LEED Sustainable Sites

Public Transportation
Fig 1: Sustainable transportation (Photo: whl.travel)

This category is addressed first on the LEED Scorecard because the site itself needs to meet specific requirements before an owner can even think of asking for a LEED project. This means an owner should be asking themselves about the LEED process before they choose the site to develop. Sometimes, choice is not an option; in these cases, the LEED program can still be implemented, it just takes some extra work.

Remember to check the USGBC's downloadable forms or the LEED RPC's page to see which Regional Priority Credits can be counted as added points towards certification in your project's zip code.


Breakdown of Each Credit in Sustainable Sites

Below you will find each credit (and one prerequisite) in the Sustainable Sites category broken down and explained. The descriptions are hidden so you can use this page as your own LEED Study Guide. These ideas are meant as a refresher; for a full review we recommend purchasing the LEED Reference Guide from the USGBC's website.

  • SSp1 Construction Activity Pollution Prevention

This prerequisite requires a site to control pollution from three sources: waterway sediments, airborne dust and soil erosion. Water coming off the site must be controlled so that no sediments from the site pollute storm water runoff, etc. Dust control is another important means of eliminating pollutants in the air. Also, use of earth dikes, silt fences, sediment traps, and sediment basins (structural), vs seeding and mulching (stabilization) are important for reducing erosion. It is important to know which of these are structural means vs stabilization means of erosion control.

Submittal: An ESC plan, or erosion sedimentation control plan.

Applicable standards or agencies: EPA 2003 or local if more stringent

  • SSc1 Site Selection

This credit is directed towards selecting a site that can easily accommodate LEED parameters. Remember the agencies involved with each of the parameters. The following 6 types of sites are NOT to be developed:

  1. Prime Agricultural Farmland - this only means that the USDA has to deem it a prime farmland; just because the previous developer had cows and grew corn on the property does not deem it prime farmland.
  2. Within 100 feet of a wetland as decided by 40 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations)
  3. Within 50 feet of a body of water
  4. Habitat of an endangered species; this includes plants and animals alike!
  5. Below 5 feet above the one hundred year flood plain. Read this carefully. Imagine the one hundred year flood plain. Now go up five feet. You can't be developing on a site lower than this. Also this flood plain is determined by FEMA - important to know.
  6. Public Parklands, unless replacing with an equal or larger piece of parkland elsewhere

    Applicable standards or agencies: USDA, CFR, FEMA
  • SSc2 Development Density and Community Connectivity

This credit is aimed towards developing sites that have already been developed. Greenfield sites can not apply for this credit. Rather than choosing a virgin greenfield site, we can take advantage of urban sites in high density areas and piggyback on existing infrastructure. Think - If we build an apartment complex in the middle of nowhere, then we have to build amenities to accommodate that new development. And if that development was a greenfield site, the amenities are more likely to also be built on greenfield sites. This credit applauds building in dense urban areas and using previously developed sites because it prevents upset of greenfield sites.

Development Density measures the density of the area being developed. LEED defines a dense urban space as 60,000 sf of building area per acre. It's important to know that square footage and property acres are hte two determining factors of whether a property will fit this requirement.

Community Connectivity requires at least 10 amenities be within 1/2 mile radius of the main entrance of the building. This is not to be confused with a 1/2 mile walking path distance. Picture a circle with these amenities inside the 1/2 mile radius. These amenities include: church, fire station, library, doctor's office, theatre, local community centre, gym, grocery store, restaurant, dry cleaner, bank, etc. It also requires the building to be within 1/2 mile of a dense residential area.

Applicable standards or agencies: N/A

Extra Credit: The project can double the density of the surrounding community, or develop in an extremely dense area with 120,000 sf per acre of property

  • SSc3 Brownfield Redevelopment

This credit applauds developers who go the extra mile to clean up a site that would otherwise remain neglected. Brownfield sites pose a challenge to those that attempt to remediate; a decision must be made whether the site will be cleaned up in situ or ex situ. However, there are significant advantages in the form of tax breaks and incentives for those who accomplish this task.

