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USGBC's New LEED Interpretations Similar to Old Precedent-Setting CIRs

Precedent-setting CIRs are back! Well, sort of...
February 28, 2011

Update: The LEED Interpretations database was moved and relaunched in April 2013. Its new location is Update: The LEED Interpretations database was upgraded in Oct. 2011.

Today USGBC launched its long-awaited LEED Interpretations process and database. LEED Interpretations are like project-specific CIRs, but unlike those Credit Interpretation Rulings, they can be applied to multiple projects. They are published in a searchable, online database, and unlike CIRs which are made by GBCI review teams, LEED Interpretations receive scrutiny from USGBC staff and technical committees. Project-specific CIRs are still available for $220, while LEED Interpretations can be requested for an additional fee of $180 (or an additional $380 for non-USGBC members).

Since the launch of 2009, LEED project teams with a unique situation or a question not answered by existing LEED resources have had access to CIR. Those CIRs have been limited: they aren't public, so other projects can't learn from them, and they can't even be referenced as a precedent on another project by the same team.

USGBC has heard complaints about this, but it has been in a difficult situation. With the growth of LEED and its splitting off of GBCI as the LEED certification body, USGBC needed to ensure that only CIRs truly deserving of influencing the LEED standards would do so. Since conceiving of the LEED Interpretations process in 2010, it has been working hard to make it a reality.

Here are some useful links:

Noteworthy features of the launch include the following.

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  • Site is labeled as "Beta." Cara Mae Cirignano, a LEED specialist at USGBC, told me that this is being considered a "soft launch" of the feature. She said there are a lot of iimprovements to be made with the database and inquiry mechanism, and USGBC wants to solicit comments on the process itself through a survey. (If you have feedback or thoughts you want to share, also feel free to leave a comment below.)
  • Addenda and Interpretations rolled together. The LEED Interpretations database also includes LEED addenda. Addenda will still be used for grammatical and other clarifications to rating systems and Reference Guides, but it should be an improvement to be able to find both addenda and interpretations in one place. (I still find the old addenda table PDFs, which are still available, a faster reference—or better yet, LEEDuser's summary reviews—but this feature is great and we'll see how it evolves.)
  • Applicability noted. For each Interpretation, its applicability to specific LEED rating systems (and those that it is NOT appliable to) is noted.
  • Quarterly schedule. LEED Interpretations, along with addenda, will be published quarterly (unlike old CIRs which came out unpredictably). LEED projects are required to follow interpretations issued prior to their registration date, but only encouraged to follow items posted after their registration date.
  • Timeline. CIRs have a 3–4 week response time, while LEED Interpretations will have a 3–6 month response time. A team could get a CIR fairly quickly for immediate project impact, and also request an Interpretation for longer-term use.
  • Interpretations and CIRs may contradict. Because of the rigorous review of LEED Interpretations, USGBC acknowledges that a LEED Interpretation may in rare conditions contradict a CIR. Teams receiving contradictory rulings may use either on the specific project involved. I think of this as the difference between a referee of a sports match issuing a penalty while the game is in session, while the sports league may reverse the penalty later, after the game is completed. The penalty/CIR metaphor doesn't quite hold up, but football fans should get the idea.
  • Appeals. A LEED Interpretation may be appealed at no charge.
  • What's in there now? There is one new LEED Interpretation in the database so far (it's about IDc2, and LEEDuser reported on it two weeks ago). All other Interpretations in the database are existing historic CIRs that have been allowed for LEED 2009 projects. Project CIRs that were requested prior to the start of the LEED Interpretations program have already been or will be reviewed for their applicability as a LEED Interpretation. Project CIR requests submitted from approximately July 2009 to June 2010 that were determined to be precedent-setting will be summarized and included in the database in the second quarterly posting, due May 2011. Those Project CIRs that were received after June 2010 will continue to be reviewed by UGSBC and posted in the database in the third quarterly posting, due approximately July 2011.

The LEEDuser team with our guest experts will continue to review noteworthy database additions as they come out, and will keep our members apprised through our email newsletter.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below.


