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LEED Credential Exams to Feature v4 Material


The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) launched the newest version of its Leadership in Energy & Environment Design (LEED) v4 rating system in November of 2013 at Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.  The updated version of the rating system will be incorporated into the credential exams by the end of June of 2014, so contractors interested in taking the new exam will need to get up to speed on LEED v4.

The voluntary LEED green building rating system has influenced the design and construction industry since its debut in 1998. The latest version, LEED v4, builds upon the past 15 years and raises the sustainability bar through numerous enhancements and the introduction of the idea of transparency to fulfill USGBC’s vision and mission, “to improve the quality of life by transforming the design, composition, and operation of the places where we live, learn, work, and play within the short space of a generation.”

LEED is transforming how design, construction and facility management professionals think about how buildings are designed, constructed, maintained and operated globally, not just within the U.S. The LEED rating systems provide professionals with the framework for holistic design, construction and operation strategies that are meant to address the entire lifecycle of buildings. The program provides third-party verification by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), awarding certification to buildings that satisfy all of the minimum program requirements and prerequisites, and earn a minimum of 40 out of 110 possible points, which are selected by the integrative project team and best fit the scope and budget of the project.

The most noticeable changes in the LEED v4 Building Design and Construction (BD+C) rating system include the expansion of new market sectors, new credit categories, requirement changes and additions of prerequisites and credits, including terms and concepts that most building professionals, including experienced LEED users, are unfamiliar with. The new system also includes new support tools and resources, including reference guides and the LEED online v4 platform.

In the interest of making LEED standards easily applicable to a wider range of projects, the new guidelines include more market sector adaptations including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail and mid-rise residential projects. By enhancing the adaptability of the program’s requirements, project teams can apply the LEED rating to market-specific projects rather than trying to use a rating system initially intended for commercial and institutional buildings.

Since 40 percent of LEED-registered projects are located outside of the U.S., LEED v4 aims to make adapting the U.S.-based rating system applicable to other countries throughout the world by integrating foreign standards that are equivalent to the U.S. standards and codes so that these practices can take hold and be implemented worldwide. While this concept was introduced in 2012 when USGBC unveiled the Global Alternative Compliance Paths, it is now fully integrated into LEED v4.

USGBC now also offers an online LEED credit library and an annual subscription to the descriptive step-by-step online LEED reference guides that have embedded videos and tutorials, which can be viewed even if the user has not registered a project. These changes aim to enhance the user experience and make green building practices easier and more accessible. The new LEED v4 online platform simplifies LEED prerequisite and credit submittal requirements, streamlining the LEED documentation and submittal process.

Integrative Process: LEED v4 includes several new impact categories, including the Integrative Process and Location & Transportation categories. The Integrative Process category offers project teams one credit to deliver a project in a manner that engages all of the interested parties starting at the pre-design phase, requiring early analysis of the interrelationship among energy-related and water-related systems intended to yield a high-performance, cost-effective project. The idea is to engage the project team by having them clearly understand the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) and work together to achieve synergies across building systems to design a building that meets the energy and water-related goals, as well as financial goals of the owner.

Early analysis and synergies often lead to otherwise missed opportunities, enabling the project team to make choices regarding the orientation, massing, building envelope (i.e. insulation, window-to-wall ratio, glazing types, etc.), lighting, HVAC, and yes, even interior colors, that directly impact the types and sizes of systems, which affect the initial capital construction costs. Initial capital construction costs, in turn, directly impact annual operational costs. As a bonus, this delivery process is directly associated with minimizing design rework and improves the accuracy of conceptual budgets and estimates.

Location & Transportation:Inspired by the LEED for Neighborhood Development and LEED for Homes rating system, the new LEED BD+C rating system has a new category, Location and Transportation, that is intended to address large-scale land use and transportation issues. Hence, the Sustainable Sites category now strictly focuses on site-specific issues such as rainwater management.

Materials & Resources:Without a doubt, the most significant and controversial changes of the entire LEED v4 rating system occur within the Materials & Resource category. The three credits, each valued at two points, are: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations, Sourcing of Raw Materials, and Material Ingredients. They will require building material suppliers to make a lot of changes in order for project teams to achieve these credits, and will certainly be the driver of transforming the industry.

Another credit, Whole-Building Life-Cycle Assessment, worth three points, requires the project team to use existing buildings and/or materials or use life-cycle assessment software tools and ISO 14044-compliant datasets to conduct a life-cycle assessment of a project’s structure and enclosure to demonstrate a reduction in global warming potential (CO2e). It also requires that two of the following impact categories be compared to the baseline building: depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, acidification of land and water sources, eutrophication, formation of tropospheric ozone or depletion of nonrenewable energy resources.

Indoor Environmental Quality: The Indoor Environmental Quality credits have changed significantly and now include more sophisticated modeling tools and an emphasis on performance testing and monitoring. Perhaps the biggest change involves the low-emitting material credit, which has combined the former three credits of adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings and flooring into one and has eliminated the added urea-formaldehyde in some materials. Now, all indoor materials have to be tested by manufacturers for VOC emissions and wet-applied materials (i.e., adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, etc.) must be tested for both emissions and VOC content.

Other Changes that Impact Construction Costs: While this is certainly not a comprehensive list, there are some new changes and additions that need to be considered in the Energy & Atmosphere and Water Efficiency categories when creating the overall project budget, including the new energy and water metering prerequisites and credits. Building envelope commissioning has also been introduced. The rating systems no longer simply rely on the commissioning of the energy-related systems.

The LEED professional credential exams administered by GBCI, for the LEED Green Associate and LEED AP with specialty designations will feature LEED v4 material beginning on June 30, 2014. For LEED professionals who hold current credentials, the credential designation will remain the same and they will not need to retest. As with the past LEED exams, candidates will be tested objectively for proficiency. While candidates no longer have to provide proof of specific education or project experience requirements at the time of application, the new LEED v4 exam will assess the exam candidate’s LEED project experience competency; therefore LEED project experience will be critical to the passing the LEED AP exam to obtain the LEED AP credential. GBCI strongly urges candidates to gain meaningful LEED v4 project experience prior to taking the exam, and as this article points out, there are many changes to the new LEED v4 rating system of which candidates will need to be intimately familiar.

In the process of developing LEED v4, the USGBC engaged with 122 project teams to beta test the new system. As a proponent of advances in sustainable building, Miron Construction Co., Inc., an AGC of Wisconsin and AGC of Greater Milwaukee member, took the challenge to apply—and give feedback about—the LEED v4 program with its design-build project for the Lake Mills Elementary School. Lake Mills was the only K-12 school in the beta testing group, as well as the only beta project in the Midwest.

As we move toward being more conscious of the impact our actions have on our environment, LEED v4 continues to provide insight and inspire inventive building solutions. With a better understanding of how we can integrate optimal environmental, economic and social outcomes in the places we live, work and learn in, we can continue to innovate in every step of the building process. By challenging the way that we look at processes in our work, innovation leads to an improved environmental situation for all.