Monday, May 21, 2007

Passing the LEED® AP Test

Taking the LEED® AP test was very grueling. The room was cold, and the noise-muffling headphones sure didn’t muffle any noise. But I shouldn't be complaining. I passed!

Here are a few things about the test to keep in mind:

  • Formulas. Do more than just memorization. Make sure you know how to apply the glazing factor formula to building design and the LEED credit, for example.

  • Credit responsibility. I thought this would be common sense so I didn’t study it much. Make sure to know who signs off on a credit, and remember that it is different for each one.

  • Credit relationships. Understand how changing stormwater management design may affect heat island affect, for example. A lot of questions focus on the integrated systems approach to design.

  • Prerequisites and the different ASHRAE standards. Know these inside and out!

  • The LEED registration process. If you can, try to register a project online before taking the test. It really helps in understanding how the registration process works.

There are many helpful resources for test preparation. Here are a few:

  • Study Groups. Contact members of your local USGBC chapter and form a study group.
  • LEED NC v2.2 Flashcards. These are great, and well worth the $35
  • LEED Bootcamp. An informative blog for anything you need to know for your LEED test (remember to study for the updated version of your test)
  • LEEP AP Candidate Handbook. Very important information about registration, scheduling, exam preparation, test-day procedures, and more

Until now, the USGBC has not required any dues or re-testing to maintain LEED AP status. So the good thing is that I probably will not ever have to take the test again. However, they have mentioned that starting in 2007 this may change, and they are now in the process of developing an accreditation maintenance program for future implementation. Stay tuned for future developments!

UPDATE***Please see here for changes to the LEED-AP exam***

Thursday, May 17, 2007

LEED® Project Registration for the Greenbush project

Registration is the first step for LEED®. Most projects are registered directly through the USGBC’s website. LEED for Homes is still in the pilot phase, so it is registered through a LEED for Homes provider. Providers are chosen by the USGBC to verify that the homes are built to meet LEED standards. They also market LEED to builders, provide rating support, offer LEED training, and supervise LEED qualified inspectors and support staff.

Once a project is registered, the next step is typically for the provider to arrange a meeting with the entire design team to determine how many points the project theoretically qualifies for. The provider then delegates the responsibilities of data collection per credit amongst the team members. The provider collects the data and verifies that it meets LEED criteria. At the end of the project, the provider assembles all credits and supporting data, and submits it to the LEED certification team as one complete package.

Currently there are 12 providers across the US, and the USGBC has plans to expand the provider list after the pilot has closed by approximately 10-15 providers on an annual or semi-annual basis, or as demand dictates. The closest provider to the Greenbush project is in Michigan. Normally at least one visit with the provider is done in person, but due to the Michigan provider's busy schedule, the project's remote location, and the wonders of technology, all communication and data might be able to be transferred electronically*

. Talk about sustainable!

So far the costs for LEED registration are as follows:

  • Registration fee: $150
  • Provider fee: $500
  • Certification fee (paid at end of project): $50

In addition to using a LEED provider, an energy rater is needed for performance/commissioning testing. Additional energy tests can be performed to achieve more LEED points, and rates can vary from region to region. Because Greenbush is located in a remote location, this project may incur extra expenses for travel and lodging. One goal of this project is to facilitate green building for the average person in the area. If the energy rater cost is too high, I will look into alternatives.

*(This is a pilot and a great deal of flexibility has been given. This is not business as usual and will be not be the norm when the program launches completely in a couple of months. LEED expects to add more people to cover a larger portion of the country sometime in the future.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Becoming a LEED® Accredited Professional

Many in the building sector are becoming LEED® Accredited Professionals (LEED APs). According to Building Design and Construction magazine, architecture giant Perkins + Will has increased their number of LEED APs by 66% in under one year, and currently 60% of their workforce (753 out of 1,200) are LEED Accredited. This is partly in response to a demand for more green buildings, but also because P + W pride themselves at being dedicated to being on the cutting edge of sustainability and energy-efficiency. In January 2007, Turner Construction announced that it surpassed its goal of doubling the number of LEED APs on staff. There are currently over 30,000 LEED APs in the US and that number is growing.

I am also working toward becoming a LEED AP, and because I receive quite a few questions about it, I thought I’d post some information here.

To become a LEED AP, one must pass an examination on one of three programs:

LEED for New Construction, version 2.2
LEED for Commercial Interiors, version 2.0
LEED for Existing Buildings, version 2.0

A LEED project receives 1 point through the Innovation and Design credit for having a LEED AP on board, regardless of which exam you take (for example, if you build a LEED-Homes project but pass the LEED-EB test, you still qualify).

I am studying for the LEED-New Construction version 2.2 examination. The exam is supposed to be extremely difficult; more difficult than version 2.1. In fact, if you read the LEED Professional Accreditation Handbook , part of the test scoring is actually based on psychometric analysis. One such analysis “reports how candidates for the test responded to each question for the purpose of assessing how difficult the question is and how effectively the question distinguishes between knowledgeable and unknowledgeable candidates”. The short version – this will not be a memorization game, and you better know your stuff.

It is recommended that you take a training workshop offered by the USGBC. I took a full-day technical review in 2006 and it cost $325. I have heard the prices have gone up but it’s hard to search their website without actually buying something, and nothing is currently offered in my area so I can’t be sure. They now offer half-day courses, and online education as well. Online courses are $150 for members and $200 for non-members. The thick reference guide for LEED-NC (my 460-page LEED bible) was $132.50.

I found a few “mock exams” online and to my dismay, I am still getting answers wrong. The questions are definitely confusing.

The LEED criteria makes perfect sense, but the referenced standards are somewhat daunting. The test may be easier for someone who works with energy or air quality standards on a daily basis and understands ASHRAE 62.1-2004, and that South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 113, Architectural Coatings, also applies to waterproof sealants. One question I got wrong referenced a bylaw standard that was mentioned in very fine print and I wouldn’t ever have known without scouring the thick reference guide.

So - be assured, that if you ever work with a LEED-AP, they what they're doing.

Well, back to studying, wish me luck.

Monday, May 7, 2007


I am starting this blog because I am managing a project involving the construction of a LEED®-H building in Greenbush, Minnesota, a rural community of 793 people.

The building process alone is an arduous one and the green building aspect is an additional layer of potential chaos.

Or is it? Theoretically, green building should neither cost more nor be extremely difficult to do. The trick is to design everything upfront, with everything working together in an integrated system. For example, installing better windows will reduce your heating load requirements and minimize your heating system size. But how far do you go? How do you know if your building is “green”? What additional costs are there to get a building certified as green?

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System to create a benchmark for high-performance buildings. While it is by no means the only green building rating system out there, it has become the most recognized nationally, and many governments have specified LEED certification for future buildings. LEED-Homes, a newer program set to be officially released this summer, addresses the challenging aspects of the residential sector.

And while LEED-H is sure to create a high-performance building, can it be done in a rural community, for a price that justifies the means? Just how dubious will the process be and could a typical person understand it? How much better does it actually make the home and are there any obvious changes that need to be made?

And aside from LEED, what about green building in a rural community in general? Are contractors willing to learn new things and what challenges will we face? How can we utilize local vendors and materials and continue to stimulate their economy?

This blog should hopefully answer some of these questions along the way, and if not, hopefully it will generate some interesting discussions. At the very least it will be a complete record of the process of building a LEED-Home.

If you ever have any questions, please ask!

Remember, it’s not black or white, it’s green.