In a post from last summer on LEED for Homes, I mused on the ineffectiveness and confusion surrounding the required Durability Planning process, the preparation of a project-specific Durability Checklist, and third-party inspection of this work.
The general consensus among green raters I know is that the entire Durability Planning process in LEED for Homes is confusing, arbitrary, and extremely difficult for most construction teams to get their heads around. Each project team is supposed to fill out a risk assessment form that ranks each principal durability risk as either low, medium, or high, based on the project design and climate. Issues to be ranked include Exterior Water, Interior Moisture Loads, Air Infiltration, Interstitial Condensation, Heat Loss, Ultraviolet Radiation, Pests, and Natural Disasters.
While each issue is critical in high-performance homes, I believe that asking the project team to assess the risk level of each and then come up with lists of specific measures to alleviate these risks is counterproductive to creating durable buildings.
Almost all other green building programs have checklists of requirements and extra-point items that address durability. Simple process: You do it, check it off, meet the prerequisites or get your points. But not LEED for Homes. They need to create a “process” that the team must go through to make sure that the specific items they include in their project match the specific needs of the project and the climate.
In theory, this process may be good, but in practice, teams typically miss critical items, include excessive amounts of items that are marginally effective, and throw in a few that don’t relate to the specific risk. The amount of time spent addressing the durability plan often exceeds the value it brings to a project.
In case you didn’t think it was complicated enough
So, I was on a LEED for Homes conference call this week that included an extended discussion of new clarifications on the Durability Planning process bestowed on us from the USGBC gods in Washington, D.C. The durability plan can provide a bonus of three full points for project teams if they are able to have all their listed measures verified by a third party.
The new ruling determines that to obtain the third-party verification points, the Durability Inspection Checklist must have at least 18 to 20 specific items on it (excluding up to six prerequisites that are required to be on the list anyway). So, you now must figure out how to distinguish between prerequisites and regular durability measures, assemble the list with not too many but not too few items on it, and make sure that all of them are independently verified to get your extra points.
Almost no one understood it before, so why complicate it further?
I have to admit that trying to explain to project teams how to create their durability forms, and reviewing them for accuracy during the process, verges on the comical. In theory, engaging the team to work together to come up with high-performance building specifications is an intriguing idea; in practice, it is like trying to herd cats and ducks together, all of whom would rather be out doing what they normally do. Most green raters are just beginning to get their under-educated project teams to figure out this particular process, when BOOM! The USGBC adds this extra layer of complexity on it.
Why can’t they just act like other programs and put together a list of measures to use if they apply to your project? I do believe that most of the people working in D.C. are well-intentioned and honestly do want to make the program better, but there seems to be a lack of focus and leadership when edicts come down that do little more than make minor adjustments and add layers of complexity.
It reminds me of doctors who prescribe medicine for one condition, which creates side effects, for which they prescribe another medicine. Eventually, most of the medications are only taken to correct side effects, and no one ever considers taking a holistic view of the situation.
I feel like every ruling that comes down from the USGBC is designed to correct a small problem, usually creating other unintended consequences of its own, which then need to be fixed with another ruling. When will someone take a step back and give this program the big-picture overview that it desperately deserves?
One final rant
I also learned that the USGBC is planning to develop an online checklist for the LEED for Homes program, apparently modeled after the NAHB scoring sheet for their green building program. Anyone who has been following me for a while probably has heard me whine about that online scoring tool. While it is comprehensive and lacks many of the obtuse complexities of the LEED checklist, it is so painfully slow that it makes the NAHB program more rather than less difficult to manage. Incidentally, the NAHB has just come out with an offline, Excel-based version of their checklist, which works quite well, due mostly to push-back from verifiers including myself.
While there is no love lost for the LEED for Homes Excel spreadsheet, I am really concerned that, based on previous behavior, moving this particular part of the program to an online tool — if it isn’t thought through completely and systemically from the very beginning — may very possibly make things worse, rather than better.
I once saw some brilliant graffiti at a bar: “Eschew obfuscation.” We would all be well served if this was taken to heart.