10 lessons learned on our first LEED CI Project

22, May. 2012

South St. Burger Co.

2011 was a big year for Jump when it comes to sustainable projects. South St. Burger Co. has been Jump’s client right from inception and has always taken pride in their green initiatives. From winning an “Innovations in Energy” award at the beginning of 2011 for their Shops at Don Mills location, the momentum carried forward when we suggested that the next location be LEED Certified. South St. Burger Co.’s Bayview Village location was Jump’s first LEED project, and an exciting one at that! Jumping in with both feet is not entirely unfamiliar to Jump, as we are a young design firm and there is no doubt that the partners took risks while starting out. Now having received LEED Certification and already winning the A.R.E. “2012 Grand Prize for Tenant Improvement” and “2012 Sustainable Project of the Year” awards, there are high expectations that this project is successful.

Entering into this project, both the clients and contractors were for the most part green. Not in the environmentally-conscious, eco-friendly type of way; but in the way where there was little to no individual knowledge of sustainable practices or where to begin. Although members of our firm have LEED credentials and the project’s engineer had LEED experience, undertaking our first LEED project made us aware of just how much effort and knowledge needs to be applied in order to produce successful results. Fortunately though, we were all able to build off our foundational understanding and guide the project in the right direction.

Jump has learned so much from our first LEED CI project, primarily regarding the processes involved in certifying. We have compiled this into the following list that will be of particular use to designers and LEED project managers.

1. Know the Reference Guide – read it thoroughly.

Knowing and retaining all the information in the Reference Guide may seem daunting. However, undertaking this task may not be crucial for your project’s success as for the most part an understanding of the Guide’s layout and general gist will suffice. There are many terms in the Reference Guide, some, you may not initially understand, or need a refresher on if it has been a while. Fortunately, there are definitions at the end of each credit, as well as typically a thorough explanation with reference materials or their links. Know the different sections of the Reference Guide and what credits are within them: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation & Design Process. Know which credits can afford you more than one point – it could be an easy upgrade to the next certification level.

2. The CaGBC is your friend. Utilize their direction and information.

At the beginning of this project, Jump had many questions regarding the process of submission. On your first LEED project there is typically a mentor or a colleague with LEED project experience. Not in Jump’s case. We hit the ground running! Although very exciting, it definitely left us with many unanswered questions:  WHERE do we find this? WHAT do we need to provide? And WHEN do we submit this? Although the CaGBC Info Desk and Junior Technical Coordinator are not able to advise you whether you should or should not submit for a credit, they are most valuable resources when it comes to the order of which things are to be done and finding information that seems to be lost in cyberspace. The CaGBC website is not the easiest to navigate, especially if you’re not used to it. The Info Desk is incredibly helpful in providing you with the information you need for your project submissions, and is a great place to start before submitting a CIR. The Junior Technical Coordinator comes into play after you submit for the first review. This person is your first point of contact if you have any questions regarding review results. He’s sort of like your LEED cheerleader, doing what he can within reason to help your project succeed throughout the certification process.

3. Become friends with CIRs.

Credit Interpretation Rulings are responses to requests submitted to the CaGBC by other LEED APs or main project contacts regarding their projects for clarifications on what is required for a particular credit, often relating to a specific project situation. You can have a broad search that pertains to all rating systems, or you can narrow it down to the particular credit in the rating system that you are using. There is a good chance that another project has experienced a similar speed bump that you are facing and it is a much more cost-effective step to search for the answer through existing projects instead of submitting your own CIR for $385.00. CIRs are useful resources to view approved direction for a credit and can help support your case if there is any objection during reviews.

4. It is very possible that your project team has no previous LEED project experience.

You all have to start somewhere! Your project team is made up of the client, designer or architect, landlord, engineer, commissioning authority, contractor, and anyone else who is directly related to the project. There is a very good possibility that members of the project team have never worked on LEED projects before and it is imperative that everybody is on the same page in order for sustainability goals to be met. The overall goal that the client has put forth incorporates some changes of actions that will have everyone involved designing and selecting products, materials, and equipment consciously and constructing with environmental consideration. At the very least, your project team comes out of the project with gained knowledge of healthier construction sites and greener finished environments. The major factor is that everyone must work together towards a common goal that the client has mandated to better not only the environment, but the public’s perception of the brand. The client’s overall reputation reflects everybody involved on the project.

5. Be aware of how important the Commissioning Authority is to the project.

The Commissioning Authority is a major component of the project. You cannot certify a project without the CxA, plain and simple. The CxA deals directly with the client, designer, engineers, and foremost, the contractor. He and his team are there for quality assurance of the project’s energy-related systems – HVAC, lighting, domestic hot water, and renewable energy systems – that they are installed, calibrated, and perform as intended. In addition to the overwhelming technical information that the CxA requests, calculates, and also provides, their involvement early on ensures thoroughness and a regimented project. This means that the CxA’s services are incredibly valuable and will most definitely use a large percentage of the project’s budget. The downside to the required commissioning for Commercial Interiors is that it is an incredibly large expense for the typical 3000 to 5000 square foot retail environment and may discourage the client altogether. For a small project, like many CI’s, the cost can sit between $5.85 and $10.75 per square foot (based on quotes we had received).

