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LEED Project Documentation
Lynne Bryan Phipps, Contributing Editor

Every LEED project requires documentation to back up both the design process and the execution of the project. It is complete and proper documentation that determines whether that project receives the LEED rating it deserves.

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LEED Project Documentation

Hello everybody. Welcome again to the latest installment of the Taco Advanced Hydronics podcast. I'm Jay Holtzman, a member of the Taco Communications team, and with me again is Lynn Phipps, our regular correspondent and Interior Architect, and Lynn is a very active member of the green building community here in Rhode Island. Good morning Lynn.

Lynn Phipps: Good morning Jay.

Jay: How are you doing today?

Lynn: I'm fine, thank you. How are you?

Jay: I'm pretty good, thanks. Today we're going to talk about documenting a LEED project, what's involved, etc., etc. You've been involved in a number of LEED projects. I guess my first question that comes to my mind is, how important is the documentation in a LEED project?

Lynn: The documentation is critical in a LEED project because it's the only way that the U.S. Green Building Council can determine whether or not the project was built to LEED standards, so because of that, documentation becomes very different from documentation of any other traditional building.

Jay: So it sounds like without out the right documentation, you basically don't have a LEED project?

Lynn: Exactly, exactly. Without the right documentation, or even with holds on your documentation, you may not have a LEED project.

Jay: You said it differs from a traditional, regular type of a project, can you give us a sense of how it differs?

Lynn: Well, when you're documenting a traditional project, the purpose of documentation may be tracking for budgetary reasons or being sure that change orders were followed, so it has very concrete purposes and very time specific purposes. With a LEED project, you do all that documentation too, or maybe I should say that the LEED documentation can sometimes double for that documentation as well, but LEED documentation is all about tracking and proving that you met the standard, and there are portions of that that have to do with what arrives at and leaves the site, and there are portions of that that have to do with where materials came from, how far away they were, how they were installed, and very specific parts of the way the building was constructed, both in the construction phase and in what's left behind, so because of that, the documentation becomes just very significant to the LEED team.

Jay: Okay, all right, I know you're going to get into some of the specifics of the types of documentation, but before that I guess the question really is, since it is so important, are there proven ways to handle, to make sure you're going to hit the marks in terms of personnel and in terms of methodology, whatever it may be?

Lynn: Well, that's a really good question, proven, I would say yes. We've been doing these projects long enough now that most people or most LEED professionals have developed a way of maintaining documentation. Whether or not each person or each team does it the same way, ultimately they all reach the same end goal, but how that happens can vary from project to project and from team to team, so what I would say most importantly is that for those of us who have been doing this a really long time, the most important thing for me in terms of maintaining my sanity, is to start at the beginning with documentation and to keep up with it. Otherwise, if you sort of try to pull it all together at the end or after the fact or later, it doesn't work as well.

Jay: If I understand it correctly, and from what you said earlier, the LEED process covers everything from the design phase into and out of construction...

Lynn: Yes.

Jay: ...and basically whatever residue is left over at the end.

Lynn: Yes, yes. So for instance, a prerequisite for a commercial LEED project, or actually to start any project other than a residential project, is that the team of professionals is brought together at the beginning instead of it being a linear process for designing the building. If you can't show that you had team meetings before the building, or in the process of the beginning phase of the design, that you actually called that group of people together, with meeting notes, then you've lost. It's a prerequisite, it's not even that you lost a point or two, it's not a LEED project.

Jay: So you basically disqualify the project from the beginning.

Lynn: Exactly, exactly, so not having those notes, or not pulling that team together, or not beginning the process in a certain way, it used to be that that wasn't a prerequisite, it was just sort of a hope and a dream, but now it's a prerequisite on many buildings, so you can't really do much with it if you don't do it the way it needs to be done, if you don't follow the process.

Jay: So from the absolute very beginning, it's sounds to me like the building owner, the developer, the architect, the construction people, you have to know and agree up front that's it's going to be a LEED project.

Lynn: Right, well, yes. I mean there is a bit of a discrepancy there. Let's just say that you started a building and you didn't intend it to be a LEED project, and then you discovered the LEED system. This may be the owner, that discovered that this was an option and decided that they wanted to go that route, so in other words, in the beginning you didn't register the project, then the time clock starts from the point of registering the project, so at that point, at the point at which you decide that LEED is the direction you want to go, you need to make sure that you're pulling the team together and you're following the process, so can you start a building and not start with the LEED [???]. Are you going to lose points for doing that, yes...

Jay: I see.

Lynn: ...because there will be certain other places in the process that you wont be able to answer the question that you can keep track of everything from the beginning, so from that beginning point, where you actually declare yourselves a LEED project, that's where we start that.

Jay: So with so much riding on the documentation, the entire LEED certification or rating riding on it, what have you found is the best way to handle it? Who normally takes on this responsibility for example?

Lynn: Usually there's one LEED professional on the team. Oftentimes there are more LEED professionals on the team, LEED accredited professionals. One of them needs to take responsibility, so usually that's determined based on where the project starts or if it started in an architect's office and there's a LEED professional in the architect's office, great. If it started in the architect's office, but they don't have a LEED professional and they hire a LEED professional just to manage the process, that's great, but there needs to be somebody on the team that takes that responsibility on.

Jay: Okay, specifically this is your responsibility, you've got to track it all the way through?

Lynn: Right.

Jay: Does LEED specify the type of documentation or just the fact that all these various activities must be documented in some fashion?

