Tips for interviewing and Choosing a LEED professional for your project

Finding the right LEED professional for your home project is as important as finding the right babysitter. They need to be hands on, available when you want them, smart, creative, and very, very flexible.

Last week the Providence Journal wrote an article that stated “hundreds” have signed up to take the LEED accreditation test that is scheduled for June 30th. The story reported that 300 applicants have registered at local test centers to take the national LEED AP credentialing exam, with more expected. The LEED exam measures a person’s knowledge of high-performance green building standards – everything from best building practices and site sustainability to energy management and water conservation. We think that every architect, engineer, builder, interior designer should be required to take the test to stay up to date in their field, but does that mean they are any good?

At present, there are 200 LEED-accredited professionals in RI as reported by the ProJo. I find this statistic staggering. When I started our LEED-H application last summer and registered it in October, I found exactly one registered LEED-AP provider in RI. There were a few companies that did work in RI, but not many.

My concern with the LEED-AP bandwagon is that it has to be more than just passing the test. It takes experience, hands on experience in the field with a project to understand what it takes to to build a completed LEED home.

I know this for a FACT; I’ve been building one for 9 months and I learn something new every single day. There are so many variables that will only happen in the field and nothing in a classroom or on p.86 of a referenee book will tell you.

If you are interviewing LEED professionals for your project, there are some really important questions to ask to make sure you are getting what you need from them.

1. Make sure you like them – you need this person and spend a lot of time with them. Make sure you think alike, they get you and represent the same morals and values you do.

 2. Ask them why they got into green building? How long they’ve been there. A lot of these people are former ENERGY STAR raters. There is good and bad with that. ENERGY STAR is a critical element to getting LEED certified but it is not the only element. The wrong rater can end up sidetracking you with information that doesn’t help your bottom-line. Also, I have found that longtime raters are not big fans of geothermal because it uses more electricity despite achieving 100% efficiency in COP and incredibly high SEER rating. Some raters may even say its a cheat step on the E&A performance path. Call it what you want; it’s clean, efficient, safe and independent of the oil and gas utilities. Make sure your rater has the same vision for your project that you do.

3. Ask your LEED AP how many homes they have rated. The more homes they’ve rated the more they know, the more they’ve dealt with local and state level zoning issues and the more time they’ve dealt with the USGBC.  

4. Ask the cost per square foot and size of the homes they have rated. It is a lot easier to get LEED spending $400 sq/ft then spending $125. Bigger homes represent different challenges due to size thresholds with LEED.

5. Ask if they will help you solve problems or if they will merely give you the LEED answers. This is a big one. Whether you are a builder or a homeowner, going through LEED the first time is intimidating, frustrating and utterly time consuming. There are so many variables and having someone say to you “Yes, this is the best path” or “Yes, this will help you” can be incredibly reassuring. Saying “We can’t take a position on that” is infuriating.

6. Ask them if they’ve created new LEED ID points. This is cool if they have. If they say no, ask them what LEED ID points they have helped get. I’m sure one of the answers will be for a high efficiency washing machine (lame, no challenge in this one) but there are lots of cool Innovative Design points and someone who has thought outside the box to make this happen gets props in my book; it also shows they know how to complete an application for a LEED ID point and get reviewed with positive results from the judging council. There are four LEED ID points on the table and it is an opportunity to really show your commitment to green living. We’re trying to create new ground with some of our ID points, trying some really unique stuff with energy management and monitoring and whole-home lighting control.

7. Ask them have they ever rated a home that didn’t  acheive LEED. If they say yes, this is a red flag because the LEED AP is there to help you. You have to ask yourself what didn’t they see in the beginning and why didn’t they talk about it with the homeowner. Going all the way through LEED and then finding out your house doesn’t pass because you didn’t put doors on your fireplace and you aren’t willing too or you decided a walk-in fireplace was your thing would be unfortunate after the time and money invested.

8. Ask them will they review your current architectural plans with you and your architect? And will they do so in conjunction with the preliminary pass of your LEED application? These two items are critical because they can correct any mistakes on your plans before you are in field. For us, one item we could have done was install an insulated concrete foundation as opposed to traditional. It’s an incredibly efficient and cost effective way to increase your homes insulation envelope if you are planning on finishing the basement. It would have been a good option for someone to call out to us up front, not when they were walking through two months later.

9. Ask them what it will cost. No, what it will really cost. Having interviewed LEED APs up and down the eastern seaboard; the pricing variables were significant. The straightforward cost of the application is one thing but with LEED there are numerous third party testing options. Each of these add a layer of cost to your application. You need to know this, you need to know what points you want and need, and you need to know what it will cost to get them. Our contract was $3k, which wasn’t bad, but we will add $1500 for every third party testing we opt to implement.

Depending on your project you may have additional questions but this is a good place to start. I would interview a LEED AP like I would an architect or a builder. The information they are going to share with you and their impact on your home is significant. The right person can make all the difference.

posted by: KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newcaster