The USGBC just released its online scoring tool for LEED for Homes, a much-anticipated advance in the program. After months of announcements and requests for people to sign up, the tool was finally available to the public on February 28th. I took some time to run through it, and I can report there are things to like about it, but it needs a lot more work to be truly useful.
On the positive side, it is much easier to follow the scoring process and track points and the anticipated certification level compared to the Excel spreadsheet, which I find frustratingly dense and complicated. For those familiar with the program, the tool seems to strike a nice balance between too much and too little information. It gives you the option to select the prescriptive or performance path in all the sections where it applies, such as the EQ section where you can choose between Indoor Air Plus for 10 points or a prescriptive list of items to gain individual points. Similarly, the EA pathway is either through a HERS rating or a long list of prescriptive items. A project can be scored quickly, the logic is straightforward, and the results are easy to read.
It seems this tool was developed in response to the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) online tool, originally the only way to score a project in that program. After multiple complaints about the slow pace of that program, the NGBS released an Excel version, which, while still very long, makes the scoring process a little faster. LEED started with, and still requires, an Excel file, but seems to be moving toward an online management system. If completed properly, it may end up being a good decision.
How effective is an online scoring tool?
So we now have this pretty easy online checklist, but unfortunately, it still has a long way to go to be an effective tool for project teams and certifiers. My initial critique of the tool is that while it is generally easy to use, the complexity of the program makes the tool less effective for those not very familiar with the program. The same prescriptive versus performance path scoring mentioned above could very easily confuse new users. And as you dig deeper into scoring a project, there are multiple ways to pick up additional points, taken in the ID section, for things like exceeding maximums for pest control, framing efficiencies, and many other credits. As currently designed, when you select items that exceed the maximum score for a section, the tool simply points out that you have reached this limit—while instead it could very easily give you the option or even automatically place extra points in the ID section for you.
Other oddities of LEED for Homes include the fact that if you use the HERS rating for the EA, you can get what I refer to as “secret” points for installing a very high-performance clothes washer—but this doesn’t show up on either the Excel or online scoring sheets. You have to be “in the know” for these things, a sort of job security for LEED for Homes consultants and raters.
Looking to the future
To me, the biggest problem is the fact that once you are done, all you have is a screen telling you the score and certification level. I have heard that export formats are in development, but right now there is no way to transfer the information to the required certification spreadsheet. I really hope this is the first step toward development of a full-fledged online management tool for LEED for Homes, which can’t come soon enough. The spreadsheet currently used to manage certification is very cumbersome and not very intuitive. For those of us who are now enlightened Mac users, since the spreadsheet was designed in “Windoze Bloatware,” it isn’t yet fully functional in a Mac version. LEED for Homes is scheduled for a major revision in late 2012. Seems like enough time to me to tune up the process, put everything online, and (I know this is wishful thinking) make the whole thing a lot simpler and more straightforward.
I mean, a guy can dream, can’t he?
For more information on this story, see Richard Defendorf’s report, LEED for Homes Online Scoring Tool.