The LEED Size Gap: When a Renovation Is Ineligible for LEED Certification

A few days ago I got a very interesting email from my new best friend Dan Overbey of Browning Day Mullins Deirdorf Architects. He relayed a story about a client who was building a 16,000 sf horizontally attached addition to an existing 25,000 sf building. The client was committed to sustainable design and was very enthusiastic about pursuing LEED. When BDMD was looking at choosing the appropriate LEED system for their scope, they learned that the project appears to be in a strange LEED ‘size gap’.

The core of the problem is that limits on registrations for additions on LEED-NC projects are based on the combined footprint of the existing building + the addition, whereas elgibility for including an addition a LEED-EB certification is based only on the footprint of the existing building… and the two are not mutually exclusive. According to the registration walk-through process on the GBCI website, a project is ineligible for LEED-NC if the scope of work is less than 60% of the total project square footage. Additionally, a project is ineligible for current registration for LEED-EB if the scope of the work is greater than 50% of the existing project square footage:

LEED Size Gap

Dan was kind enough to put together a summary of the issue in this convenient paper… Note that it is possible for a horizontal addition to apply for LEED-NC separately from the existing building if (a) the addition is physically distinct from the original (defined as having party walls separating the space along with separate lighting, HVAC, and plumbing systems) AND (b) the addition has a separate address or name than the existing building. This particular project did not meet those requirements, so they went back to the drawing board.

You may have noticed that I used the phase ‘ineligible for current registration’ when I mentioned LEED-EB above. Ultimately, the project in question is eligible for LEED-EB, but only after the renovation is complete (the whole facility will be ‘existing’ at that point), meaning they cannot pick up points for good construction practices under the LEED-EB credits MRc3 and MRc9 Facility Alterations and Additions related credits. It also means that their performance periods cannot begin until the addition is complete, causing a long delay between substantial completion and certification.

To the USGBC and GBCI’s credit, they have developed fairly effective tools for helping with system selection. Anyone registering a project for LEED 2009 runs into a sort of registration ‘wizard’ as part of signing up that helps them select the proper system if they’re unsure what to use, and running through the same wizard resulted in a LEED-EB suggestion when I answered these questions with this project in mind. Also, the USGBC has released a LEED Rating System Selection Policy that offers additional guidance, though the issue at hand is not discussed in detail.

Making Something Out of Nothing?

I’ve been trying to get my head around this issue for days now, and I’m trying to figure out if this is a legitimate problem with the way LEED eligibility is determined or whether this specific instance happens to be a rare outlier and that the USGBC can’t be blamed for not covering every construction project imaginable… In my mind no LEED system has really been a great fit for partial (in size) but comprehensive (in scope) renovations or additions, and I’m very curious to hear your thoughts about the subject. Are there others out there that had to go back to their client telling them LEED wasn’t an option? Is there a need for a system tailored to renovations that’s distinct from LEED-CI but more flexible than LEED-NC? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

Learn more at RealLifeLEED.com!

The LEED Size Gap: When a Renovation Is Ineligible for LEED Certification

A few days ago I got a very interesting email from my new best friend Dan Overbey of Browning Day Mullins Deirdorf Architects. He relayed a story about a client who was building a 16,000 sf horizontally attached addition to an existing 25,000 sf building. The client was committed to sustainable design and was very enthusiastic about pursuing LEED. When BDMD was looking at choosing the appropriate LEED system for their scope, they learned that the project appears to be in a strange LEED ‘size gap’.

The core of the problem is that limits on registrations for additions on LEED-NC projects are based on the combined footprint of the existing building + the addition, whereas elgibility for including an addition a LEED-EB certification is based only on the footprint of the existing building… and the two are not mutually exclusive. According to the registration walk-through process on the GBCI website, a project is ineligible for LEED-NC if the scope of work is less than 60% of the total project square footage. Additionally, a project is ineligible for current registration for LEED-EB if the scope of the work is greater than 50% of the existing project square footage:

LEED Size Gap

Dan was kind enough to put together a summary of the issue in this convenient paper… Note that it is possible for a horizontal addition to apply for LEED-NC separately from the existing building if (a) the addition is physically distinct from the original (defined as having party walls separating the space along with separate lighting, HVAC, and plumbing systems) AND (b) the addition has a separate address or name than the existing building. This particular project did not meet those requirements, so they went back to the drawing board.

