What you need to know about Leed Projects including retrofitting existing buildings and assembling the right project team members.

While the mention of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects generally conjures up images of new buildings, many contractors are renovating existing structures to meet LEED requirements. Consider this: Retrofit projects make up approximately 61 percent of all construction projects, and the market share for green retrofit projects should rise to 20 to 30 percent in 2014, according to McGraw Hill Construction’s 2009 and 2010 SmartMarket Reports.

The LEED Green Building Rating System provides third-party verification showing a building or community has been designed and built to achieve improved performance in sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, material use and indoor environmental quality. 

LEED ratings systems can be applied to the following projects:

  • New Construction
  • Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance 
  • Commercial Interiors
  • Core & Shell
  • Schools
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development 

Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance

If building owners want to retrofit their projects to be LEED certified, the LEED Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED EB: O&M) rating system would be applicable in most cases. LEED EB: O&M measures performance in five categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality. To qualify for the lowest LEED certification level, the project must meet the prerequisites in these five categories. 

1. Sustainable Sites

Although LEED EB: O&M does not have prerequisites for the Sustainable Sites category, the category covers land use practices central to operations and maintenance. A property owner serious about achieving LEED EB: O&M certification will address sustainable site matters as part of the project.

Sustainable Site credits promote efficient grounds management, hardscape strategies such as sealing the building exterior, sustainable landscapes, storm water runoff management, heat island effect reduction, transportation considerations, local habitats and light pollution.

2. Water Efficiency

LEED EB: O&M’s Water Efficiency category requires the project to reduce potable water used by indoor plumbing fixtures and fittings to a level equal to or below the 2009 LEED EB: O&M baseline. The baseline calculation assumes 100 percent of the indoor fixtures and fittings meet the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and International Plumbing Code (the 2006 editions for both). 

LEED EB: O&M provides methods for situations in which portions of an indoor plumbing system had been completed at different times. The LEED EB: O&M project must also include a policy that requires future indoor plumbing renovations consisting of an economic assessment of the building’s conversion to high-performance fixtures and fittings. 

3. Energy and Atmosphere

LEED EB: O&M has three different prerequisites for the Energy and Atmosphere category. The first, “Energy Efficiency Best Management Practices—Planning, Documentation, and Opportunity Assessment” requires documentation of the building’s current energy operations sequence. The assessment must also include a building operating plan that specifies the building’s methods of operation and maintenance, including the occupancy schedule, equipment run-time schedule, HVAC equipment set points and lighting levels throughout the building. 

The assessment must also include a system narrative that describes the building’s mechanical and electrical systems and equipment, including all operations systems, such as heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting. The second prerequisite addresses the building’s minimum energy efficiency performance, as defined by standards set by the EPA’s ENERGY STAR rating. LEED EB: O&M also provides methods for achieving the prerequisite when a project is not eligible for the ENERGY STAR rating. 

As a third prerequisite, the building should not use any chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) in any heating, ventilation, air condition and refrigerants (HVAC&R) base building systems unless a third-party audit shows that replacing or converting the system would not be not economically feasible. As an alternative to the zero-CFC rule, the project may demonstrate a phase-out plan for CFC-based refrigerants. 

4. Materials and Resources

The Materials and Resources category has two straightforward prerequisites. The project must implement an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing policy that includes the building’s purchase policies, which addresses the Materials and Resources (MR) Credit 1.1 – 1.3.: Sustainable Purchasing—Ongoing Consumables. The policy has to cover product purchases for the building and areas within the site manager’s control. 

The project also must implement a solid waste management policy that covers waste streams within the building and site management’s control. The policy should address various waste management credits under the Materials and Resources category and recycle all mercury-containing lamps. 

5. Indoor Environmental Quality


The Indoor Environmental Quality category provides three prerequisites. These projects must establish a minimum standard for indoor air quality, as measured by ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2007, with alternatives for projects that cannot meet this standard. The project must also implement controls for reducing, minimizing and preventing tobacco smoke exposure. And the project must implement a green cleaning policy that covers the green cleaning procedures and materials within the building and site management’s control. 

Selecting Team Members

LEED project certification is point-based, and earning points in any category will not achieve LEED certification if the project does meet the prerequisites. As a general rule, project team members should include any individual responsible for supervising the tasks necessary to meet the LEED EB: O&M category prerequisites. 

Key participants include building owners, facility managers, consultants, contractors, engineers, custodial and landscaping service managers, purchasing staff and consultants (such as financial consultants where government incentives and rebates are applicable). If the project team includes a LEED Accredited Professional, the project can earn one point toward certification. 

The project team should answer the following questions:

  • What are the owner’s project goals—environmentally, financially and aesthetically?
  • Does the owner have a project mission statement?  
  • Is the owner aiming for a specific LEED certification level?  
  • Who is responsible for the documentation required to submit the project for LEED certification?  
  • Is the project schedule reasonable?
  • What are each team member’s responsibilities?

The project team does not need to include an attorney, but it can be helpful to have legal counsel (familiar with LEED) review the contracts between the team members and ensure that all parties involved understand the risks and expectations and make sure this has been included in the contract language. Addressing risks and responsibilities on the front-end will be less stressful and less costly, rather than waiting until a dispute arises. 


An attorney familiar with construction and LEED can work closely with the LEED consultant and help the project team review design and performance specifications, keeping an eye out for legal red flags (areas where the allocation of responsibilities needs to be clarified). The attorney’s role involves overseeing contract language so that the project team can apply their hands-on expertise and focus on achieving the owner’s sustainability goals. 

Your LEED O&M team

As the market share of green retrofit projects should rise to 20 to 30 percent in 2014, consider the following when assembling a LEED operations and maintenance team:

  • Include an attorney on the team to decrease contract disputes.
  • Be sure any individual responsible for supervising the project has been included. 
  • Remember that the project can earn one point toward certification if one member is a LEED Accredited Professional.
  • Identify each team member’s responsibilities before starting a project to minimize future problems.
  • Map out a reasonable timeline with specific milestones to ensure proper protocols take place.
  • Transparency and clarity must be observed through the project’s duration. This will not only allow the project to progress toward completion more quickly but will also hold all team members accountable for their deliverables.