October 20, 2021

Consistency is Key for LEED Online Submission to GBCI

Dave Hubka, Director of Program Development for Rivion

Presented by Dave Hubka
Director of Program Development for Rivion

BD+C reference guide slide from floor area values listed in LEED online

What LEED Reviewers are looking for in your project is not the details of how you designed or what you designed, but checking that the dates and and areas you entered into LEED Online are consistent from credit to credit.

Let’s assume that our LEED Reviewers are happy in the first place and keep them happy with consistency, consistency, consistency! The problem is, the dates aren’t always going to be consistent so we need to explain that to them.

And LEED reviewers understand this. In the BD+C reference guide, if you read the EQ Overview section, it explicitly states that, “… any discrepancies in floor area values should be explained and highlighted in the documentation.” So if something is not consistent, we have to tell them why it’s not consistent. The problem we see again and again is that if we follow the rules outlined by the LEED reference guide, the dates are not going to be consistent. Now I’ll guide you down the path.

Gross Floor Area in LEED Online

Gross Floor Area in LEED Online

The first example is gross floor area. The first day we show up and register the project, we have the answer, “What is the gross floor area?” Well, it’s the size of the building, right? How do we measure the size of the building? USGBC has a glossary that says, ““Measurements must be taken from the exterior faces of the exterior walls; exclude air shafts, pipe trenches, chimneys, and floor area dedicated to the parking and circulation of motor vehicles.” (via → usgbc.org/glossary)

So you did it right, you did what USGBC told you to, you put your gross floor area number into LEED Online, and away we go. Right?

But when we show up to the ventilation calculator, the BD+C reference guide says you should used the methodology outlined in ASHRAE 62.1: “.…determine the minimum outdoor air intake flow for mechanical ventilation systems using the ventilation rate procedure from ASHRAE 62.1…” (→ BD+C reference guide, EQp Minimum IAQ Performance)

But when you read ASHRAE 62.1 it states: “.…outdoor air intake shall be determined by the net occupiable floor area…” ( → ASHRAE 62.1)

Gross Floor Area ≠ Net Occupiable Floor Area

As it turns out, the gross floor area is not the same as the new occupiable floor area. So we just followed the rules, and now our gross floor area number doesn’t match the ventilation calculators. So we have to explain their rules back to them.

Ventilation Calculator in LEED Online

And it gets better! When we do the ventilation calc, we take the regularly and non-regularly occupied floor area of the project – we don’t include unoccupied rooms like mechanical rooms or un-occupiable space, such as interior wall space.

And any rooms that are exhausted, such as restrooms and janitor closets, we don’t put them in the minimum IAQ calculator because they are exhausted.

So we’ve done everything right, but we still end up with this comment from GBCI during our review process. Here’s an example from a recent project of mine:

GBCI comment for gross floor area being reported inconsistently

How to mitigate this USGBC comment:

I put a note into all of my projects that says, “This is how we reported it.” What also helps on the back end is to prepare a list of rooms. In the top left yellow box, I put the gross floor area that we;ve reported in LEED online. Then I go through our room list and note whether they are regularly occupied, non-regularly occupied, unoccupied, multi-occupant or densely occupied, and then include the number of individual occupant spaces. This helps explain to a LEED review how we classify our rooms, how we added the numbers up, and explain that these numbers are not going to match up.

LEED Online Skelton Key Dave Hubka Rivion

Materials and Resources: Construction and Demolition Waste Management

Another question with floor area comes up when we’re dealing with the construction and demolition waste management credit. There’s an option that says, “Do not generate more than 2.5 or 10 or 15 lbs of demolition and construction waste per square foot of the building’s floor area.

What floor area should be used when the project includes a parking garage? Because we don’t include parking or circulation in our gross floor area. 

The gross floor area listed in the LEED Online registration?


The gross floor area listed in the LEED Online registration + Parking?

How to mitigate this USGBC comment:

I spoke with GBCI so I don’t get this comment anymore. We actually include the parking garage in the floor area used to calculate this number for the construction waste for this part of the construction project.

Should the floor area used to determine the how long to run the flushout include the unoccupiable area and the parking garage? Yes & No: GBCI will review flushout calculator against registered gross floor area. 