You may have noticed that I used the phase ‘ineligible for current registration’ when I mentioned LEED-EB above. Ultimately, the project in question is eligible for LEED-EB, but only after the renovation is complete (the whole facility will be ‘existing’ at that point), meaning they cannot pick up points for good construction practices under the LEED-EB credits MRc3 and MRc9 Facility Alterations and Additions related credits. It also means that their performance periods cannot begin until the addition is complete, causing a long delay between substantial completion and certification.

To the USGBC and GBCI’s credit, they have developed fairly effective tools for helping with system selection. Anyone registering a project for LEED 2009 runs into a sort of registration ‘wizard’ as part of signing up that helps them select the proper system if they’re unsure what to use, and running through the same wizard resulted in a LEED-EB suggestion when I answered these questions with this project in mind. Also, the USGBC has released a LEED Rating System Selection Policy that offers additional guidance, though the issue at hand is not discussed in detail.

Making Something Out of Nothing?

I’ve been trying to get my head around this issue for days now, and I’m trying to figure out if this is a legitimate problem with the way LEED eligibility is determined or whether this specific instance happens to be a rare outlier and that the USGBC can’t be blamed for not covering every construction project imaginable… In my mind no LEED system has really been a great fit for partial (in size) but comprehensive (in scope) renovations or additions, and I’m very curious to hear your thoughts about the subject. Are there others out there that had to go back to their client telling them LEED wasn’t an option? Is there a need for a system tailored to renovations that’s distinct from LEED-CI but more flexible than LEED-NC? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

5 Ways Your LEED Project Can Be Challenged, Cancelled, or *GASP* Revoked!

Though it hasn’t received a tremendous amount of attention*, part of the LEED v3 updates included various paths by which LEED project registrations can be cancelled and people can challenge existing LEED certifications and possibly have those projects’ LEED status revoked!

If you haven’t browsed it yet, I would highly recommend flipping through the GBCI LEED Policy Manual, which lays out the basic regulations surrounding these and other issues that you should know about before starting a LEED project. The following headings are largely copies of the chapters in the policy manual (pgs 12-17), but I’ve shortened the text to show only the critical requirements in each category

1. Your Project Wasn’t Submitted Before the Rating System Sunset Date

With the start of LEED v3 the GBCI instituted a ‘registration cancellation policy’ that sets a few deadlines that you have to meet or else the GBCI is authorized to void your registration. The “‘Sunset Date’ refers to the date occurring six (6) years after the close of registration for a rating system version.” e.g. Registration for LEED-NC v2.2 closed on June 26, 2009**, meaning that at least a design certification review for a LEED-NC v2.2 project must be submitted by June 26, 2015 or the GBCI can decline to review the project. If you submit a design review before the sunset date you have up to 1 additional year from the date of the design submission to submit the construction review.

I don’t really have a problem with this requirement, as the GBCI can’t be expected to staff reviewers with knowledge in every version of the rating system since the beginning of the LEED over 10 years ago. 6 years should be ample time even for the longest project schedules (though possibly not LEED for Neighborhood Development). It also appears as though this requirement applies retroactively, as the USGBC closed reviews of LEED-NC v2.0 projects on December 31, 2009. To date, the USGBC has offered free ‘upgrades’ to new systems as their launched, though there’s no guarantee this will happen in the future.

Simply Terrible...
Let’s a take a moment to admit that some cancellations are for the best

2. Your Project Has Been Inactive on LEED Online for Too Long

“GBCI reserves the right to cancel any project that, as determined solely by GBCI, remains inactive for a period of four (4) years or more.” The note goes on to say no refunds will be provided. I’m not wild about this requirement, as I can’t figure the purpose. I suppose it’s to prevent crafty LEED administrators from purchasing a bunch of registrations well in advance of actually starting projects so that they may lock in the typically less restrictive requirements of earlier systems. Just because the GBCI can revoke a registration in this manner doesn’t mean they will, and I would assume some sort of warning would be announced to the project administrator prior to shutting it down. I still don’t like it though, because it seems necessary given the sunset date requirements.

3. You Waited Too Long to Submit After Project Completion

The new rules also state that an NC, CS, or CI project has no more than two years after the “Project Completion Date” to submit for review. I’m also a little unclear about the purpose of this requirement. In every project I’ve worked on the owner provides plenty of incentive to get the certification finished, and I don’t know why the GBCI cares either way how timely the submittal is tied to the completion date. Again it seems like the sunset dates should be the only really necessary restriction.

