A Guide to Selecting a Consultant for LEED® Certification of Existing Buildings
When hiring a consultant to guide your building through the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of an existing commercial building under the Green Building Operations & Maintenance (O+M) system, we recommend you consider the following:
Be aware that several different terms are used to identify the LEED system for rating existing buildings. One common term is EBOM, an abbreviation of Existing Building Operations and Management. Some shorten this to LEED for Existing Buildings, LEED Operations and Management, and LEED O and M. USGBC uses the abbreviation O+M. The current guide for the system is entitled: LEED 2009 Reference Guide for Green Building Operations and Maintenance.
ENERGY STAR Score
Make sure that you have a high ENERGY STAR® score. If you do not have a score approaching 70, a consultant should focus first on recommending strategies to improve your score. We believe it is ethical for consultants to ask your ENERGY STAR score prior to agreeing to conduct an initial assessment (often called a gap analysis or gap assessment) that focuses on the costs and potential certification level for LEED.
Some consultants routinely perform full LEED gap assessments on buildings with low ENERGY STAR scores and wait until they complete the assessment to share that a building with a very low ENERGY STAR score will require a very large investment to be LEED certified.
Office buildings must have an occupancy rate of at least 50% for at least 12 months preceding a LEED certification application. If you are interviewing potential consultants and they do not inquire about your occupancy rate, buyer beware. (The occupancy rate requirement was changed from 75% to 50% in 2009.}
Seek Consultants With The Right Expertise
The LEED Building Design and Construction (BD+C) rating system is quite different than O+M, the existing commercial buildings rating system. Many quite competent new construction consultants are not highly knowledgeable Operations & Maintenance consultants. The skills essential to implement O+M require much more knowledge of the dynamics of property management. Many of the best O+M consultants have a property management background rather than an architecture or engineering background.
The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized the different skill sets required for each rating system and is requiring rating specific credentialing for LEED accredited professionals. However, the new system was just fully implemented in mid-2009 and many persons have been grandfathered in under the old system. These persons use the title of LEED AP. Newly accredited persons use titles like LEED AP O+M, LEED AP Homes, LEED BD+C (commercial design and construction), and ID+C (interior design and construction, formerly commercial interiors) to denote their area of knowledge. As with hiring any skilled professional, seek skills that go beyond being able to pass a credentialling exam. Ask potential consultants how many buildings they have guided through the achievement of LEED certification under the LEED O+M system.
Small mistakes can be very expensive in the LEED certification process and result in complete rejection of a certification application. This requires restarting the three month minimum performance period. Many USGBC requirements include confusing language that can lead inexperienced consultants to make errors.
Do You Need A Consultant?
If you are part of a property management team and you are considering seeking LEED accreditation without the aid of a consultant, be aware that the time commitment is significant even with the aid of an experienced consultant. Without a consultant, you will need to develop your own LEED compliant policy formats from scratch. If you are the typical property manager, you are very busy. Those who go it alone often report spending over half their time throughout many months focusing on the LEED application.
Many buildings register and start the LEED process and a relatively small proportion complete certification. It really makes a difference when you have a skilled expert guiding you through the process.
Expect Consultants To Help You Educate Vendors
Ask potential consultants how they typically interact with your vendors. An effective consultant will work with vendors early in the process to assist them in understanding the LEED requirements. We often have cleaning, landscape, and pest control vendors tell property managers that it is impossible to comply with a LEED requirement or they report following LEED guidelines when their documentation indicates they are not. This is where the consultant can assist the property managment team in directing vendors in ways to comply.
Is Smoking Permitted on Your Property?
LEED does not permit smoking within 25 feet of building entrances, air intakes, or operable windows. LEED does provide the option of constructing special smoking rooms with elaborate ventilation systems, yet most buildings would find this cost prohibitive. If your property is in a city that permits smoking within office buildings or restaurants, a prospective consultant should ask about your smoking policy. This is another key question that a consultant should ask very early in the process. It can take time to implement a no smoking policy, especially at properties that include restaurants.
How Long Does Certification Take?
With the assistance of a consultant, it typically takes 9 months to a year to complete the certification process. It usually takes a minimum of 3 months to prepare for starting most of the performance periods. The performance periods must last a minimum of 3 months for most credits. Two of the Energy and Atmosphere credits require 12 months of data.
After the end of the performance periods, it typically takes 6 to 8 weeks to finalize the submission documents. The Water Efficient Landscaping LEED credit requires the inclusion of mid-summer irrigation data, which can lengthen the process.
What Does It Cost?
USGBC fees run about $450 plus 3¢ per square foot with a maximum fee of $15,000. Consultant'ss fees vary. For a realtively new 500,000 sq foot building, fees between $50,000 and $80,000 are common. This is very time intensive work and requires extensive knowledge of diverse disciplines. USGBC's guidelines have changed quite frequently over the past several years and technology related to buildings continues to evolve at a rapid pace. The best consultants invest a lot of time keeping their knowledge current. If you need a more precise estimate of consultant fees for you building, we recommend you call one of the consultants on the list below and ask about their fees. We are not aware of any consultants that publish their fee schedule. Fees are typically set after gathering more information about a building.
Many of the LEED O&M credits can be achieved at no or minimal cost. The focus of LEED is more on operating a building high effectively rather than on extensive retrofitting of a building. You will need to pay fees to experts like engineers to evaluate the functioning of your building systems. Buildings with old lighting systems probably will need to update them to achieve an ENERGY STAR® score that meets minimum LEED standards. Facilities with dated and very inefficient HVAC systems probably will need to replace them. Occasionally, very old buildings will need to repair or modify windows. Yet, LEED provides a lot of flexibility in the strategies used to achieve energy efficiency. Many LEED expenses result in significantly lower building operating costs through reduced energy and water consumption.
To accurately estimate the cost of the LEED certification process for your building, we recommend you hire an expert consultant to perform a gap analysis.
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