6. Keep on top of things with project management.

It is imperative that you maintain constant communication with the entire project team regarding design, specifications, technical documentation, timelines, and ensuring everyone involved maintains their LEED project responsibility. Attempted credits are divided up amongst the project team to the parties who are to comply with and provide the necessary information. At times this proved to be difficult with those who had no previous LEED project experience – contractors and sub-contractors in particular. The contractor and all of his sub-trades are what tie the whole project together by executing the final design. For this team, it was easy for them to overlook some of the specific requirements of the credits that they were responsible for, due to their own construction timeline and their previous SSBC project experience. This construction team in particular has built most of the 18 SSBC stores in the past and have developed a second nature in their operations that works for them. Being in constant communication with them through email, phone calls, and site visits ensured that areas were not overlooked and any issues were addressed immediately.

7. Know the manufacturing information of the finishes and construction materials before you specify.

Because this project was a more polished version of a roll-out, we had many existing finished specs as well as many new ones to add. Know where the raw materials come from and where the final product is manufactured, how much recycled content is in it, if the wood content is or is able to be FSC certified, if urea-formaldehyde is used in the glues or resins, and what the VOC levels are in paints and adhesives. All of these things your product reps will be able to help you determine and find the required information. Specify these right off the bat so there won’t be questions or back-tracking later on. Some factors may outweigh others when selecting the product aside from the desired atmosphere that you hope to achieve. For example: you have selected the perfect tile that has 90% pre- and post-consumer recycled content but it comes from Italy. You won’t get any points for it being outside of the 800km radius of the project but you will get the points for the recycled content. Some credits allow for variances and “budgets” while others are strict – “…no added urea-formaldehyde resins.” Keep the credits without variances in mind when you first determine which credits you will be working towards and see how feasible it will be for you to achieve the point.

8. Utilize other reference guides for ID credits.

The USGBC’s Commercial Interiors rating system is slightly more advanced than ours just north of the border. While we’re still working with version 1.0, they have been at the next production 2009, for years now. If you are able to get your hands on this or any other reference guide (Core and Shell or New Construction), there is a good chance that you can use these other rating systems for Innovation and Design Process credits. Since we had the USGBC’s Interior Design and Construction reference guide on hand during this project, we were able to pull ID credits that we had not originally thought of.

9. LEED certifying a project is more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling and bragging rights.

Everybody learns of ways to go green here and there – on television, the internet, billboards, and through your neighbour using rainwater for her plants; but what is the cost benefit of going green – and LEED certifying a project? In particular, why would a business pay the additional upfront cost if it won’t make them money down the road? It didn’t take a whole lot of arm-twisting to get South St. Burger Co. on board because they were already well on their way with making environmentally sustainable choices. They knew that by spending more on their grill hoods right off the bat (100% more) would ensure minimal energy usage resulting in substantial energy cost savings down the road with a ROI of 5-7 years based on previous projects. Expanding on the notion of ROI, anything that uses energy has the potential to make money back. A good example would be lighting. When you factor in the initial cost of the fixture, installation, and periodic maintenance (lamp replacements), the actual cost of a light fixture is never-ending. In this project, we specified LED light fixtures and lamps for 90% of all lighting. The initial cost of the LED fixture may be double than what you would pay for a standard CFL or incandescent, but they use minimal energy and the lamps last four to ten times longer than a regular lamp – resulting in significantly less money spent on maintenance and energy.

Yes, those bragging rights are all yours and your client’s. Let the customers know everything that has gone into creating this breathe-friendly environment. By educating the customers, it only adds to the good feelings they experience in the store and will ensure repeat visits as well as it will bring in new customers through word of mouth.

10. This takes time!

Gathering information for your first LEED project will take eons longer than any of your successive projects, especially if you don’t have the opportunity of someone working with you who has LEED project experience. Keep that in mind when billing and scheduling deadlines for the rest of the project team to provide you with the information they are responsible for. Realize that not everything runs smoothly and that other schedules need to be taken into account, for example: the contractor’s timeline, the commissioning authority’s equipment testing timelines, as well as the CaGBC’s review timelines – which are extended longer than what the reference guide stipulates. You are the person that everyone looks to for answers to their questions, and you will find them. It may be a rocky start, but this is your first LEED project. Accept it as a learning curve, and be proud of it.

Hats off to South St. Burger Co. – New York Fries for jumping in to the LEED program with us, as we together now share the achievement of LEED Certification. To Novatrend Engineering Group for providing exceptional support, communication, and information. To Seawood, the project’s Commissioning Authority, for coming in late in the game and being patient with us and to Unitedwell Interior Contracting for complying with new ways to build a better burger joint.