GBCI Invites Direct Inquiries—But Do Your Homework First
“Winging it” on project-specific LEED credit questions is no longer advised with a new communications initiative.
In recent months, GBCI (the Green Building Certification Institute, which works closely with the U.S. Green Building Council to certify LEED buildings) has quietly updated its approach to communicating technical advice to LEED project teams. Teams that have tried the process report being very satisfied with the results, but the new policy is still not well known.
The new policy could be summed up in two quick points:
- Email GBCI via its website with your specific project questions.
- Do your homework first.
Taking the guesswork out of LEED
If you’ve done a LEED project or two, you’ve probably encountered a situation where figuring out how to apply the LEED requirements to your project circumstances is complicated. Or maybe the credit requirements don’t quite fit, but you have an alternative proposal that you think will meet the intent of the credit—if not the exact requirements—but you can’t be sure. What do you do?
In the past, the most common option has been to wing it—to do your best with the limited guidance available. In some cases, a credit interpretation ruling (CIR) might clearly be needed, but those cost money and time. The LEEDuser forum is a great place to turn for advice and clarification, but sometimes there is a limit to what a peer can tell you: the end result will rely on how GBCI—or more specifically, your LEED reviewer—sees the situation. That’s why a lot of projects have decided to simply submit the credit as best they can, make their case in a narrative, and see what happens.
That’s no longer recommended, Sarah Alexander, director of LEED certification at GBCI, told LEEDuser. Alexander says that GBCI would like to hear from project teams directly in these situations. In many cases, GBCI staff can provide guidance that will clarify the question without the need for a CIR—and they are working to do it faster—within a couple weeks, not a couple months. “If we believe the request warrants a project CIR, we will provide that feedback directly to the project team,” Alexander told LEEDuser.
The right staff
LEED professionals can be forgiven if they feel a bit jaded about GBCI customer service. Response times and quality of feedback after the launch of LEED 2009 were panned. But since 2010, GBCI has beefed up the size and expertise of its in-house review team, growing it from seven to over 50, and brought on experienced licensed engineers, architects, and other design professionals. GBCI has also applied exacting quality controls to outside contractors doing reviews.
Furthermore, alongside the LEED review staff, GBCI has a customer service team currently comprising eleven, including engineers, architects, and other building professionals. This team is dedicated to helping LEED project teams get what they need from the certification process.
GBCI staff members with technical know-how aren’t the ones answering the phones, however, so that’s why email contact is recommended. In an email, you can detail your question, make a request to talk to a technical expert if desired, and specify what kind of outcome you are looking for from the call. As long as the request is reasonable, GBCI will set up the call.
Do your homework first
GBCI wants you to do your homework first, however. Given the many resources available to interpret and explain LEED credits, GBCI wants to focus the time of its technical staff where it can really make a difference. And even with GBCI’s quicker response times, you can get quicker answers to most questions by checking existing resources.
The following are a few places to check first with your questions before contacting GBCI.
- The LEED credit language, as displayed on LEEDuser and in USGBC’s LEED credit library—or in the LEED Reference Guides.
- Speaking of the LEED Reference Guides, they answer many common questions, especially when you also check the LEED addenda.
- The Bird’s Eye View guidance in LEEDuser is there to break down each credit to its essentials, explaining many common questions. LEEDuser also recently introduced an FAQ section into our Bird’s Eye View pages—at the bottom of most Bird’s Eye View tabs for each of the LEED 2009 rating systems we cover.
- The tens of thousands comments logged on LEEDuser’s forums are now easier than ever to search with the single-page view available at the bottom of every LEEDuser forum. And if you want another opinion before talking to GBCI, the LEEDuser community is there to help.
- Search USGBC’s LEED Interpretations database for key precedents.
How about getting all that in one place?
One of the most common things we hear from the LEEDuser community is that keeping up with LEED 2009 is a challenge. We can relate to that. That’s why LEEDuser has worked for months to compile LEED 2009: The Missing Manual, which pulls FAQs, key addenda, key Interpretations, and other resources into one easy reference. Best of all, this is free to LEEDuser members, and nonmembers get it as a gift for joining LEEDuser.
The Missing Manual focuses on LEED-NC and thus provides a lot of useful advice for all BD&C systems. If you’re working on EBOMEBOM is an acronym for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, one of the LEED 2009 rating sytems. and need the same kind of help, we recommend the following:
- The LEED-EBOM Stress Test contains key resources that anyone looking at a LEED-EBOM credit or prerequisite should consider.
- For LEED-EBOM FAQs, forums, documentation samples, and more, check the EBOM credits on LEEDuser.
Your survey responses
LEEDuser put out a survey a couple months ago asking our members what questions they were having with LEED 2009. Your hundreds of responses helped shape the FAQs and LEED Interpretations that we highlight in the Missing Manual. Thank you!
We also got direct feedback from GBCI on many of your questions, so please check the manual for answers on those knotty issues you’ve always wondered about.
What’s your experience?
Have you noticed a change in GBCI’s responsiveness for the better? Or have you had a different experience? Please post your thoughts below.