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March 3, 2016 - 6:28 pm

We understand that the only way to submit for a CIR is through the registered project LEED Online platform. The issue we have is complex, and takes more (way more) than the maximum 5,000 character limit allowed, to fully explain.
I had submitted inquiries twice to the USGBC about other avenues to submitting the CIR, but of course, only received the stock reply - "do it through LEED Online".
Does anyone have any experience or advice with this?


December 4, 2014 - 4:51 am

My project is a mall that is planned to serve a district level; it definately includes at least 10 of the basic services listed in Appendix 1. in order to meet SS-c2 : Option 2 (Community Connectivity), is it possible to consider the services inside the mall as the 10 basic services? I cannot understand how this project must not count the basic services within it but should count services outside of it, knowing that people most likely go to the mall by car so it will be more convenient for them to walk through the mall rather than go outside walking to one of the 10 basic services!

Please advice.

December 4, 2014 - 4:36 pm

I think it is embedded in the credit - Community Connectivity. The idea is to create walk able neighborhoods. This is based on New Urbanist principles by having the project look outward regarding its effect on the larger community, not inward. Malls surrounded by cars just do not promote the same kind of principles. So this is about the larger community, not just the people who work at the mall.

April 12, 2013 - 1:47 am

check out the new database!


can anyone get this to work?

April 29, 2013 - 4:30 pm

Hi Amy,
I'm sorry that you had such a frustrating experience with the new website and with our customer service process. When the LEED Interpretations database was initially launched, Internet Explorer 9 wasn't supported, and a number of other issues were being worked out by the Website Team. We think that the database should be working well now, but if you have any difficulties, please let us know (https://jira.usgbc.org/browse/NEWUSGBCFEEDBACK-5730) and we'll be glad to help.

April 17, 2013 - 6:08 pm

I can only get the new site to function using Chrome as my browser. When I called for some assistance , I was put on hold for 9 minutes and then told that if I had a question about the existence of a specific LEED Interpretation I should just email them.

I am disappointed that there is continual change in the design of the database. I was finally working efficiently in the database with the search filters along the left side of the screen. I tried multiple ways yesterday to find a LEED Interpretation that I am aware of, and the system could never find it.

Signed sad & frustrated.

April 14, 2013 - 8:09 pm

Hi Lyle, I was originally having very similar difficulties to you but after trying again today it appears as if it is working better now i.e. if you type SSc4 you will now see 16 interpretations. Perhaps not all the data had been moved across to the new system before? The difficulty is knowing if there really are only 16 interpretations applicable to SSc4.

In summary, I'd really like to have the ability to filter by credit (rather than having to search by typing in the credit name) which was probably the most useful function in the old system. The new text filters will be a useful addition on top of that.

April 12, 2013 - 1:48 pm

I heard from USGBC staff that they launched this new database aheaad of schedule due to a push to get off the old website server. Thus while it's nice that it's out now, and in my experience has an overall smoother experience than the old database, they weren't able to include all the features that they ultimately do plan to include. I expect to see improvements made over the new few months.

April 12, 2013 - 1:40 pm

I'm not sure I like these changes. Maybe it just takes getting used to. Lewis, I finally realized that you can use more search functions if you click the "+" sign at the right of the grey bar (similar to adding a fixture in the WEp1 LOL form). The first drop down (on the left side of the grey bar) gives you the search criteria options that used to be in a separate frame to the left.
What I am disappointed with is the fact that when you want to search by credit/prerequisite (which, I would imagine, is the majority of cases), you are given a text box to type in the name of the credit - you are not given a drop-down list to choose from. The best approach that I am finding is to choose "contains" in the second drop-down, and type one or two keywords from the credit title into the textbox. For example, if you want to find Interpretations regarding EBOM SSCc4: Alternative Commuting Transportation, choose: "MPR/Prerequisite/Credit", "contains", and type "Alternative Commuting". I tried typing in "SSc4" but that did not work. To me, this seems a bit clunky, and I would prefer a drop down, but realize this may involve too much programming.

