In Vol. I on the subject I described the US Green Building Council’s LEED AP (Accredited Professional) certification program, and my plan to become LEED AP certified to strengthen my sustainability credentials and to help guide the renovation of my historic opera house to LEED Gold status. Well, I just took the LEED AP exam….and passed!
The LEED AP exam is very difficult, to be sure. Of the 80 questions on the exam I was only certain of 40 — and this was after studying about 100 hours over 3 weeks. The exam not only tests your knowledge of the specific LEED Reference Guide for whichever category you are pursuing (e.g., New Construction, Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors), but it also tests your understanding of the inter-relationship between categories, and between specific credits within each category. Many questions provide extraneous information and require you to select the “three approaches that best meet…”; and are meant to test your ability to read the question fully and very carefully, and to apply your green building knowledge to specific examples.
The test is scored from 125 – 200, with a score of 170 required to pass. I don’t know how, but I managed to score a 186. Weighting for each question appears to vary based on previous respondents’ performance for that specific question, and the scoring algorithm may only be known by a funny-looking man hiding behind a curtain turning knobs and dials somewhere within the Green Building Council Institute, the organization responsible for administering LEED certification.
For those considering LEED AP certification be aware that 2009 will bring substantial changes to the program. In addition to raising the bar for building certification (e.g,. more points needed for each category and a 20% Water Efficiency improvement now a prerequisite), the GBCI will be introducing a tier of certifications from ‘LEED Fellow’ at the top to ‘LEED Associate’ as the entry-level credential. I won’t get into the detail of the 2009 changes as they are many and complex, and do not appear to be completely understood yet by even hardcore LEED professionals. You can also watch a video from Peter Templeton, head of the GBCI, at the recent GreenBuild expo. In case you were wondering, there are about 65,001 LEED APs currently, and this number continues to grow rapidly. The ‘legacy LEED APs’ will not have to be re-credentialed going forward, and will simply need to affirm the upcoming Code of Ethics, stay current through continuing education, conferences, published articles, etc., and pay the $50 bi-annual registration fee.
LEED 2009 Certification Categories
Following are some study resources and prep tips. I strongly recommend taking practice exams, and if possible, have a specific building project in mind as you review the material to make the general concepts and specific credits less abstract. The official on-line exam is administered by Prometric, and you are allowed 10 minutes before the test begins to complete the ‘mouse tutorial’ and/or make use of the 4 pages of scratch paper they give you. Several test takers swore by the ability to have a brain dump before the test and write down whatever they could to help them remember various facets of the information (credit requirements, referenced standards, credit synergies, etc.). Personally I didn’t think it would really help me to write down stuff I already knew and so just jumped in.
- In the Leed – a very popular and information-rich blog run by a guy who maintains the site for free (you can buy his study prep book, though)
- Green Exam Prep – a company that sells on-line practics exams, flash cards and training courses. The on-line exams includes 4 80-question test banks, which you can take as many times as you like for 60 days. These tests proved invaluable to my studying – but I stopped taking them 2 days before my exam to focus on the material and not their questions. I suggest selecting the ‘real-time’ grading option so each incorrect answer is explained after each wrong response – and don’t get discouraged, I started with scores in the high 40’s.
- U. of Florida Powell Center for Construction & Environment – another helpful collection of resources and practice exams
There are many more resources available, but these are some of the best I came across. I created a fairly simple Excel table to help me distill much of the info, and you may want to as well. I can email you the Excel file if you’d like – reach me at gkarayannis AT hotmail DOT com. You absolutely need to know the Reference Guide forward, and backward, and you need to know which standards govern which credits. Fortunately, any math expected during the test will be based on simple assumptions and round numbers.
All it takes is diligence, determination and about $650 ($200 for the Reference Guide, $400 for the exam and $50 for the on-line practice tests). I wish you the best if you decide to take the exam, and am confident that if you do you will think more broadly about sustainbility as a result. You may look at a building roof and wonder how they could capture rainwater to reduce stormwater runoff and potable water demand (use it for irrigation or flushing toilets); or you might realize that that big copy area really should be environmentally isolated using negative air pressure; or you might even realize that the best building is one that isn’t built — but is instead an existing structure refurbished to meet a new need.