NC-v4 SSc1: Site assessment

  • LEED synergies, from the ground up

    There’s a lot of overlap between this credit and IPc1: Integrated Process, but while IPc1 is geared towards planning building services, the focus of this credit is on ecology, hydrology, and the social value of the site.

    Developing a deep understanding of your site’s opportunities and challenges early can inform design strategies that might otherwise be overlooked. This credit itself is worth only one point, but can influence many components of the LEED application. In fact, aside from IPc1, it probably benefits achievement of sustainable strategies on more credits than any other. 

    Site assessment synergies | Image – LEEDuser

    Any project is eligible to earn this credit, and any project can benefit from incorporating site-related goals into the integrated designAn integrated design process (also called "integrative" design by some proponents) relies on a multidisciplinary and collaborative team approach in which members make decisions together based on a shared vision and holistic understanding of the project. Rather than a conventional linear design process in which a design is passed from one professional to another, an integrated process has all key team members talking together through out the design and construction process as they share ideas and use feedback across disciplines to iteratively move toward a high-performing design. process. These common opportunities for analysis are only a starting point—thinking about how to adapt this exercise to the specific context of your project will gain the best results. 

    Based on SITES prerequisite

    The credit, new in LEED v4, is inspired by and adapted from a prerequisite in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a rating system that encourages sustainable land use and landscaping practices. The program resources for SITES are a great starting point for understanding the intent of performing a site assessment. Here we present some strategies on how to successfully leverage a site assessment for LEED projects.   

    Gather the team

    There are no formal requirements for who should be involved in the site assessment. Many project team members can contribute, including:

    • Civil engineer: Can advise on hydrology and topography
    • Architect: Can help guide the process; can provide information on important views, materials, and project goals; and can incorporate feedback into the building design
    • Landscape designer: Can advise on ecology, soils, and climate; can suggest opportunities for low-impact developmentAn approach to managing rainwater runoff that emphasizes on-site natural features to protect water quality, by replicating the natural land cover hydrologic regime of watersheds, and addressing runoff close to its source. Examples include better site design principles (e.g., minimizing land disturbance, preserving vegetation, minimizing impervious cover), and design practices (e.g., rain gardens, vegetated swales and buffers, permeable pavement, rainwater harvesting, soil amendments). These are engineered practices that may require specialized design assistance. strategies
    • MEP: Can provide information on climate and incorporate feedback into building systems selection
    • Energy modeler: Can provide information on climate and solar gains; can use assessment results to help evaluate building systems selection
    • Community stakeholders: Can provide information on important landmarks, nearby uses, previous site uses, and needs for transportation connections and amenities
    • Owner: Can advise on project goals and requirements; can incorporate assessment results into decision-making 

    This assessment also can be used to invite specialized expertise onto the team. Getting the perspective of an ecologist during the planning phase, for example, can substantially influence the extent to which site considerations are reflected in the final project.

    Make it meaningful, together

    The main credit requirement is to complete a site survey or assessment report. It could be tempting to assign this work to individual team members and split up the report along lines of expertise, but don’t do it!

    The site assessment is a great opportunity for cross-collaboration, and compiling the information early with joint consideration of project team members is where the assessment adds value to the project.

    Start looking for synergies in each aspect of the analysis as soon as a site is selected and develop shared goals based on overlapping topics. For example, the soil type of your site is critical for understanding how stormwater will behave, so you will likely need to compile information on soil type, rainfall frequency, and runoff rates.

    That same information could help evaluate appropriate plantings with low maintenance requirements. Selecting appropriate plants would in turn improve stormwater management, and also expand habitat opportunities for nearby species. Understanding the linkages will help avoid duplication of effort and capture the full impacts of site decisions.

    Consider some guiding questions

    Ideally, the content of the site assessment should be tailored to both the context and the project’s general goals. Some considerations will apply to certain types of sites but not to others. Expand upon or modify this list of guiding questions as the assessment progresses. 

    Vegetation and Soils

    • What plants are currently growing on the project site? Are they well suited to the soil and weather? Are they considered invasive or detrimental to native flora and fauna?
    • Is the soil healthy enough to support food production? Is there extensive compaction or potential contamination?
    • Is the site home to any particular animal species? Is it on any migration paths?