June 27, 2012 - 9:17 pm

I was scanning a comment I made last year after the new database was released and wanted to offer some praise to the the current version. The new and improved version of the database is much better! The search is more intuitive and the functionality is vastly improved.

June 27, 2012 - 8:48 pm

FAQ says LEED Interpretation Benefits are 1. Precedent-setting, 2.consensus-based reviews, 3. could be applied to multiple buildings, LEED rating systems and programs, 4. published in a new and improved online database.
But the listed benefits don't really benefit a project team that would submit for a LEED Interpretation. Why would anyone pay extra fee to benefit for the good of public, but not a project team?
I need some explanation on this one.

June 29, 2012 - 10:15 am


I'm giving you a standing ovation for your response. Thanks for articulating why you volunteer your time. It is much the same reason for me and I suspect many other people.

June 27, 2012 - 10:04 pm

Getting a precedent-setting answer can also benefit the same owner or the same project team if they are doing multiple LEED certifications with similar features.

June 27, 2012 - 9:13 pm

Why do people donate to charities? Many people provide public benefit for love of Country or the place they live. For the same reason I volunteer time (and many free answers) on these forums. 1) to help others and 2) to benefit the green building movement.

Beyond that it does benefit the project team directly in that they get an official answer to their question. This can save them considerable time (and therefore money) in the LEED review process. Those answers also happen to benefit others.

If we keep it all a secret we are not transforming the market which is the purpose of LEED.

October 31, 2011 - 4:02 pm

In keeping with the orginal announcement indicating that the Interpretations database was "Beta," USGBC has rolled out an updated version. Among the key changes to the database are the following, accordnng to Batya Metaliz at USGBC:

Single landing page that includes all filter criteria in one view

Ability to see selections after they’re made vs. in separate windows

Cleaner design and layout making relevant information easier to find

Enhanced sorting capabilities

Ability to share entries with other users via email in a single click

Comprehensive details page for every LEED Interpretations and Addenda entry

Referenced Addenda and LEED Interpretations that correspond with one another

What do you think of the new version? Any additional changes you'd like to see? Please also post here if you see any particularly noteworthy Interpretations. We also have our eyes out.

LEED Interpretations & Addenda DatabaseRegister for the 11/15 Webcast: November Addenda and Interpretations - What’s Changed and Why

November 10, 2011 - 10:22 am

Again, USGBC wants to thank LEEDuser for helping us get the story out on the new user interface and to those that have already taken a look at the system and provided us feedback. Please make sure to join us for the webinar on November 15th to learn more about how the database works. Users can also refer to the Database Help document (http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=9119) located at the top right of every screen in the database for further information. If users still have trouble finding the entry they are looking for or have general questions, please contact us directly using the LEED Contact Us forms at usgbc.org (select ‘General LEED Questions’ and then ‘LEED Interpretations’).

When conducting a search using the keyword search field, the system will return entries where the exact term resides in the formal inquiry or ruling text, as well as the Unique ID Number. In the example above, the term “green education” doesn’t exist in LEED Interpretation #3115, posted 9/24/2011. Typing “Green Building Education” or “green or education” would yield this entry, and any other rulings that include these terms. See page 6 of the Database Help document for additional keyword search options. By default, results are listed by Rating System and newest date vs. how precedent-setting they are. Additional sort features are provided at the top of every results page.

We are aware of the unique issue for those Internet Explorer users running on protected mode and working steadfastly to implement a solution. Whenever a new online tool is developed, it must be tested against the various available internet browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc) and versions within. Unfortunately it does take time to get all internet browsers to work at full capacity with our tools. We appreciate our customer’s patience while we work through these and any other IE-specific issues. In the meantime, users may select to use the tool in unsecure mode (which will not impact the data integrity of the system) or use one of the other supported internet browsers listed on page 1 of the Database Help document linked above.

November 3, 2011 - 2:40 pm

Finally! I can select particular credits to narrow my search. The older version APPEARED to have that option, but it never worked for me to unselect all boxes and select a particular credit. Now it does! Hooray!

November 3, 2011 - 9:31 am

I'm having problems with the filter controls. I have Internet Explorer running in Protected Mode. When the webpage loads the left column list of search filters shows a "More>>" under Raiting System, Credit Category and others. Also shows a "+" symbol to expand the list.

