Energy Ace: Five Lessons learned From 100+ LEED Projects

Atlanta-based Energy Ace is a single-source, full-service firm providing green building technical and administrative services.

The firm’s president, Wayne Robertson, PE, LEED AP, recently reached out to SGR to discuss his experience and advice after working with more than 100 LEED-certified projects.

The following is an article authored by Mr. Robertson discussing tips and techniques he and his team learn with each new project.

“Experience is the best teacher,” someone (probably Adam) once said.

For LEED projects, that maxim holds especially true because ours is a new field without a long history of accepted wisdom, rules of thumb, tricks of the trade, or other well-documented and long-held truths from which the practitioner can learn.

Despite experience with more than 100 LEED projects, our firm learns new tips and techniques with each new project, and we document them for our own improvement.

Here are five to share:

  • Project team: Having an enthusiastic team is the most important factor for success. With a gung-ho owner, a motivated A/E and a cooperative contractor, your project will be well on the way toward success. Enthusiasm is so important that we rank it higher than prior LEED experience on the part of the team members.
  • Project champion: Early on, find the project champion and make friends with him or her. The project champion is the one person on the owner’s team who pushes the project and, even more importantly, pushes the team members to complete their credits, do their calculations, attend the LEED meetings and so on. Even motivated A/Es and cooperative contractors can lose their enthusiasm as a project goes on or get distracted with other pressing issues, so the owner’s champion is the one to light — or relight — the fire.
  • Credit cushion: Regardless of the number of points your team thinks the project will achieve, build in at least a 10 percent cushion to ensure certification level success. That is, if you are seeking LEED Silver (50 points), have 55 points available. If Gold is the goal (60 points), strive for 66 points and so on. Why? Because during design, construction or LEED review, stuff happens and credits get lost or denied in the review process. It’s always wise to have a safety margin.
  • Which credits: To identify LEED credits to pursue, kickoff each project with a LEED charrette with all the team members present in person. After project and LEED orientation, go through the rating system checklist, and ask yourselves three questions for each credit: “Is it easy to do? Is it cheap to do? Is it good for the project?”  Try to get as many affirmative answers for each credit as you can.
  • Interpreting a Credit: When puzzling over a design feature to see if it might satisfy a LEED credit, focus on achieving the intent of the LEED credit and document accordingly. Ask yourself, “What is LEED trying to accomplish with this particular credit?” Read the entire section in the LEED Reference Guide for the subject credit, including the Benefits and Issues to Consider (item 1) and the Examples (item 8). LEED’s main focus in determining credit compliance is that the project is achieving and demonstrating that the intent of the credit has been met. Use the Optional Narrative sections, and document generously. If you think about the intent — and if you interpret it properly — you’ll probably be successful in attaining that credit.

These are five tips to lead you to a successful LEED project. You will no doubt collect your own as you go along, and we recommend you assemble them for your own continuous improvement.

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