Thursday, July 23, 2009

There is no partial credit

Many of you readers may remember way back in March when I studied for and took the LEED exam. Well, the exam I took was version 2.2, and as of March 31 of this year, the exam has been upgraded to version 3.0. This transistion is due to the fact that the LEED system itself has been updated and the most current rules are those of LEED 2009. How, you might ask, is this version different? The USGBC has actually taken a lot of feedback from the previous version and created a new and improved system that, in my opinion, sounds like it will be more successful in effecting real changes in the environment. They have put an emphasis of making sure that the differing categories within the rating system are more cohesive and they also changed both the scale and weighting of the rating system. Within LEED 2009, the three major changes are Harmonization, Credit weightings, and Regionalization, which the USGBC talks about specifically here. The rating scale is now a 100 point scale: Certified 40-49 points Silver 50-59 points Gold 60-79 points Platinum 80+ points These levels are obviously elevated from the previous version of LEED, making it more difficult to achieve each level. LEED 2009 uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s TRACI (Tools for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts ) environmental impact categories as the basis for weighting each credit. TRACI was developed to assist with impact evaluation for life-cycle assessment, industrial ecology, process design, and pollution prevention. As the USGBC states in their explanation, "LEED now awards more points for strategies that will have greater positive impacts on what matters most – energy efficiency and CO2 reductions." This makes a lot of sense to me- reward those choices in building design and construction that will yield the greatest environmental benefits. I also really like the new Regionalization aspect of LEED, something I thought was lacking in the previous version. The LEED program isn't a blanket solution to all the building industry's faults. There are very specific environmental issues based on location, so I appreciate that there is now a mechanism to reward teams that have tackled regionally-specific environmental issues. A project can be awarded up to four extra points (one point per credit) for earning the priority credits. Here's an example of a regional priority credit, in the LEED shorthand you might be familiar with: Urban Florida: SSc5.2, MRc1.1, WEc2, EAc1, MRc5, and EQc8.1, to incentivize (among other things) decreased reliance on fossil fuels, reuse of existing building stock, decreased reliance on insufficient municipal wastewater plants, and utilization of abundant local sunshine. Reading the LEED 2009 overview and rating system manual, I am impressed that there has been so many positive changes to the feedback they have received. It looks like the steering committee has really taken on the mission to keep LEED a living, working document to steer smart design and building techniques. And this is all happening as both the government incentive (through the Federal economic stimulus funds) to build energy efficiently has increased, and the cost to do so (because of the state of the economy) has also increased. It's shaping up to be a very interesting year for green building in the U.S.

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