Picking "More>>" does nothing. Picking the "+" reloads the page and pops up a warning box that reads,
"Security Warning: This webpage contains content that will not be delivered using a secure HTTPS connection, which could compromise the security of the entire webpage."

If I select "Yes" to only load only the content that was delivered securely on the page the view goes back to exactly what I had before with none of the filter options visible or selectable. If I select "No" to load all content then the page view changes slightly. Now the "More>>" has disappeared and the "+" functions properly and I can view and select all of the filter options.

November 3, 2011 - 8:56 am

I found the new interface much better than the old one. However, I'm still having issues getting to the right CIR/LID. For example, i searched for 'green education' in order to read the original precedent setting CIR and had everything clicked on (their default setting), my search did not yield the precendent setting CIR. It did pop up a later CIR that referenced the original Green Ed program CIR. Green Ed is not a minor CIR and the first one should have been in the results. I had similar success with the Environmentally Preferred Purchasing search.

Overall, I'm still finding that a very broad search yields better results than a specific search. Searching for 'signs' is better than 'green education'. That search had the 9/24/2001 CIR for the green education ID credit.

March 1, 2011 - 10:55 am

Thanks to all those who have commented, and to Tristan for the article. We’ve been working hard on the LEED Interpretations program, and we’re excited to get Phase I out to the world. I’d like to respond to some of the comments and concerns that have been posted. First and foremost, I encourage all interested LEED stakeholders to check out the LEED Interpretations guidance, available here: http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=7662. It speaks to many of the issues raised on this forum. Also, please be aware that there is a members webcast on March 17th in which we’ll be explaining the process and fielding questions. Members can sign up here: https://usgbc.webex.com/usgbc/onstage/g.php?t=a&d=757518247

Possible Conflicts Between Rulings
One of the main objectives of the Project CIR/LEED Interpretations system is to allow project teams to move forward with their project as quickly as possible AND to create a precedent that will apply to multiple projects. Unfortunately, as we saw with the CIR process in place before July 2009, this just can’t happen in a single ruling. So, the danger for a conflict between a Project CIR and LEED Interpretation to the same inquiry is necessarily present - but we will do our best to minimize these conflicts. AND, most importantly, the project team that submitted the inquiry will be ALWAYS able to use the Project CIR for that project, even if a LEED Interpretation that contradicts it is issued.

3-6 Month Time Frame
We recognize that this is a long time for project teams to wait for a ruling – that’s why we have the Project CIR system in place. 3-6 months is a realistic amount of time for an inquiry to undergo staff review and to move through the meeting cycles of our expert volunteer committees, ensuring that only high quality rulings are sent back to teams and posted in the database. Again, we’ll do our best to move inquiries through the system as quickly as possible.

“Why doesn't USGBC simply turn appropriate CIR's into precedent setting interpretations rather than asking us to pay more if we expect it could be precedent setting? “
Because LEED Interpretations go through a different review process than Project CIRs, and that review process takes up resources. We talk more about this on page 3 of the LEED Interpretations guidance document, available at the link above.

“Now we are paying to encourage USGBC to fix their own rating system?”
Addenda are the intended mechanism for fixing mistakes in the LEED rating systems and reference guides. You can submit a free suggestion for an addenda here: http://www.usgbc.org/ContactUS/LEEDContact.aspx?CMSPageID=2433 (click on ‘General LEED questions’ and then ‘LEED Addenda’ in the dropsdowns). Project CIRs and LEED Interpretations are intended to be a way for project teams to get official rulings about unique situations and strategies not already addressed in existing materials.

“Why don't all of these come out in addenda?”
We’ve considered many different ways of publishing the information embedded in LEED Interpretations. Posting them as stand-alone rulings in a searchable database is considered more accessible and less unwieldy than continuously growing the rating systems and reference guides.

“Now we'll have to monitor two streams of data for inclusion in our reference guides.”
The new searchable database, which combines LEED Interpretations and addenda and allows users to export search results, as well as the predictable quarterly releases, are meant to help LEED stakeholders keep up with new information.

