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Pointers for First-Time LEED Projects

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So, you’re ready to start your first LEED project: great! Here are some helpful steps to get you on track.

1. Assemble your team

Determine who will be working on your LEED project – think about each of the credit categories and who may be needed to complete each one. Owners, architects, civil engineers, landscape architects, commissioning agents, and other building engineers will all play an important role on the project. Know your audience by asking them ahead of time how familiar they are with LEED v4 projects.

It’s important to recognize that for all roles on the project, more work will be involved than in a standard project. Language pertaining to LEED, and the extra costs involved, should be included in Requests for Proposals to consultants.

2. Get familiar with the scorecard

Become familiar with the requirements of each credit, especially the prerequisites. Assessing the project site is a great place to start; the Sustainable Sites and Location and Transportation credits can often be evaluated by just looking at a map!

Don’t forget the last credit category, either. The amount of choice available in the Innovation credits can seem daunting, but USGBC has an Innovation Catalog and pilot credits to provide direction. Incorporating these credits will help your project meet its certification goal and enhance its sustainability achievements.

From existing project documentation and initial conversations with your team, how many other credits can already be anticipated? How many will need further review? These can get a check in the Maybe column.

As you finish your pass through the scorecard, make sure to have a few “buffer” points above the minimum threshold for the LEED certification level you’re targeting. These additional points will help cover things that may change during the design process, or credits that may be denied during GBCI’s review.

3. Hold the charrette

Make introductions between team members who may not be from the same firm. If an overall goal for LEED certification level has not yet been determined, include this in the discussion! Use the charrette to talk about the overall strategy – are you prioritizing water credits due to regional concerns? Is energy conservation the main objective? Consider the overarching sustainability goals of your project and map them back to LEED credits.

Reviewing the scorecard credit-by-credit can provide structure to your charrette and help orient the team to the LEED program. You may get a lot of questions answered right from the beginning, and it helps keep everyone organized. The charrette is also a great time to establish clear processes for collecting documentation and credit information. Consider creating a “responsibilities matrix” to help team members keep track of various responsibilities and expectations. As with all LEED meetings, keep a record of the goals and expectations developed from each: detailed meeting minutes will prove invaluable as the project progresses.

4. Conduct a LEED Online intro meeting

Maybe your team has seasoned LEED Online pros – and maybe it’s all first-time users. Either way, you will want to hold a LEED Online meeting to discuss protocols:

  • Set a common file naming convention for submissions.
  • Discuss a QA/QC process.
  • Send out invites to LEED Online – note that everyone will need a personal USGBC account prior to accessing the project!

5. Continue checking in throughout the design and construction process

Hold regular meetings to check in on the status of all documentation and to answer any questions that the team may have. Use the scorecard, your responsibility matrix, and LEED Online to “check off” items as they’re completed.

Down the line, closer to the construction phase of the project, it will be critical to set up a “construction kick off” meeting with the construction manager, contractor, and subs. At this meeting, you can establish protocols for LEED product data submittals (helpful example here). These submittals will develop from items that the LEED project team writes into design specifications. These additions to the specifications are critical to ensuring your LEED goals across IAQ procedures, material requirements, and the like are met. Examples of this specification language can be found here.

Site visits and meticulous documentation are good practices during the construction phase. Keeping an organized log of documentation, calls, and meetings as they happen will be very helpful as the construction phase can have a long duration.

6. Check for the easy mistakes

When all your documentation is complete – check that it’s actually complete! Look for required tables, uploads, and signatures for each of the credit forms. Next, compare repeated numbers such as square footage and occupancy counts – these should be consistent throughout the project.

When in doubt, use the USGBC project submittal tips sheet to catch common issues. 

7. Know where to go for help

  • LEEDuser breaks down the credits into easy-to-understand mouthfuls. Check out the new and improved user interface.
  • Use the appropriate LEED v4 reference guide for your project type.
  • Peruse the credit library on USGBC’s website.
  • Check the credit forms on LEED Online for the most up-to-date requirements.
  • For other good resources – see the Resources Tab on LEEDuser!

8. Submit the project ... and wait for the review comments

Let the team know when you’ve submitted and when they can expect to hear back. Then you can schedule a time to meet to review the comments from GBCI when you receive them. All the reviewer’s comments will come with instructions for addressing the issues. Take the time to revise the documentation and prepare narratives for a smooth resubmittal.

When you’ve addressed all the issues, give the project one more QC, then resubmit. Now sit back, relax, and wait for your LEED certification.

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LEEDuser expert

Ashwini Arun

Senior Sustainability Manager

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