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Green Cred: Are You Ready to Take the LEED?

If you’re looking for a new job in the design/build industry or seeking a professional advantage in a crowded construction field, it may be time to take your green credentials to the next level. For many, that means becoming a LEED® Accredited Professional, which provides proof of their knowledge of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process.

Many professionals take the LEED Green Associate Exam for the “entry level” credential that represents a basic understanding of green building design, construction and operation. Others with more technical involvement in LEED projects – architects and engineers who are directly involved in designing or constructing a green building, for example – decide to seek LEED AP+ credential with a second test on a specific LEED rating system (such as New Constuction or Commercial Interiors).

Regardless of which level of testing you pursue, some preparation is common across the board. Several Lennox Industries employees have achieved LEED accreditation, and offer the following advice based on their experience.

Tip #1

Be realistic about the time commitment required to prepare, especially if you intend to take more than one LEED exam. Lennox national account manager Eric Thordarson of Bellingham, Washington became a LEED Accredited Professional in January 2008. “I spent a good many hours studying the USGBC LEED handbook for New Construction & Major Remodels. I would estimate I put in 80 hours of study time before testing.”

There is also a significant financial commitment if you invest in training materials, which many LEED APs recommend, which leads to:

Tip #2

Sign up for online courses or one of the seminars offered across the country by the USGBC or private companies. Also, purchase the study guides that can provide useful information regardless of your background knowledge of green design. Jim Cavanagh, who provides applications support for Lennox’ Northeast sales district says before he took the LEED exam, “I was using two study guides, including one from a local USGBI chapter that was considered to be one of the best guides.”

While taking a seminar may cost hundreds of dollars, it also earns a certificate of completion that is one of the easiest ways to meet the eligibility requirements for taking the Green Associate Exam. You can also achieve eligibility by proving your experience with involvement on a LEED-registered project or employment in a sustainable field of work.

Tip #3

Take one (or more) of the practice tests sold online. While some of the questions can be answered with basic industry experience (such as the meaning of the acronym “ASHRAE” and which credit is achieved by maintaining 60% humidity), others are more complicated, such as the steps in navigating the documentation process to get a green project certified. Also, HVAC –related topics are only one segment of the information you’ll be tested on.

Cavanagh says when he took the test in 2007, “One of the questions required you to compute the water usage in a building for a men’s room and a women’s room, and although they told you how many people were in the building, you had to already know how often people in an office building typically use the toilet.”

Tip #4

Schedule your exam to take place within six to eight weeks after taking a seminar. Some testing centers have a backlog of several weeks for the exam. Taking the test as soon as possible means you’ll retain more of what you learned.

After you apply to take the exam and your application is approved, you’ll have one year from the date of approval to score at least 170 on a LEED exam. If you don’t pass the first time, you are allowed to register twice more within the year. For the LEED Green Associate credential, that means you can attempt the exam a total of three times within the year. For a LEED AP credential, you are allowed three attempts per section during the year.

After an application expires, you must wait 90 days before submitting a new application and demonstrating eligibility for your chosen credentials.

Is the LEED Exam necessary?

Many government offices at the local, state and federal levels have begun adopting LEED as a standard, requiring that publicly funded projects apply for LEED certification. A professional who has achieved accreditation can provide the knowledge and expertise needed to steer a project through the LEED certification process.

But taking the exam may not be necessary for everyone working on LEED projects, and not everyone is willing to commit to the time and expense required to achieve LEED credentials. Jim Cavanagh says if you will be working for an architectural engineering firm, the knowledge required LEED accreditation is vital but for the staff of a large contractor, some of the information may only be “nice to know.”

Eric Thordarson says the knowledge he gained studying for the LEED exam has allowed him to better serve contractors and building owners committed to sustainable design.

“It’s a worthwhile undertaking, even though some of the knowledge may be outside your field,” he says. “The awareness of the commissioning process and the required procedures and documents needed at this stage of the LEED review has been helpful in meeting my customers’ needs.”

Thordarson says studying for the exam provided some knowledge he didn’t expect. “I’m able to understand the financial decision-making process that goes into a LEED building design in terms of pursuing one set of criteria over another in order to accomplish the chosen LEED standard,” such as Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum.

Take the next steps

You can learn more about LEED accreditation at www.usgbc.com. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) no longer handles testing for the program. The LEED Professional Credential program is now managed by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). Details are available at www.gbci.org.

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