Rearranging the Furniture: LEED Projects + Office Choices

Oct. 1, 2008

A closer look at the credits that impact CI certification, the rating system where furnishings count most.

By Keri Luly, LEED AP

I'd be willing to bet that there are a lot of designers and architects out there who are struggling through their first LEED® project. LEED APs expect the designers to be experts in furniture-related credits, but the designers lack time to do research, so panic sets in and (as a furniture manufacturer) my inbox overflows.

I thought an "advice column" might be appropriate for this Greenbuild issue. Office furniture advice, that is, nothing for the lovelorn. So here are a few practical hints to keep in mind when tackling your first (or second or third ...) LEED project.

As a refresher:

  • LEED-NC is New Construction and Major Renovation
  • LEED-CI is Commercial Interiors
START HEREIf you're working on a LEED project and selecting office furniture, there is one important piece of information you must have from the start. It is not the level of certification your client hopes to achieve, but which rating system they are using. Your office furniture advice depends on the rating system used. I'm amazed at the number of designers who guess whether the project is NC or CI, often assuming that "it isn't a new building so the project must be CI." It may actually be an NC, which includes Major Renovation; or it could even be an Existing Building. Ask now or regret it later!

Office furniture can impact several LEED-CI credits when you consider the materials in the furniture and the layout of the space. It has very little impact on an NC project, although it can help to maintain the "green mindset" of the building.

It is possible to include furniture in the calculations of several NC credits, but beware! If an NC project client's eyes light up at the recycled content of furniture, advise them to go for green purchasing but to not include furniture in their calculations. Why?? If they use furniture in their MR 4.1/4.2 (recycled content) calculation, it must also be calculated into the credits for materials reuse, regionally manufactured/extracted, rapidly renewable materials, and certified wood. This requires a lot more work and doesn't help to achieve those other points. If the client wants environmentally smart furniture choices for their environmentally smart building (hooray!), it makes more sense to use the LEED-CI credits as guidance, without the calculations.

If the client has control of the furniture for the entire building, it is possible to get an innovation credit by borrowing EQ 4.5 from LEED-CI. This credit is discussed more thoroughly in the next section.

NOW, THE PRACTICALITIESWe'll focus on LEED-CI, where the furniture contributes most. Be careful if anyone tells you their product "can get your client points," because other materials in the space are also included in the calculation.  EQ 4.5 is the exception.STEP ONE:Ask the client for their completed LEED-CI checklist so you know which credits they plan to pursue. Otherwise, you're working in the dark. Look for the following credits, then read the advice to provide assistance. (Note: EA = Energy and Atmosphere, MR = Materials and Resources, EQ = Indoor Environmental Quality.)EA 1.1Your client will want permanently installed lighting, including task and furniture lighting, that is energy efficient, and they will need to know the power (in watts) of the lighting used.MR 2.1Furniture arrives in packaging to protect it, so the waste packaging is considered in this credit. Coordinate with the on-site contractor who is in charge of getting waste recycled to make sure the packaging waste (likely to be corrugated material, foam and shrink wrap) can be added in with the on-site recycling effort.MR 3.3Reusing 30 percent of the furniture and furnishings frees up 70 percent of the budget for new products. The reused furniture can be from another source as long as it is actually used furniture. It's priced at the replacement cost, not market value. When estimating the replacement cost, don't be tempted to use list price for the used furniture and discounted price for the new-that would be an inappropriate manipulation of the numbers. Use the same discount for both.MR 4.1/4.2If the manufacturer has taken the time to do the calculations, most office furniture should contribute to these two points unless it's solid wood (rare in most offices). In the "old days" of LEED (before the online templates), it was necessary to do more calculations due to the lesser value of pre-consumer recycled content, but now the template does that. Also, it isn't necessary for you to break out the weight and content of each and every component material (e.g., aluminum) of systems furniture because the manufacturer should have already done that in an approved "BIFMA typical" format. If they haven't, you will need to provide a lot more details. Be prepared to break out the prices paid for each line of furniture purchased, minus the price of any electrical or mechanical components.MR 5.1/5.2Getting the point for 5.1 is cut and dried: either the furniture was manufactured within 500 miles of the project or it wasn't. Credit 5.2 is darn near impossible for most furniture since many component materials are "extracted" from all over the world, often from commodities markets. (Do you know where the aluminum in your soda can was extracted? It isn't possible to track.)MR 6Rapidly renewable materials in office furniture are not very common but that is changing as manufacturers adjust to meet LEED. It's good for the environment, and the client, for furniture to be of good quality, but that is a challenge with many of the rapidly renewable materials. Ask about it so you are driving the market and stay tuned for new options.MR 7FSC-certified wood in office furniture is a topic for a full-length article after the U.S. Green Building Council finishes the process of revising the credit requirements. Certified wood is easier to achieve in lumber and millwork than in office furniture due to the markets for materials. The rules are changing, so this is another reason to stay tuned.EQ 3.2 You need to be aware of the potential for an impact if you are suggesting furniture with wood/veneer. Finishes offgas, as you've probably noticed when you brought home new wood furniture. The client will either conduct an air flush-out or a test procedure to assure good indoor air quality when the space becomes occupied. The furniture must be in place but it is nearly impossible to predict exactly when materials in the space will have offgassed sufficiently. The length of time needed depends on many factors, such as the temperature, humidity, other offgassing materials (such as paint), and the amount of fresh air circulating in the project space. Plan for wood furniture to be in place a week or two in advance, especially if the client will be using option B (the test procedure).EQ 4.1/4.4These credits are not about any aspect of systems office furniture or seating, since credit EQ 4.5 covers that.EQ 4.5This credit is about emissions (offgassing) of systems furniture and seating and any furniture used "in concert" with it. It requires specific laboratory testing and can be documented by certificates if using option A or C. Be aware that option C, often called the BIFMA method, was approved for use in 2006. You won't find it mentioned in the rating system ... yet ... but it's a Credit Interpretation Ruling and will be listed when LEED 2009 is available. EQ 6.1Provide lights that workstation occupants can turn on and off. (Easy!)EQ 8.1/8.2These two credits impact design choices, such as using lower height furniture that doesn't block natural light, but the windows play a role, too. The shortest panels in the world won't help if the building lacks sufficient windows or has walled private offices around the periphery of the space. Taller features need to be away from the windows or perpendicular to them to let light in.EQ 8.3Much confusion surrounds this one (views of the outside from a seated position with an eye level 42 inches above the floor) but a new Credit Interpretation Ruling has clarified that the credit does not prescribe panel heights. The view must be unobstructed but, as the reference guide illustrates, the "view to exterior" expands upward and doesn't remain parallel to the floor. The windows have a strong impact with this credit.A WORD ABOUT 2009The USGBC is engaged in "evolving" five rating systems into a more unified whole. Look for announcements of our next steps forward in greening our built (and occupied) environment.

Keri Luly has elected to donate her monetary compensation for the articles she writes to an environmentally pro-active organization of her choosing. This issue, she has selected the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, one of three original chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council. Striving to become the first and last word on green building, Cascadia has four Guiding Signal Issues (climate change, persistent toxic chemicals, habitat loss/species extinction, and global equity) and has established the Living Building Challenge to create buildings that generate their own energy, manage water on-site and maximize beauty.

Visit www.cascadiagbc.org to learn more.

Keri Luly, LEED AP, is Allsteel's stewardship coordinator and regular contributor to EnvironDesign Notebook. She can be reached at [email protected].

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