has its benefits—it creates a learning opportunity and allows us to pass on discoveries to our clients. Throughout Paladino’s 20-year history, we have scored a number of LEED program firsts:
- First author of the LEED reference guides
- First to certify using LEED version 2.0
- First to certify multiple buildings using the LEED volume program that we helped create
- First to certify 100 + LEED New Construction projects for a single company
However, being first also means taking on risk by going down a path filled with uncertainty. This is the story of our journey, and what we learned, that resulted in a healthy, collaborative and flexible environment with near-zero carbon emissions and lower utility bills.
Initially, we targeted a LEED version 2009 Platinum rating but moved to LEED v4 midway through the design, because we believed it aligned to our core values better. By using LEED v4, our building performance metrics are easier to track and integrate with our business metrics, which provides better visibility and transparency to our executive team. By being first, we were able to prove this connection before asking others to adopt the program.
As we advise our clients, we encourage goals that achieve the best possible business based outcomes for a building, and use LEED as the back check. For us, the end result of our values based approach is a headquarters that fosters more collaboration, is healthier, and nearly eliminates our carbon footprint.
So what did we learn from this process? Below are our top five lessons learned from using LEED v4:
1. LT is the new (and supercharged) SS
Credits in the Location and Transportation (LT) category, which replaces the LEED 2009 Sustainable Sites (SS) category in LEED-CI v4, continue to encourage transit-and pedestrian-oriented locations. However, the LEED v4 credits require projects to meet more criteria or higher thresholds to achieve the most points.
For example, both a high-density location and proximity to eight amenities (i.e., parks, restaurants) are required for maximum credit under LTc Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses. This is the LEED v4 equivalent of SSc2, Development Density and Community Connectivity.
The changes reward locations where compact development strategies will have meaningful results, and penalize project locations that do not meet the credits’ intents (such as a strip mall with many amenities but no pedestrian connection to the community or an isolated office building with a bike rack).
For our location in Seattle’s downtown core, changes in the LT category did not impact the credits or points achieved. However, they did significantly increase the time required to verify and document compliance since we had to complete density calculations – we used King County’s GIS viewer – and compile daily ride data for several nearby King County Metro Transit and Light Link Rail lines to maximize our points in this category.
2. Small changes may take a lot of effort to implement
For example, outdoor airflow monitoring is now required for IEQp Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance, and “no smoking” signs are required at all building entries, including those to retail or tenant spaces with exterior doors, for IEQp Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control.
Because we installed a dedicated outdoor air fan for our office as part of our buildout, we were able to address the outdoor air monitoring requirement easily. However, in a building with a central air system that is operated by the landlord and shared with other tenants, this requirement may take some negotiation and coordination to meet.
We are also fortunate to have a great building management team that supported our efforts and provided new “no smoking” signs at all building entries, but it took some time to get them approved, designed and installed.
3. Read the fine print for EAp2 and EAc1
LEED v4 adds a performance-modeling path for the energy performance prerequisite and credit, in addition to the prescriptive path carried over from previous versions.
As with other v4 rating systems, LEED-CI uses an ASHRAE 90.1-2010 energy model baseline, but the rating system includes an important exception to that standard: “the baseline project envelope must be modeled according to Table G3.1 (5) (baseline), Sections a–e, and not Section f.”
Translation: for LEED, the building envelope in the baseline model must be based on the ASHRAE standard’s requirements for a new building, not on existing conditions as specified in the energy modeling procedures within the standard.
Preliminary energy models showed that heating was our dominant energy use due to the building’s envelope and single-pane glazing. Thus, despite our natural ventilation cooling and the other efficiencies of our design, we would not be able to earn the energy points we wanted through further performance modeling.
Instead, we chose to use the prescriptive compliance path to document the significantly improved performance of the systems within our control: lights, plug loads, ventilation, and controls.
Since the credit is structured to incentivize projects to use the performance path, the prescriptive path (and by extension, each of the individual prescriptive options) is worth fewer points.
Tenants seeking v4 certification – especially those hoping for Gold and Platinum ratings – should consider the implications of the building envelope exception and the point structure when searching for new space.
4. Don’t believe the hype about materials, but…
We chose to upgrade from LEED 2009 to LEED v4 after construction on our office was well underway – too late to incorporate the requirements for Building Product Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits into our specifications, but still too early for the new documentation to be widely available in the market.
The real and unexpected complication that we encountered with the BPDO credits was the change to compliance based on the number of products instead of cost calculations. Our space was designed to use fewer materials overall – just 35! As a result, we did not have much of a buffer for these credits; more than half of the products we installed would have needed to comply in order to achieve one of the new BPDO options. So although EPDs were available for several products we used, the combination of less materials and our position as early adopters prevented us from achieving that credit.
However, manufacturers and industry associations have since moved quickly to address the new requirements and ensure that project teams will have little trouble finding materials that contribute to these credits when LEED v4 becomes mandatory next year.
Environmental Product Declarations are being published at a rapid pace, and multiple options are already available for many typical building products used in interior fit-outs, such as acoustic ceilings, flooring, and gypsum board. Health Product Declarations are sure to follow.
Achieving BPDO credits should then be a simple matter of updating specifications, and not the headache or cost premium that some have speculated.
5. Exemplary performance must be exemplary, not just better
Under LEED 2009, our 100% ENERGY STAR equipment and 50% lighting power reduction would have each garnered an additional point for Exemplary Performance in the Innovation in Design category. The new rating systems raise the bar for exceptional performance, which means that extra credit is offered for fewer credits and higher performance levels.
For example, Exemplary Performance credit for public transit access is awarded at a service level of 200 available transit rides per day from nearby stops in LEED 2009. LEED v4 require 760 rides per weekday and 432 rides per weekend day for the same point. Exemplary Performance thresholds are only identified in the LEED Reference Guides.
We experienced a few more hiccups than expected on the path to v4 certification, but the learning curve is not that steep. If you’d like to get some advance practice before committing to LEED v4, you can test a credit or two on your next LEED 2009 project.
If you are considering applying for a LEED rating, our advice is to evaluate which version of LEED will best meet your building’s performance requirements. You still have that choice if you start the certification process soon. In June 2015, LEED v4 will be mandatory for new projects.
Our Gold Scorecard
Check out our scorecard below to see how we got to Gold*.
* Our LEED scorecard shows the final tally, but it doesn’t identify all of the credits we evaluated and ultimately could not pursue. If you have a question about our project, please leave a comment in the box below.