Should flushout calculations be based on the ventilation rates listed within the design documents or the Test & Balance report? T&B reports should prove that vent rates of design documents are met or exceeded. The LEED Reviewers want you to use the design numbers, but the TAB reports should verify that design ventilation rates are met. The GBCI does not acknowledge the 10% allowance that the TAB world allows with their balance reports. So make sure when the TAB guy comes through that they note the outdoor air as being at least what the design documents state.

Which set should be uploaded to LEED Online?

This isn’t a consistency issues, but it can lead to inconsistencies throughout the course of the project. Which sets do we upload to LEED online?

  • Schematic or Concept or Pre-Design
  • 30% or 60% or 90% Design Document Set
  • Issued for Bid Set
  • Issued for Review Set
  • Issued for Construction Set

With the Schematic, Concept, or Pre-Design documents, it’s probably too early. With the 30% or 60% or 90% Design Document Sets you’re starting to see some information you can do some LEED credits on. But what I always recommend is try to wait until you get to the Bid Set, Review Set, or Construction Set before you consider that to be the design document you would include in your design application.

We understand that there are change orders, construction bulletins, and as-builts/record drawings that come up, but as long as they don’t hurt the integrity of the LEED credits, we can still snapshot one of the Bid/Review/Construction sets in our design application.

What happens is that the projects grows up through design construction, and if something changes drastically you’ll need to re-snapshot it. 

Important Dates for a Consistent LEED Submission to GBCI

Important Dates for LEED Online

Registration: When you register your project, you have to tell GBCI the project’s anticipated start date & anticipated end date listed within the Details tab.

Design Application: When your design application gets submitted, they ask you the date of substantial completion of construction listed within the Project Information form. You might say, “I don’t know – I think this is the date from the gantt chart, but that could change.

Construction Application: And then when you submit the construction application, you have to enter the occupancy date listed within the Construction IAQ Management.

With all of these dates in mind, you have to keep your eye on the Design Application and the Registration information to make sure that your dates are consistent. If these dates don’t match, there will be a comment from a GBCI reviewer saying, “Why is the anticipated end date before the date of completed construction?” or “Why is this occupancy date after the anticipated end date?”

Other important dates to be aware of: 

  • Dates must occur after construction and before occupancy; listed within IAQ Assessment, Flushout or IAQ Testing. 
    • Begins before construction if connected to an existing an occupied building.
    • Begins once construction material is delivered to project site and/or building becomes enclosed for ground up new construction.
  • ESC / SWPP inspections; listed within Construction Activity Pollution Prevention
  • Waste Tickets (year of facility-wide diversion rate); listed within Construction Waste Management
  • Commissioning (often done by external contractors so make sure you review these dates before the submit)
    • Date of CxA review of:
      • Owner’s Project Requirements.
      • Basis of Design. 
      • Construction Documents ???
      • Envelope Design
      • Date of delivery of Systems Manual

The Headache of LEED Online

Going into LEED online, I see this screen at least 50 times a day.

LEED Online loading screen

Now we’re almost there! I’ve spent my life looking at screens like this…

LEED Online loading screen

LEED Online Skeleton Key

What I’ve built is a LEED Online Skeleton Key. It lists the important dates throughout, the list of rooms and how they’re classified, and the occupants.

  1. DATES 
    1. Anticipated start date, anticipated end date, date of substantial completion of construction. occupancy date. 
    2. Commissioning review dates & delivery of systems manual.
    3. ESC inspections, Waste Tickets, IAQ inspections
    1. regularly occupied, non-regularly occupied, unoccupied, un-occupiable, densely occupied, individual occupant space, exhausted, life/safety, etc.
    1. peak occupants, user groups, transients, full and part-time equivalent.
  4. AREAS
    1. Gross floor area, wall-to-wall area, site areas (green space)

This template isn’t perfect, but it is a handy cheat sheet of what you should be keeping your eyes on to make sure you have a complete and consistent application to GBCI. If these numbers don’t match, you will get a review comment! So stay proactive and use this guide to help maintain consistency on your project.

LEED Online Skeleton Key CTA to download resources

For more strategies on a successful LEED review process, check out this post Setting up for Successful LEED Submission to GBCI written by Lauren Rochell, Architect and Senior Sustainability Associate at The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems.

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