4. Someone Challenged Your Certification Rating (and They Were Right)

While the registration cancellation policies discussed above are pretty straightforward, the Certification Challenge Policy is an interesting can of worms in that anyone can initiate regardless of their involvement in the project. These challenges occur after a project has completed the certification, and can result in anything from a loss of one or more points to a complete revocation of the certification altogether. It’s not just credits that are potentially considered, but also compliance with the Minimum Program Requirements.

A formal investigation can be launched by the GBCI itself without third party complaints or by anyone in the general public, though they cannot do so anonymously… From the policy manual:

Persons desiring to make a complaint may submit a written statement identifying the persons alleged to be involved and the facts concerning the alleged conduct in detail, and, to the extent available, the statement shall be accompanied by any available documentation. The statement shall identify others who may have knowledge of the facts and circumstances concerning the allegation. The person making the complaint shall identify him/herself by name, address, and telephone number.

Once a complaint has been filed, no one less than the GBCI President him/herself reviews the complaint (with the help of their legal counsel, of course), and can either dismiss the complaint immediately if deemed frivolous or initiate an investigation that can potentially include further documentation from the project manager or owner or even include site visits. Should the GBCI determine there was indeed some form of false representation or inaccuracy in the original submittal, there’s a whole load of notifications, appeals and such that I’m not going to cover here. I’ll assume that should this ever happen to you you’re likely to take the time to read the policy manual yourself!

To my knowledge there has been only one certification challenge to date. It was against the LEED Gold certified Northland Pines High School in Wisconsin… The GBCI has at this point denied the challenge and elected to maintain the certification, but a new post today from the Green Building Law Update shows that the five challengers haven’t given up… Interestingly, all of those involved in the challenge (an architect, a developer, a contractor, a chiropractor, and a ‘local businessman and community leader) served on the building committee for the project. They recently released all of their challenge documentation and a statement about their dissatisfaction with the denial of the challenge. I’m not going into it here, but it gets pretty interesting when you consider their claim that “[The GBCI] based [the denial of the challenge] on reports from two more consulting engineers who said that the building did not meet the prerequisites but concluded that “pretty close” is close enough.” I expect that we’ll hear far more on this in the near future.

5. You Forgot To Recertify Your LEED-EB Project

LEED for Existing Buildings projects must recertify the project every five years to maintain their certification. It is the only rating system that requires re-certification at this time and this is nothing new… it’s always been this way.

*It hasn’t been discussed much except by Chris Cheatham, founder of Green Building Law Update, who can’t seem to shut up about it lately… Seriously though his coverage of the LEED Certification Challenge policy is a highly recommended read, especially as the ongoing drama surrounding the Northland Pines project develops. The Green Real Estate Law Journal also has some coverage but without as much commentary.

**EDIT 07.12.10 – Thanks to alert reader Mara Baum for pointing out that I had the wrong date for the close of registration for LEED-NCv2.2. I had originally listed April 27, 2009, the day LEEDv3 registrations went live. The date LEED-NCv2.2 registrations closed, however, was June 26, 2009, and that is the day the sunset clock started to tick…

Learn more at RealLifeLEED.com!

5 Ways Your LEED Project Can Be Challenged, Cancelled, or *GASP* Revoked!

Though it hasn’t received a tremendous amount of attention*, part of the LEED v3 updates included various paths by which LEED project registrations can be cancelled and people can challenge existing LEED certifications and possibly have those projects’ LEED status revoked!

If you haven’t browsed it yet, I would highly recommend flipping through the GBCI LEED Policy Manual, which lays out the basic regulations surrounding these and other issues that you should know about before starting a LEED project. The following headings are largely copies of the chapters in the policy manual (pgs 12-17), but I’ve shortened the text to show only the critical requirements in each category

1. Your Project Wasn’t Submitted Before the Rating System Sunset Date

With the start of LEED v3 the GBCI instituted a ‘registration cancellation policy’ that sets a few deadlines that you have to meet or else the GBCI is authorized to void your registration. The “‘Sunset Date’ refers to the date occurring six (6) years after the close of registration for a rating system version.” e.g. Registration for LEED-NC v2.2 closed on June 26, 2009**, meaning that at least a design certification review for a LEED-NC v2.2 project must be submitted by June 26, 2015 or the GBCI can decline to review the project. If you submit a design review before the sunset date you have up to 1 additional year from the date of the design submission to submit the construction review.

I don’t really have a problem with this requirement, as the GBCI can’t be expected to staff reviewers with knowledge in every version of the rating system since the beginning of the LEED over 10 years ago. 6 years should be ample time even for the longest project schedules (though possibly not LEED for Neighborhood Development). It also appears as though this requirement applies retroactively, as the USGBC closed reviews of LEED-NC v2.0 projects on December 31, 2009. To date, the USGBC has offered free ‘upgrades’ to new systems as their launched, though there’s no guarantee this will happen in the future.