Choosing Only a Project CIR
No one will be forced to pay for a LEED Interpretation. On the page in LEED Online where you type in your inquiry, you have the option to choose ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question ‘Do you want to opt into the LEED Interpretations process’. Once you get to the payment page, you can’t change this choice without hitting the back button on your browser. If you’re having trouble, please use the feedback button on that page, or any page within LEED Online, to report an IT glitch.

“Is it possible to pay the $180 and only have the global interpretation?”
Not right now. This is something we’re considering for the next phase of LEED Interpretations. At the bottom of the landing page for the database, usgbc.org/leedinterpretations, there is a link to a document that talks about the changes we’re considering, and a link to a survey that we’ll hope you’ll use to let us know all your thoughts about the new program.

The Searchable Database
Mike, I’m really glad you’re getting a lot out of the database!! We are in fact working to add functionality to make it even more searchable. Please check out the document and survey referenced above, and let us know which features would be most useful to you.

June 23, 2011 - 8:15 am

How about using Google as the search engine ?

Google can be configured to harvest data for certain well defined parts of a website. Its also free ?

We all know how to drive Google advanced search, and it's about as powerful as is needed ?

March 3, 2011 - 12:12 pm

Biggest problem we are having is searchability of the new database. What a mess. Please bring back the ability to search by rating system, category and specific credit. The navigation should be intuitive and not require someone to seek more information to learn how to use it.

March 1, 2011 - 11:21 am

It's been my own experience that project specific CIR's have been the most helpful. One person may have asked the question but a hundred people have been able to apply that answer to their project. It would be really helpful to have all Interpretations incorporated into the Reference Guidebook as addenda.

I'm glad this has been brought back but I think we were all hoping for a little less bureaucracy.

February 28, 2011 - 12:30 pm

I'm looking forward to having this system in place and welcome that the USGBC and GBCI have considered that this process is necessary. It remains to be seen how it will work at the sharp end of the business...6 month waits for reply and possible conflicts between interpretations and CIR's may be a big pill to swallow.

April 17, 2013 - 12:53 pm

Is this the same information that is accessible through the Credit Library at http://www.usgbc.org/credits ? Since I would want to browse interpretations credit-by-credit, the credit library format is much more intuitive for me.

February 28, 2011 - 11:34 pm

Access to the searchable data has had an immediate impact on my understanding of some issues. The more searchable data the USGBC can offer ( an even if it is for a small subscription ) the better !

The real problem is that i often just dont know what i dont know. LEED 2009 is changing and this new database goes a long way to keeping me up to date.

February 28, 2011 - 1:08 pm

Is it possible to pay the $180 and only have the global interpretation? If the Review Team is likely to be over-ruled by the TAGs I would rather just pay for the ultimate decision.

February 28, 2011 - 12:59 pm

When I went to input a CIR this morning, the two costs were tied together so that I could not choose the CIR request without also selecting the interpretation rule so the $220 plus the $180 was not an optional cost.

February 28, 2011 - 12:43 pm

Why doesn't USGBC simply turn appropriate CIR's into precedent setting interpretations rather than asking us to pay more if we expect it could be precedent setting? USGBC should decide what information/rulings from CIR's are appropriate to become precedent setting regardless of how much we pay.

Additionally, it is a big pill to swallow that these would take so long after I paid for it and need the ruling. Now we are paying to encourage USGBC to fix their own rating system?

Last, why don't all of these come out in addenda? Instead, now we'll have to monitor two streams of data for inclusion in our reference guides. Already, these guides are looking very ragged due to our hand-written notes, pasted excerpts, and attached pages from the addenda changes. I can't imagine how we will incorporate the Interpretations in our Reference Guide. Can't USGBC simply send us new updated pages that we can insert in our Reference Guides?

So, again, we are being asked to be 'lawyers' in that we must memorize all precedent setting decisions by USGBC, rather then incorporating them into our one large Reference Guide. I'd like to see this guide updated weekly than have to keep up with all of the additional supplements, addenda, interpretations, and other guides and documents.