Transition to LEED v4: making unknowns known

The transition to LEED v4 will be a short-term growing pain, necessary to keep LEED on track with its mission statement. When the US Green Building Council introduced LEED back in 1999, the stated goal was market transformation. It is a noble goal with no exit strategy, except to keep on transforming the market. Until, presumably, our entire building stock somehow becomes net-resource-neutral, and we’re all eating rainbow stew.

Version 1 was a steep learning curve. Many designers found themselves cracking open ASHRAE guidelines for the first time, learning what energy modeling was, trying to learn the nuanced differences between protected habitat and open space. Documentation was all paper-based, bound into 3-ring binders for LEED review. It was a lot for first timers to handle, and I heard many stories of blown fees, 10%+ cost increases, LEED points denied. In 1999,  no one in the profession could predict survival of LEED with one hundred percent certainty.

Since then, LEED has undergone three major revisions (version 2.2, version 2009, and now version 4). Each revision updated reference standards, introduced new credits and options, and streamlined the documentation process. Construction professionals often start rending their hair and clothes whenever LEED becomes more stringent, because new things are not known and predictable and are therefore difficult to accommodate within cost and schedule constraints. LEED 2009 stuck around for a very long time (LEED v4 was originally called LEED 2013), and the industry has become quite accustomed to it. Project teams are able to meet its requirements without a great deal of consideration and analysis. In California, the building code started to catch up to and even exceed LEED requirements. So, the transition to LEED v4 comes as quite a shock, not because it is such a major departure (it isn’t), but because the old LEED 2009 is so entrenched and thereby relatively easy to achieve.

The transition to LEED v4 will certainly present some initial challenges. Some projects may even opt for Green Globes or some less rigorous form of “LEED equivalency”. However, if we can anticipate costs and efforts ahead of time, then we can keep the LEED v4 compliance costs down and the process more predictable. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of blog entries organized by LEED credit categories that start to look under the hood of this new rating system. These posts should be of interest to designers, builders, owners, and developers. We’ll figure out where additional time and effort needs to be applied, where the additional costs are, and what the new standards and guidelines mean.

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