Simply Terrible...

Let’s a take a moment to admit that some cancellations are for the best

2. Your Project Has Been Inactive on LEED Online for Too Long

“GBCI reserves the right to cancel any project that, as determined solely by GBCI, remains inactive for a period of four (4) years or more.” The note goes on to say no refunds will be provided. I’m not wild about this requirement, as I can’t figure the purpose. I suppose it’s to prevent crafty LEED administrators from purchasing a bunch of registrations well in advance of actually starting projects so that they may lock in the typically less restrictive requirements of earlier systems. Just because the GBCI can revoke a registration in this manner doesn’t mean they will, and I would assume some sort of warning would be announced to the project administrator prior to shutting it down. I still don’t like it though, because it seems necessary given the sunset date requirements.

3. You Waited Too Long to Submit After Project Completion

The new rules also state that an NC, CS, or CI project has no more than two years after the “Project Completion Date” to submit for review. I’m also a little unclear about the purpose of this requirement. In every project I’ve worked on the owner provides plenty of incentive to get the certification finished, and I don’t know why the GBCI cares either way how timely the submittal is tied to the completion date. Again it seems like the sunset dates should be the only really necessary restriction.

4. Someone Challenged Your Certification Rating (and They Were Right)

While the registration cancellation policies discussed above are pretty straightforward, the Certification Challenge Policy is an interesting can of worms in that anyone can initiate regardless of their involvement in the project. These challenges occur after a project has completed the certification, and can result in anything from a loss of one or more points to a complete revocation of the certification altogether. It’s not just credits that are potentially considered, but also compliance with the Minimum Program Requirements.

A formal investigation can be launched by the GBCI itself without third party complaints or by anyone in the general public, though they cannot do so anonymously… From the policy manual:

Persons desiring to make a complaint may submit a written statement identifying the persons alleged to be involved and the facts concerning the alleged conduct in detail, and, to the extent available, the statement shall be accompanied by any available documentation. The statement shall identify others who may have knowledge of the facts and circumstances concerning the allegation. The person making the complaint shall identify him/herself by name, address, and telephone number.

Once a complaint has been filed, no one less than the GBCI President him/herself reviews the complaint (with the help of their legal counsel, of course), and can either dismiss the complaint immediately if deemed frivolous or initiate an investigation that can potentially include further documentation from the project manager or owner or even include site visits. Should the GBCI determine there was indeed some form of false representation or inaccuracy in the original submittal, there’s a whole load of notifications, appeals and such that I’m not going to cover here. I’ll assume that should this ever happen to you you’re likely to take the time to read the policy manual yourself!

To my knowledge there has been only one certification challenge to date. It was against the LEED Gold certified Northland Pines High School in Wisconsin… The GBCI has at this point denied the challenge and elected to maintain the certification, but a new post today from the Green Building Law Update shows that the five challengers haven’t given up… Interestingly, all of those involved in the challenge (an architect, a developer, a contractor, a chiropractor, and a ‘local businessman and community leader) served on the building committee for the project. They recently released all of their challenge documentation and a statement about their dissatisfaction with the denial of the challenge. I’m not going into it here, but it gets pretty interesting when you consider their claim that “[The GBCI] based [the denial of the challenge] on reports from two more consulting engineers who said that the building did not meet the prerequisites but concluded that “pretty close” is close enough.” I expect that we’ll hear far more on this in the near future.

5. You Forgot To Recertify Your LEED-EB Project

LEED for Existing Buildings projects must recertify the project every five years to maintain their certification. It is the only rating system that requires re-certification at this time and this is nothing new… it’s always been this way.

*It hasn’t been discussed much except by Chris Cheatham, founder of Green Building Law Update, who can’t seem to shut up about it lately… Seriously though his coverage of the LEED Certification Challenge policy is a highly recommended read, especially as the ongoing drama surrounding the Northland Pines project develops. The Green Real Estate Law Journal also has some coverage but without as much commentary.

**EDIT 07.12.10 – Thanks to alert reader Mara Baum for pointing out that I had the wrong date for the close of registration for LEED-NCv2.2. I had originally listed April 27, 2009, the day LEEDv3 registrations went live. The date LEED-NCv2.2 registrations closed, however, was June 26, 2009, and that is the day the sunset clock started to tick…