Applicable standards or agencies: CERCLA & RCRA, EPA Brownfield

  • SSc4.1 Alternative Transportation Public Transportation Access

Think of the Alternative Transportation (AT) credits as a cumulative credit, starting with easiest to achieve leading up to more difficult tasks. There are two ways to achieve this credit:

  1. Site's main entrance is within 1/2 mile "walking path" of a commuter rail, light rail, subway, etc. Beware this walking path is not like previous credits who refer to a 1/2 mile radius. This credit means for travelers to not have to walk more than 1/2 mile in blocks. Picture Google driving (but really walking) directions.

---OR---

  1. Site's main entrance is within 1/4 mile "walking path" of 2 or more public bus routes.

    Submittal: Always think how you could prove you are fulfilling the credit. If you printed out a page from the local MTA showing bus routes and bus stops, and then printed a Google map with distance from the stop to the main entrance, do you think that would convince? Most likely.

    Alternative credits: This credit can be achieved by other means as long as this is an alternative to using cars to get to the site. This does not include transportation like a boat or helicopter, taking passengers to an island, because cars couldn't get there anyways.

    Applicable standards or agencies: NA
  • SSc4.2 Alternative Transportation Bicycle Storage & Changing Rooms

There are two ways to achieve this credit:

  1. Site's main entrance is within 1/2 mile "walking path" of a commuter rail, light rail, subway, etc. Beware this walking path is not like previous credits who refer to a 1/2 mile radius. This credit means for travelers to not have to walk more than 1/2 mile in blocks. Picture Google driving (but really walking) directions.

---OR---

  1. Site's main entrance is within 1/4 mile "walking path" of 2 or more public bus routes.

    Submittal: Always think how you could prove you are fulfilling the credit. If you printed out a page from the local MTA showing bus routes and bus stops, and then printed a Google map with distance from the stop to the main entrance, do you think that would convince? Most likely.

    Alternative credits: This credit can be achieved by other means as long as this is an alternative to using cars to get to the site. This does not include transportation like a boat or helicopter, taking passengers to an island, because cars couldn't get there anyways.

    Applicable standards or agencies: NA
  • SSc4.3 Alternative Transportation Low-Emitting & Fuel Efficient Vehicles

There are three ways to achieve this credit:

  1. Preferred Parking for Low Emitting Vehicles (LEV) for 5% of the total vehicle parking capacity provided. What does LEV mean? Does it have to be a fancy hybrid? No. LEV's qualify if they are on the ACEEE database for cars scoring 40 or higher. Most cars cars less than 5 years old are on this list. So if there are 100 spaces provided (the capacity) then 5 preferred parking spaces shall be designated LEV. Always round up; so if the math doesn't perfectly come out to a whole number, round up. 5.213 spaces is 6 spaces to the USGBC. Also, the USGBC defines preferred as closest to the building. I've heard of stories where contractors placed these spaces in the covered parking lot rather than the lot directly in front of the building and the USGBC denied the credit, because they did not consider covered to mean preferred.

---OR---

  1. Provide LEV for 3% of the full-time equivalent (FTE). Remember, this is basically the total number of occupants divided by 8. So if the FTE came out to 60 people, then 2 Low-Emitting Vehicles would have to be provided by the owner as a means of transportation. This also includes preferred parking for those vehicles.

---OR---

  1. Require installed alternative fueling stations for 3% of the total vehicle parking capacity. So if there are 110 spaces total, how many would be required alternative fueling? 4, right? Remember, we have to round up.

    Submittal: A parking striping plan showing the calculations and number of spaces designated for LEV preferred parking would suffice. Also, a receipt of purchase of the LEV's and fueling stations for the calculated quantity would work.

    Alternative credits: NA.

    Applicable standards or agencies: ACEEE, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy
  • SSc4.4 Alternative Transportation Parking Capacity

There are four ways to achieve this credit:

  1. Do not exceed minimum local zoning requirements for parking capacity. Also, provide preferred parking for carpools for 5% of total number of parking spaces. This is not meant for residential projects.

