Why does a tile contractor need to know about LEED and the USGBC? These terms can mean a lot to many different people in various industries. First, let’s start with the basics.

USGBC stands for the United States Green Building Council. No, it is not a government agency; it is a 501c nonprofit organization that leads the industry in creating benchmarks or standards to compare buildings on how greenly they are being built. As a result, USGBC guidelines are used around the world, even in places like Dubai. Remember, the goal of green design is to create sustainable design, creating as little of a carbon footprint on the landscape as possible.

The USGBC has established LEED rating systems. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is one of many green building-rating systems. LEED provides a level playing field to compare buildings and award certifications for the projects. Through LEED, we can compare many different buildings to determine which building has less impact on our resources.

LEED has several different rating systems to choose from, depending on the type of structure being built, including: New Construction; Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance; Commercial Interiors; Core and Shell; Schools; Retail; Neighbor Development; and Homes. For the tile and stone industry, the rating systems we generally need to be aware of are Schools, Homes, New Construction (typically new commercial and office buildings), Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (typically tenant improvement and remodels), and Commercial Interiors.

Each category has one or more prerequisites to qualify for certifications. Once these are met, then you can start accumulating points. Some points are design points that can be certified before construction begins, while design points can only be accumulated as the building is built.

In the new version of LEED - LEED version 3.0 - all categories are based on a 110-point system. The point system is divided into seven categories, which are generally the same across the different rating systems:
  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environment quality
  • Innovation and design
  • Regional credits
In each one of these categories, there are credits. These credits have points associated with them. If the total number of points added up throughout the project meet certain standards, then the project will be certified.

There are four certification awards based on the project’s accumulated points:
  • Platinum (80-100 points)
  • Gold (60-79 points)
  • Silver (50-59 points)
  • Certified (40-49 points)
In the new version, V3, they are looking less at materials and resources and indoor environmental quality (both categories that the tile and stone industry are very involved); instead, they are concerning themselves more with energy and atmosphere, sustainable sites, and water efficiency. However, there are still ways in which the tile and stone industry can contribute to LEED certification.

First, in the Materials and Resources category, there are two credits for recycled content: 4.1, which demands 10% Recycled Content (post-consumer + 1/2 pre-consumer); and 4.2, which requires 20% Recycled Content (post-consumer + 1/2 pre-consumer).

The intent of this credit is to increase demand for building products that incorporate recycled materials, thereby reducing impacts resulting from extraction and processing of virgin materials. You must take into account all the products used in the building: everything used in the building from the concrete slab to the nails and the screws used in the building, not just one product but all of the products.

With most of these credits, there are calculations to help you determine the percent of recycled content. Some important calculations:
  • Recycled Content = Materials Cost x (PostConsumer % + ½ PreConsumer %) (Excluded are labor (including installation), mechanical, electrical, plumbing and equipment.
  • You must determine the total cost for the project or 45% default materials value.
  • Cost of Salvaged or Reused Materials/Total Materials Cost = Total Recycled Content.
  • If total recycled content equals 10%, you get one point; if it adds up to 20%, you get two points.
Another common goal for our industry is the use of Regional Materials, with the credits for MR 5.1 and 5.2. The intent of these credits is to increase demand for building materials and products that are extracted and manufactured with the region, thereby supporting the use of indigenous resources and reducing the environmental impacts resulting from transportation. Basically, you’re using materials that have been extracted, harvested or recovered, as well as manufactured, within 500 miles of the project site, for a minimum of 10% (based on cost) of the total materials value. Again, this credit is for all the products used in the building, not just the tile. A simple letter from the manufacturer stating where the bulk of raw materials were mined to the point where they were processed is all that is needed for verification. In most of the metropolitan areas of the United States, Custom Building Products will help contribute to this point with 11 manufacturing plants around the country.

For the Indoor Environmental Quality category, tile and stone contribute to this via two credits: 4.1, for Low Emitting Materials Adhesives and Sealants; and 4.3, Low Emitting Flooring Materials, including tile. Sustainable Sites tile or stone may help contribute to credit 7.1 Heat Island Effect (non-roof). In this credit, if the tile has a certain reflectance, called the Solar Reflectance Index, it may help contribute if used as part of a walkway for example. Again help contribute is the key factor.

Summary

For the contractor, it is essential to ask the General Contractor in advance of the bid whether this is a LEED project. You need to know what credits the architect or designer is trying to achieve and you can then figure out how you, as the installer, can help achieve those points. You may be asked for material cost or receipts for the products you purchased. They’re not checking up on you; rather, they are documenting the cost and the amount of recycled content in the products you use in order to achieve that credit. They may also want to know which manufacturer materials you used, to check the amount of recycled content. You only need to list the manufacturer’s website to verify the amount of recycled content.

Remember, buildings are LEED-certified; products and people are not. People are either LEED Accredited Professionals (APs) or LEED Associates (a new designation). Products can be independently tested, but this is not a requirement to achieve the credits. These tests are expensive and add to the cost of the product with no other value than adding a label to the product itself.

Knowing which products will help contribute to LEED certification and how to document those products will make you a valuable member to the construction team. Many general contractors are still unfamiliar with this process. If you can help them with a complete single source LEED installation system and a warranty for up to a lifetime on the installation, you will be one step ahead of your competitors. And in this tough economic time, any edge you have becomes a valuable one.

For more information about the USGBC and LEED certification, visit www.usgbc.org/leed

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