Take the LEED

Q: I am currently working on a major water loss in a commercial building. The facilities manager asked me what impact our restoration would have on their LEED certification. What is LEED, and what impact does it have on fire or water damage restoration?

A: Before I answer your question, we need to understand the LEED program.

LEED certification may impact your restoration procedures.

Q: I am currently working on a major water loss in a commercial building. The facilities manager asked me what impact our restoration would have on their LEED certification. What is LEED, and what impact does it have on fire or water damage restoration?

A: Before I answer your question, we need to understand the LEED program.

In the United States, buildings are responsible for one-third of all energy use; two-thirds of electricity use; one-eighth of water use, and the transformation of land that may otherwise provide valuable resources. Several green building programs exist, with the most credible being the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. This program was created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to address these issues and to help create sustainability in the built environment.

Since 1999 the USGBC has been working to develop LEED programs for new construction, major renovations, existing buildings, commercial interiors and core and shell projects. In addition, rating systems for neighborhood development and new homes are being developed. The LEED rating system is a successful voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven system based on accepted energy and environmental principles. The program attempts to strike a balance between established practices and emerging concepts.

As the green building sector grows, more building professionals, owners and operators are seeing the benefits of green building and LEED certification. Green design and construction not only makes a positive impact on public health and the environment, it also reduces operating costs, enhances building and organizational marketability, potentially increases occupant productivity and helps create a sustainable community. LEED certified buildings can be found in every state and are distributed among nearly every building type. Approximately 750 million square feet of building space have been registered for LEED certification.

The LEED rating systems cover five areas:  Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality. In addition, Innovation & Design credits can be earned by going above and beyond existing LEED credits or by using green technologies or processes not addressed in the LEED system. With the exception of several prerequisites, the building owner may choose which credits are applicable or achievable for an individual building. In the rating system for new construction, the building must achieve 26 out of 69 possible credits for certification and can earn additional credits for silver, gold or platinum certification.

In the LEED building rating system, several Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) Credits may be applicable during the build-back phase of a restoration project. The following are examples of EQ credits for new construction. EQ credits for existing buildings are slightly different.

EQ Credit 3.1 requires an indoor air quality plan to be developed to reduce problems resulting from construction processes. The plan must address the protection of susceptible materials from water damage, protection of HVAC equipment (by using MERV 8 filtration media on all return air grilles and replaced prior to occupancy) and following guidelines set out in the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning National Contractors Association (SMACNA) IAQ guidelines for Occupied Buildings under Construction, 1995, Chapter 3. The SMACNA guideline focuses on the management of air pollutant sources, control measures, quality control and documentation, and communication with occupants.

EQ Credit 3.2 requires that constructed areas be either thoroughly flushed out with air or tested for a variety of pollutants prior to occupancy in order to reduce the likelihood of IAQ problems. For new construction, the flush out requires supplying a total air volume of 14,000 cubic feet of outdoor air per square foot of floor area while maintaining an internal temperature of a least 60 degrees F and relative humidity no higher that 60%. The flush-out must be conducted after construction ends but prior to occupancy and with all interior finishes installed. This flush out can be time consuming and may not be possible for projects with a tight schedule.

An alternate method of complying with EQ credit 3.2 is to perform air testing for formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate (PM10), 4-phenlycyclohexene (4-PCH) and carbon monoxide (CO). All air testing must be completed prior to occupancy, but during normal business hours with the building ventilation system started at the normal daily start time and operated at the minimum outside airflow rate for the occupied mode throughout the duration of the air testing. This process can take less time, but can be expensive and may cost the building owner credits if retests cannot be performed prior to occupancy.

EQ Credits 4.1 – 4.4 require the use of materials that emit minimal amounts of VOCs into the surrounding environment, including adhesives/sealants, paints/coating, carpet systems and composite wood products. Requirements for meeting this credit include:

• Paints, coatings, adhesives and sealants have limits on the amount of VOCs that can be present in the mixture. This limit varies dependant on the type of material being used. Acceptable VOC limits are based on the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) rule #168 and Green Seal Standard GS-11 for paints and coatings.

• Any installed carpets must meet the testing requirements of the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus program.

• Any composite wood products (particle board, MDF, plywood, etc.) cannot contain urea-formaldehyde.

Depending on the greenness of the project, additional credit requirements or green building principles could be required, including:

• Use of non-toxic and/or low VOC cleaning chemicals.

•       Re-commissioning of damaged building systems.

•       Reuse of materials or buildings components – reduce, reuse, recycle.

•       Use of certified wood products, recycled materials or regionally sourced materials.

So, what happens when a LEED certified building suffers a fire or water loss? LEED certified building owners have invested time and money to make their buildings green, and are likely to want to maintain the greenness of their buildings by following applicable LEED programs. Keep in mind that the purpose of following LEED credit guidelines during the restoration would be to maintain the green ideals of the building, not to actually achieve any LEED credits or certification.

Currently, there is not a provision for removing or rescinding LEED credits from a building that has successfully received those credits. By extension, the restoration process will not adversely impact those credits. However, the intent of the LEED program is, in part, to provide a healthy indoor environment for occupants and guests. If a restorer fails to:  a) use products and materials that are low VOC producers or b) control dust generation during the restoration process, the indoor environment can be adversely affected. 

As green building practices become more and more mainstream, restorers may be faced with a complicated new set of rules put in place by building owners or new standards or guidelines. Restorers may want to enlist the help of a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) to sort out green building issues. LEED APs are certified by the USGBC as having demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and principles and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources, and processes. If you liked this article, circle 147 on the Reader Inquiry Card.

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