---OR---

  1. If the parking lot has parking spaces for fewer than 5% FTE's, provide preferred parking for carpools for 5% of total parking capacity. Again, this is not meant for residential projects.

---OR---

  1. For residential projects, do not exceed minimum zoning requirements, and implement shared ride programs. This could mean carpool drop off areas, shuttle services, vanpool parking spaces, etc.

---OR---

  1. Do not install any new parking spaced on the project. This applies to residential and non residential projects.

    Submittal: Local minimum parking requirements, could be included, as well as a plan view of the site with the calculated number of parking spaces. A plan for implementing ride shares could also be included if method 3 were to be attempted.

    Alternative credits: You could write a letter to the local authority and request to go lower than the minimum capacity.

    Applicable standards or agencies: NA
  • SSc5.1 Site Development Protect or Restore Habitat

This credit is aimed towards protecting a greenfield site or restoring what's left of an existing site. Greenfield and existing sites have two different ways of achieving this credit.

  1. Greenfield Sites During the construction process, restrict access to 40' from the building, 25' from playing fields, 15' from access roads, and 10' from sidewalks. Try to memorize these values; draw a picture of a site with an access road, sidewalks and a playing field around a building. Then dimension out your clear spaces. Construction cannot take place outside this area.
  2. Previously Developed 50% of the site area (does not include building footprint) must be restored with native or adapted vegetation. Tricky rule: this vegetation cannot be mowed.

    Applicable standards or agencies: N/A

    Submittals: These could include site area calculations, site drawings, etc.

    Synergies: Think, all credits relating to site, site water, etc. SSc6, SSc7, WEc1
  • SSc5.2 Site Development Maximize Open Space

Try not to get this credit confused with other "zoning" credits. Remember this one deals with sites, not parking. There are 3 options, depending on the local zoning.

  1. Local zoning exists Open space on the site must exceed these requirements by 25%. So if the requirement is 20%, then 25% more would require 25% of the site to be open space.
  2. No local zoning exists The open space must be greater than or equal to the building footprint. What does this tell you about the desirable designs? The USGBC wants us to build up - not out. If we build up rather than out, we save open space, habitats, ecosystems, etc.
  3. Local zoning's minimum open space is zero In this case, the open space must be 20% of the total site area.

    Applicable standards or agencies: N/A

    Submittals: Submit calculations of the total site area, open space area, local zoning codes, etc. Site plans would also be applicable.

    Synergies: If you're also going for SSc2 you could use smart strategies to help along - vegetated roofs, pedestrian hardscapes, but these need to be 25% vegetated. SSc5.1, SSc6, SSc7.2 and many more!
  • SSc6.1 Stormwater Design Quantity Control

This credit is meant to limit disruption of natural hydrology by preventing too much impervious cover, increasing on-site filtration, and managing stormwater runoff. Initial calculations must be done to determine the existing imperviousness of the site. On the test, they may provide values (just like an engineer would) and it is up to you to determine if you could be eligible for the credit. No calculators are necessary on the exam, simple math will be needed, but nothing too difficult.

  1. Existing Imperviousness less than or equal to 50% In this case, the rate and quantity after development is completed cannot exceed the pre-development rate and quantity..
  2. Existing Imperviousness greater than 50% If the calculated rate and quantity is already greater than 50%, then it is up to the developer to reduce this rate by 25%. This is a more difficult challenge, relying on the civil engineer to utilize strategies like detention and retention ponds, etc.

    Submittals: Submit calculations of the site's imperviousness.

    Synergies: SSp1, SSc5, SSc7, many WE credits, etc.
  • SSc6.2 Stormwater Design Quality Control

Reduce or eliminate water pollution by increasing on-site infiltration and removing pollutants from stormwater runoff. The two requirements are pretty straightforward:

  1. '''Best Management Practices (BMPs) must be used to capture, and treat stormwater runoff from 90% of the average annual rainfall. This will require a little research, and the annual rainfall in the area must be submitted.
  2. These practices must also be capable of removing 80% of the average post development total suspended solids (TSSs). I don't know what that means, but memorize it without getting too grossed out.

