Lessons in LEED in 2019

Common-sense tips for mastering LEED certification

By TOMMY LINSTROTH

If you want to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the homes you’re building, start planning now. As the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) rolls out LEED v4.1, it’s a good time for builders to hit the ground running.

Have a Plan

For many builders, the biggest stumbling block when seeking a third-party certification like LEED is trying to navigate the seemingly ever-changing requirements for specific certifications. Standards can change. Being able to stay on top of all those changes can be a tough challenge for anybody — whether they’re experienced green builders or not. Sometimes, builders just stumble blindly through the certification process. Reaching certification relies on collaboration and communication among all the stakeholders involved in the project. If the builder isn’t involved in the early conversations with the designer and the owner, things can start to get out of hand before construction ever begins. Builders can provide practical insights into how some of those early design decisions can affect the constructability of the house as well as the overall budget.

So, by getting builders involved early — not after everything has already been designed and laid out — they can help influence the design to meet the expectations of owners, help stay within budget, and ensure all materials to be used in construction are LEED-compliant.

Easy Fixes

Builders who are hesitant to seek LEED certification often have the misconception is that it’s going to end up costing an arm and a leg. That’s not necessarily the case. Just like anything else, if you want to build a really nice structure, some aspects will cost more. But implementing basic green construction and building measures doesn’t have to break the budget. Building more energy-efficient, healthier, and overall better places to live can be done without paying a cost premium.

There are some simple, cost-effective steps that builders can take to increase their odds of achieving LEED certification that will also create more value for the homeowner. Start by addressing air infiltration issues that can be fixed with basic quality control.

Workers are on tight schedules, so it’s understandable that they may not always take the time to go back and properly seal the holes in plywood or tape off seams. Or they pop in a window and move on to the next one, forgetting to go back and fill in the quarter-inch gap around it.

Add all of those gaps and holes and cracks together, and the homeowner might as well be leaving a window open in their house 24/7 for decades to come. Saving the one-time cost of a couple of tubes of caulk on your end can lead to a lifetime of unnecessary energy expenses for the people living in the home.

These are issues that can be solved with standard quality control. Somebody with a tube of caulk or a can of spray foam can nip those issues in the bud at a negligible price. Practicing standard quality control makes such a big difference in reaching certification.

It seems self-evident, but, unfortunately, these little issues can be ignored as teams rush to meet building deadlines. While they may not sound like much of anything, these problems add up, reducing your chances of certification while penalizing homeowners with higher utility bills for the life of the building.

Importance of Record Keeping

Good record-keeping is the cost of the certification. A builder can do an awesome job, and the house can have a great design and use all the appropriate materials, but at the end of the day, a project has to be documented to achieve third-party certification. If there is poor record-keeping or a lack of oversight, certification isn’t going to happen.

Record-keeping doesn’t have to be a big deal if you keep on top of it. If you have a good system in place to track materials and document processes through notes and photos, you can take care of the busy work in a couple of minutes each day. If you don’t, you’ll spend an awful lot of time at the end of the project trying to recreate the documentation. Even worse, you may be unable to actually provide the information that’s required to obtain that third-party certification.

Getting Back on the Path to LEED

Getting a project certified is doable, but it takes work. Have a plan and don’t be afraid to explore the use of technology to help automate reporting requirements. If you haven’t bothered trying for LEED certification in your green homes in recent years, now is a great time to take another look. Reaching that certification pays dividends for your business, your projects, and the environment. Start today.

Tommy Linstroth is founder and CEO of Green Badger, a cloud-based solution for equipping project teams of all levels of experience with the tools they need to document LEED as efficiently as possible.