    • What does the site look like when it rains? Is there any recurring flooding? How does water flow across the site?
    • Are there seasonal patterns to precipitation?
    • Is the site in or near a flood zone?
    • What is the health of the groundwater table under the site?
    • Are there local bodies of water that the site drains into? If so, how near are they? Are there any existing pollution issues in these water bodies?

    Topography and Climate

    • Are there seasonal temperature patterns? Is one season longer or more intense than the others?
    • How much sunlight does the site receive? Is the area frequently cloudy or rainy? Are there any large trees or neighboring buildings that shade portions of the site?
    • When is direct sunlight desired to heat the building, and when is it a problem?
    • What are the best view corridors? Are there major points of visual interest to highlight?
    • Are there any strong prevailing winds on the site? Are these desired for cooling and ventilation, or will they add to building loads? 

    Community Connections

    • Is the surrounding area developed or undeveloped?
    • Are there particular transit connections or services that will be important to users of the project building?
    • Are there any air pollution sources such as highways or factories nearby?
    • What are the existing opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoyment? How can the project support or improve these opportunities?
    • What are the long-term goals of the community, and how does the project fit with these goals?
    • What is the natural material palette of the site and neighboring buildings? What materials would help connect the building to its place?
    • Where are the nearest sources for building materials? Are there any opportunities for salvaged materials or local reuse/recycling centers?

    Will it cost you—or save you money?

    Due to strategies identified or explored through the assessment process and cost synergies with other LEED credits, this credit is more likely to produce cost savings than added costs. Any added costs would be associated with time spent during design. Assessments like these are usually required on large commercial projects and are often carried out by the owner or included in the design team's contract and do not represent an added cost.

    FAQs for SSc1

    My project doesn’t qualify for LT Sensitive Land Protection. Is it still eligible for this credit?

    Yes, any project can pursue this credit regardless of site condition.

    I have a zero-lot line project in a dense urban area. How should I approach documenting our team’s site assessment?

    Not all of the recommended analysis areas will be applicable to every project. If your project has site constraints, include an explanation on the USGBC Site Assessment Worksheet for each non-applicable topic.

    However, don’t be afraid to get creative! For example, even if there is no pre-existing vegetation on the lot now, researching native plants in the same U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Ecoregion could inform what goes into a terrace planter. Another example is researching the health of the city’s water supply to inform a water use reduction target for your building.

    What is required to document this credit?

    GBCIThe Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) manages Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification and professional accreditation processes. It was established in 2008 with support from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). allows a variety of submittals, including USGBC's Site Assessment Worksheet.

    Other projects have compiled more extensive reports on their project sites. One such project created a PDF with photos, descriptions, interviews (with neighboring property owners, for example), diagrams, and charts depicting the different elements (required site features) in the credit requirements.

    That level of detail isn't required by GBCI, but it serves as a useful reference to orient reviewers, and, in service of the credit intent, can serve as a key reference for project team members during design. Project teams that have done this report that they plan to do it in the future for all projects, not just LEED.

    Some aspects of our site analysis didn't end up impacting design. How should I explain that in my documentation?

    The credit requires that projects assess each feature, but it does not require that every assessment influence the project design.

    The goal of the credit is really to get people thinking about the site, to educate people about the importance of site analysis, and to demonstrate that there are benefits to conducting this type of assessment early in any project.

    If a project has done its due diligence around each of the site features listed in the requirements (research, assessment, analysis), and it is determined that some of the features will not influence the design, that’s okay—simply include a clear and concise explanation.

  • SS Credit 1: Site assessment


    To assess site conditions before design to evaluate sustainable options and inform related decisions about site design.


    Complete and document a site survey or assessment1 that includes the following information:

    • Topography. Contour mapping, unique topographic features, slope stability risks.
    • Hydrology. Flood hazard areas, delineated wetlands, lakes, streams, shorelines, rainwater collection and reuse opportunities, TR-55 initial water storage capacity of the site (or local equivalent for projects outside the U.S.).
    • Climate. Solar exposure, heat island effectThe thermal absorption by hardscape, such as dark, nonreflective pavement and buildings, and its subsequent radiation to surrounding areas. Other contributing factors may include vehicle exhaust, air-conditioners, and street equipment. Tall buildings and narrow streets reduce airflow and exacerbate the effect. potential, seasonal sun angles, prevailing winds, monthly precipitation and temperature ranges.
    • Vegetation. Primary vegetation types, greenfield area, significant tree mapping, threatened or endangered species, unique habitat, invasive plant species.
    • Soils. Natural Resources Conservation Service soils delineation, U.S. Department of Agriculture prime farmland, healthy soils, previous development, disturbed soils (local equivalent standards may be used for projects outside the U.S.).
    • Human use. Views, adjacent transportation infrastructure, adjacent properties, construction materials with existing recycle or reuse potential.
    • Human health effects. Proximity of vulnerable populations, adjacent physical activity opportunities, proximity to major sources of air pollution.

    The survey or assessment should demonstrate the relationships between the site features and topics listed above and how these features influenced the project design; give the reasons for not addressing any of those topics.

    1 Components adapted from the Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009, Prerequisite 2.1: Site Assessment.


USGBC Site Assessment Worksheet

Created by USGBC, this worksheet gives a standard format for compiling and sharing the results of a site assessment for credit documentation.

Site Features and LEED Credits

This PDF shows key site features, design parameters, and how they influence a variety of LEED credits.

Design Submittal

PencilDocumentation for this credit can be part of a Design Phase submittal.


Saxon Gibbs
Aug 11 2017

Vulnerable Populations

How does LEED define vulnerable populations and what is the best way to assess proximity to them?

Post a Reply
Nate Tsang Graduate Energy Engineer Arup
Jul 05 2016
80 Thumbs Up

Prime farmland evaluation?

Does anyone have experience doing a soil survey to determine whether the site was on prime farmland? How have people determined whether their site was on prime farmland? Any suggestions/advise is greatly appreciated.

Tristan Roberts LEED AP BD+C, Executive Editor – LEEDuser, BuildingGreen, Inc. Jan 17 2017 LEEDuser Moderator

Nate, is this for a non-U.S. project?

Typically in the U.S. it's a simple federal designation and you don't have to test the soil. So I'm curious what's going on in your circumstances.

Post a Reply
Oct 28 2015
LEEDuser Member
57 Thumbs Up

Site Accessment with Major Renovation

Project Location: United States

If we are proposing new construction, major renovation, how would this credit work? --If there is minimal exterior site on a large building.

Melissa Kelly Sustainability Manager, YR&G Nov 03 2015 LEEDuser Expert 762 Thumbs Up

Hi Parker,

My understanding is that when you fill in the Site Assessment Worksheet template from USGBC (or when you are compiling your own report), you would just need to indicate any of the topics that aren't applicable to your project site. For example, vegetation might not be relevant to a zero lot line urban project, so that would be marked "N/A" with an explanation of the existing conditions. However, climate, views, human use, and human health impacts would still be valuable to evaluate. Even if you have minimal control over the building exterior, this information could help decide what existing conditions to encourage and which ones to remediate.

Post a Reply
Neshat Sakeena Sustainability Consultant Ramboll
Jul 07 2015
83 Thumbs Up

NC-v4 SSc5: Site Assessment (Previously developed)

I am trying to populate the Site Assessment Worksheet. What does USGBC mean by "Human Views - View Corridors"? Any guidance on filling this template is welcome.

Ashwini Arun Sustainability Manager, YR&G Jul 08 2015 LEEDuser Expert 225 Thumbs Up


View corridors are defined as the line of sight of an observer looking toward an object of significance. This can be flora, fauna, bridges, rivers, historic building, etc.. For the worksheet, you would need to identify if such views are available from your site and if so, you would document it on a site plan. On the site plan, identify the views and draw a line of sight to each view. Make sure that the view is not obstructed by skyscrapers or other buildings in between.
Hope this helps!

Post a Reply
Vince Briones Sustainable Design Manager Atkins
Jul 01 2015
324 Thumbs Up

Assessment report feedback?

Has anyone gotten formal review of this credit yet? Any feedback on the depth and detail of the assessment (and associated report) would be appreciated!


Tristan Roberts LEED AP BD+C, Executive Editor – LEEDuser, BuildingGreen, Inc. Jan 23 2016 LEEDuser Moderator

I second the question. I'd love to hear from anyone who has gone through this process in order to share insights back here. Here's our contact form.

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Aug 16 2017
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