    Submittals: Submit annual rainfall for the area, calculations proving treatment and capture of pollutants.

    Synergies:''' SSp1, SSc5, SSc7, many WE credits, etc.
  • SSc7.1 Heat Island Effect Non-Roof

The point of this credit is to reduce heat islands. Heat islands are undesirable, because they adversely affect microclimates. They can basically be defined as thermal differences in developed and undeveloped areas. These can be determined by SRI values. SRI means Solar Reflectance Index. Imagine on this scale that zero is black, and 100 is white. Think how hot a black top playground is compared to an icy-white glacier. Just use that as a visual to remember the scale.

This credit attempts to reduce Heat Islands in non-roof areas of the site. Think of what you would see of the site in plan view - roof and the site. Vegetation does not contribute to heat islands, so the only thing that could be addressed here is hardscape.

  1. Provide 50% of parking spaces covered by a roof with SRI of 29 or higher. This is pretty easy for concrete parking garages to achieve as new concrete has a SRI value of 35.
  2. Provide a combination of shade, minimum SRI values of 29, or an open paved system for 50% of the site's hardscape areas. This means the shade can be used from any trees planted on the site after a 5-year growth analysis. Open grid pavers are basically pavers set in a grid so that vegetation can grow in between the pavers. If concrete is used, in place of asphalt or base, then the SRI value will increase as well.

    Submittals: Include product data for materials used to prove SRI value is greater than 29. Include 5 year growth analysis of trees used on site. A parking or site plan showing the hardscape areas should also be included.

    Synergies: SSc5, SSc6, EAc1
  • SSc7.2 Heat Island Effect Roof

For a roof, the acceptable SRI value depends on the slope of the roof. Low sloped roofs (<= 2:12) that would be subject to more exposure from the sun require a higher SRI value of 78. Steeper roofs (>2:12) with less exposure require the SRI value of 29 that we saw in SSc7.1. Also these values do not apply to penetrations, such as roof access areas or mechanical or plumbing penetrations.

  1. 75% of the roofing material with an SRI value complying with the roof's slope.

---OR---

  1. 50% of the roof must be vegetated. This isn't as easy as it seems. Dependent on the region, plants may or may not survive on top of an exposed roof. Colorado has difficulties with vegetated roof systems. Also consider structural requirements to support the added weight. Use only plants with little or no growth over the years.

---OR---

  1. Provide a combination of the two systems on the entire roof. This would have to follow this formula to succeed: (Area of SRI roof/0.75) + ( Area of vegetated roof/0.5) >= Total Roof Area.

    Submittals: Roof product data, a roof plan showing designed locations for SRI or vegetated areas. Calculated slopes for the building roofs.

    Synergies: SSc6, EAc1, and Water Efficiency Credits
  • SSc8 Light Pollution Reduction

To fulfill this credit's requirements, lights on the interior and exterior must be considered. Basically, we don't want to be adding to the problem. So if the project is in the middle of a country desert road, population 50, this is a harder requirement to achieve. If this project is in a more urban setting, the requirements are easier to fulfill. Think about what both of these places would look like at midnight.

Interior Lighting

  1. Max candela cannot exit through windows

---OR---

  1. Auto-controlled shutoff for non-emergency lighting

Exterior Lighting

  1. Do not exceed lighting 80% of LPD for exterior areas (try for safety purposes only) and 50% of building facades and landscape features. LPD means Lighting Power Densities.

    It's important to understand Lighting zones - LZ1, LZ2, LZ3, LZ4 - basically the project in the middle of nowhere, rural areas (LZ1) scaled up to Major Cities, Entertainment Centers (LZ4).

Submittals: An electrical plan, showing site lighting, and a finish fixtures schedule, with product data and cut sheets. Most importantly, a site photometric plan, which must match the electricals.

Synergies: EAc1 and ASHRAE 90.1


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