LEED v4 and Recent Credit Interpretations Demonstrate Significant Improvements for Cold Storage Facility Certification

In the past, achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for a temperature controlled facility has been a challenging and sometimes problematic task. Founded in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the LEED green building program has established itself as the world’s premier benchmark for high-performance sustainable buildings. However, this rating system was designed around traditional building types such as offices, retail spaces, schools, and hospitals and has never addressed the unique characteristics of temperature controlled facilities. Furthermore, the USGBC has not established specific LEED certification guidelines for refrigerated facilities. As a result, certification of these types of facilities has been difficult, requiring designers, contractors, and owners to constantly question the USGBC on how to interpret and apply credits that contradict industry standard building practices. However, as the LEED rating system continues to evolve, certification of temperature controlled facilities is becoming more achievable than ever.

The Issues

Some of the more problematic aspects of certification for temperature controlled facilities have been compliance with the ASHRAE 90.1 standard and the prerequisite that requires minimum ventilation rates for all occupied spaces per ASHRAE 62.1 – 2010. (Note: a building cannot be certified if it does not meet this prerequisite requirement.) The LEED program references ASHRAE 90.1 as the basis for energy efficient building design. The issue is that many of the design and construction elements of temperature controlled facilities, such as cold storage distribution centers, are not regulated by the current ASHRAE standard, therefore a basis for comparison cannot be determined. This leaves designers questioning how to determine the minimum baseline building and therefore how to calculate the buildings energy consumption versus a baseline consumption. In addition, applications such as the minimum ventilation requirement can compromise the integrity of the building envelope and have a negative performance impact on the energy consumption of the facility. In order to address some of these well documented design and implementation issues, the USGBC has released the LEED v4 standard and published recent credit interpretations. All in an effort to make certification of these building types more accessible.

LEED v4 – A Step Forward

One of the fundamental aspects of the LEED green building rating system is change to keep up with advances in green building science and technology. Over the years, the system has evolved from the initial pilot credit system to the recently launched new rating system titled LEED v4. This is a culmination of four years of development and builds upon the fundamentals established in previous versions while offering a new system for projects to pursue LEED certification. One of the most significant changes includes the introduction of new market sectors. These market sectors include data centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail, mid-rise residential, and warehouses and distribution centers. The principals behind this market sector strategy is to make the LEED certification process more accessible to a wider range of building and facility types including warehouses and distribution centers. While this market sector does not specifically address cold storage distribution centers, it is a step in the right direction that begins to focus on the unique characteristics of these types of facilities.

Recent Credit Interpretations – A Game Changer

While the new LEED v4 rating system begins to address issues related to warehouses and distribution centers, two LEED Credit Interpretation Rulings have been recently published addressing the refrigerated storage market that significantly clarify and improve the path to compliance for these types of facilities. So what is a credit interpretation? The USGBC put the Credit Interpretation Ruling (CIR) process in place to allow project teams to obtain technical guidance on how LEED requirements pertain to their specific projects. When the USGBC rules on these Credit Interpretation Requests and publishes them, these credit interpretations become addenda to the LEED rating system. Once published, these addendums can be utilized as pathways to compliance for other similar projects. In October 2015, the USGBC published two credit interpretations that finally address some of the major compliance issues with cold storage distribution centers. The first credit interpretation, CIR 10423, clarifies ventilation requirements for cold storage distribution centers. In this ruling, the USGBC states that frozen cold storage areas conditioned below 32° F do not need to meet ASHRAE 62.1 for the purposes of Minimum Indoor Air Quality Prerequisite (i.e. minimum ventilation requirements). This is a very important ruling for any project incorporating a freezer space within it’s design. The second credit interpretation, CIR 10424, approves the use of the IARW/IACSC Energy Modeling Guideline for Cold Storage and Refrigerated Warehouse Facilities. For several years, the IARW/IACSC USGBC committee has been working with the USGBC on the development of an industry-based guideline for cold storage and refrigerated facilities. On July 15, 2013, the IARW/IACSC committee published the “Guideline for the Treatment of Cold Storage and Refrigerated Warehouse Facilities.” This guideline provides a baseline definition for cold storage facilities based on industry best practices. With this ruling, the USGBC has committed to allowing project teams to utilize this document as a basis of design for cold storage facilities. A very significant step in the right direction as this document both addresses and clarifies many of the unique characteristics associated with these type of facilities.

While still not perfect, the new LEED v4 rating system and these recent Credit Interpretation Rulings show a commitment by the USGBC to make certification of cold storage facilities more accessible. Now more than ever, achieving LEED certification of your next cold storage facility is both a manageable and reachable reality.

As industry leaders in the design and construction of sustainable, LEED compliant, temperature controlled facilities, Tippmann Construction understands the principles required for a successful green project. Please contact us for more information at (260) 490-3000 or via email to see if pursuing LEED certification for your next project is right for you.