Lynn: There are specific criteria for documentation. You need to document meeting notes, so keeping notes of meetings is a specific requirement of the system, receipts are a specific requirement of the system. Full specifications and working drawings are a part of the documentation, and in the context of that documentation, if anyone deviates from those specifications or working drawings, the change orders that you would normally keep track of would also be a part of the documentation, because if there's not a full paper trail, then there's no certainty that the process was followed.

Jay: Right, well since you've already started to do it, could you kind of run through the major types, headings if you will, of types of documents that are required or that you will want to make sure that you've got covered?

Lynn: Well the first thing that we do is we register a project with the U.S. Green Building Council and in the registration process, we say who on the team is a LEED professional, and if it's a residential project, then there's always someone who just double checks the work. They don't necessarily have to be, it's sort of an auditing agent, they don't have to be on the LEED team, but in any of the other buildings, you need to have LEED professionals on the team, and then from that point, you're actually saying who is on the design team from the beginning, so that's the documentation of the design team.

Then you need to keep track of all of your meetings and what happens in the meetings, and what things you're thinking about, because when you get to your innovation point, it's those conversations that support the fact that you're trying something new, you're trying to do something differently, you're doing something above and beyond what's required in the building industry. Then you always want to keep track of who is working on the building, so from design professionals to engineers, anybody who comes or goes from the process, names and their roles is documented.

Jay: You mean the various contractors and sub-contractors?

Lynn: Right, and then, once we actually start the process of building the building, then anybody and everybody who's involved in the building and construction of the building is documented and what their role was, what they did, how they did it, so again, this is basically supporting documentation for the specifications and construction documents to say that the process was actually followed in the implementation of the building.

Jay: Anything else, I mean you mentioned about the materials coming and going from the site. I'm sorry, you already covered that.

Lynn: I guess the last thing that I would say, it's kind of like when you're going on a business trip and you have to keep all your receipts or you wont get reimbursed. If you don't have all of those receipts for materials that went into the building for the items that left the site, so it's not just about what stays on the site.

It's also about waste, waste management, every aspect of site management, whether or not there were silt fences to make sure that there was no pollution being caused by the construction itself, every single aspect that goes into the creation of that building, what's left behind and what isn't left behind is documented, so those receipts become invaluable.

It's not that the U.S. Green Building Council one day, when they review a project, looks at every single part of the documentation. You submit a significant amount of documentation, sometimes it's more than two or three binders depending on how you organize it, and they will look at the project and they'll decide what parts of the project they're going to look into in detail and basically audit, but you never know what they're going to choose, so you need to make sure that every part of the process, and every point on the checklist is documented.

Jay: You mentioned having someone specifically responsible, you talked about getting started earlier rather than later, is there anything else, is there some key that you've found that's going to be sort of the bottom line of proper documentation? If you do this, or these two or three things, are you going to get through this thing all right without driving yourself crazy?

Lynn: You know, a lot of this from my perspective, and I don't think it's because I've been doing it for a long time, I think it's because there's a logic to it. It's logical, so if you put it together logically, if you think about it logically, if you understand the way the checklist works and the process of each point on the checklist, then it's not difficult to follow the process, and it's not difficult to develop your own system of following the process.

Jay: But you better have a system.

Lynn: Yeah, it's just that you need a system, and you need a way of doing it, and you need to think it through, and you need to basically keep everything, and I think if you don't have everyone on the project team including the contractors, and if the contractor doesn't realize that it matters how many dumpsters go to the landfill and how many go to the recycling portion of the landfill, then they're not going to keep track of that, and you're not going to have proper documentation. So, having those professionals aware of what the process is and on the same page of the process, makes life significantly easier.

Jay: Would that normally be the task of that LEED professional who has been designated as the record keeper?

Lynn: I would say that that's how it falls in projects that I've worked on. That person holds the meetings once you get to the construction phase, they're asking the questions, they're doing the site visits that asks for the receipts, that ask for the tonnage, and that actually informs the contractors and sub-contractors of the process and why it's so important.

I think that the other piece of this is that there are two ways to look at it. If you look at this as a burden, as just a whole lot of extra work, then you're going to be perceived by everyone else as if what they have to do is a burden or a pain in the butt, but if you approach this as a really good way to understand what's going on, where things go and how things happen, and as a learning tool to move things forward in terms of the construction industry, and in terms of ways of caring for buildings, people and the environment, then it becomes a changing tool, and it becomes a way of actually seeing progress because you're measuring things in percentages, and it can't be that every single thing that goes into a building is always within a 500 mile radius. There are times when you have to buy something that's outside the 500 mile radius, but when you see that you can do significant things to reduce how much you buy from outside that 500 mile radius, you start to see things like, 'Wow, I can support my local economy. There are actually companies that make this product or that product that are right here and I didn't even know about them,' so you tend to learn a lot in the process.

So, I like to look at it as a learning opportunity, and if I see it as a learning opportunity, then I'm not seeing it as, 'Oh my God, I have to face that big pile of paperwork. Oh my God, I have to go keep track of this and I have to chase this other person down,' you can see it as busy work, or you can sort of see the outcome at the end and appreciate what is actually accomplished.

Jay: It sounds like to me that when you start your second LEED project, you know a lot more than when you started your first one...

Lynn: Absolutely.

Jay: ...and I guess it keeps going on from there. Well, this is great. A lot of what you said suggests to me that we can go into greater depth on any one of these points in later episodes, and I think we should do that, but for now I would tell our listeners that this podcast, and the green notes documentation that go with it, is available at Taco-hvac.com on the web, and we will see you soon again, so thank you very much Lynn.

Lynn: Thank you.

Jay: Talk to you soon.

Lynn: Thank you so much, Jay, talk to you later. Bye-bye.

Jay: Bye-bye.