Start Studying for the LEED Green Associate Exam Lesson 4: SS and IEQ

Chamarra McCrorey's picture
Chamarra McCrorey
August 28, 2016

Continue studying key concepts and credit to pass the LEED Green Associate Exam.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

You have made it to Lesson 4 in our LEED Green Associate Exam prep series. This means you have already covered the following topics:

If you continue studying with the Poplar LEED v4 GA Study Guide, you will be very well-prepared to pass the LEED Green Associate exam on the first try!

Today we will focus on two LEED categories: Sustainable Sites and Indoor Environmental Quality.

Sustainable Sites (SS)

LEED sets standards for building design and construction that reduce excess water and energy use. In the same vein, LEED also encourages project teams to consider the effects their building has on the surrounding environment. Building construction can significantly impact an area’s ecosystem and its plant and animal population. The Sustainable Sites category has one prerequisite and eleven credits that aim to mitigate building impact on the environment.

SS Prerequisite: Construction Activity Pollution Prevention


This prerequisite aims to reduce the impact of construction activities on the surrounding environment.


Project teams have to implement erosion and sedimentation strategies that meet either the 2012 EPA Construction General Permit or local erosion and sedimentation codes.

Sedimentation is the process by which particles enter a water stream. Remember that sedimentation occurs due to both natural causes and human activities like construction.

To protect the natural soil, air quality, and water bodies around the site, project teams can consider implementing some of the following strategies:

  • Temporary and permanent seeding
  • Mulching
  • Earthen dikes
  • Silt fencing
  • Sediment traps and basins

SS credit: Site Assessment

Credit Intent:

Before the initiation of the building design process, it is essential that teams evaluate the building site and the surrounding area to consider the environmental impact.


In order to achieve this credit, teams should document their assessment of the following:

  • Topography
  • Hydrology
  • Climate
  • Vegetation
  • Soil
  • Human Use/Human Effects

For more information on this credit, read “7 Conditions to Evaluate for Site Assessment.”


SS Credit: Site Development- Protect or Restore Habitat

Credit Intent:

It is not uncommon to see open greenfields (undeveloped land) turn into commercial buildings accompanied by vast, concrete-riddled parking lots. Rather than completely cover the land’s entire surface area, LEED encourages the conservation of natural habitats and biodiversity.


Teams must maintain at least 40 percent of all previously existing greenfields on the site.

Additionally, teams must all achieve one of the following two options:

Option 1: Restore 30 percent of all previously developed land, including the building footprint.

Option 2: Provide at least 0.40 center per square foot of the total site area, including the building footprint, to a nationally or locally recognized land trust or conservation organization that exists within the same EPA ecoregion or state.

EP: Exemplary Performance points are available if teams double the requirements in either option 1 or 2. 

SS Credit: Open Space

Credit Intent:

Open Space and Protect and Restore Habitat go hand-in-hand. This credit aims to provide open space (the project boundary minus the development footprint) to building occupants in order to promote social interaction and physical activity.


Teams must provide outdoor space greater than or equal to 30 percent of the total site area, which includes the building footprint. A minimum of 25 percent of the open space must be vegetated or have a vegetated canopy.

While the remaining site area may be paved, it is recommended that permeable surfaced be used that allow for rainwater to pass through and that are suitable for outdoor activities and aesthetic purposes.

SS Credit: Rainwater Management

Credit Intent:

This credit aims to reduce stormwater runoff.


Project teams have two options to fulfill this credit:

Option 1: The use of Low Impact Development (LID) and Green infrastructure (GI)

Option 2: Set post-project construction runoff to pre-construction levels

There are multiple strategies project teams can use to reduce runoff levels, such as minimizing land disturbance, preserving vegetation which can capture rainwater, using bioswales or a drainage course with sloped sides, bio retention areas, and pervious (porous) paving or decking.

Bioswales can help reduce rainwater runoff levels. It is designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, Wikipedia Commons

EP: To achieve EP points, project teams must manage 100 percent of the rainwater captured within the project boundaries.

SS Credit: Heat Island Reduction

Note: You can find impact key concepts you should know for the exam in the Poplar LEED v4 Study Guide. To gain access to these terms, download the guide.

Bioswales can help reduce rainwater runoff levels. It is designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water.

Credit Intent:

This credit aims to reduce the impact of the heat island effect, which is the absorption of heat by hard surfaces -- like dark, non-reflective pavement and buildings -- and the radiation they emit to their surroundings. Heat islands tend to exist in urban areas, where there is little foliage and an abundance of dark pavement. Heat islands increase temperatures, which can have harmful effects on the environment and human health.


Teams have two options for achieving this credit:

Option 1: “Non-Roof” involves the use of plants and open grid paving systems, pavement with open grids for ventilation that is at least 50 permeable, or a highly reflective surface.

Option 2: “Parking Under Cover” involves covering at least 75 percent of any parking areas with a vegetated roof, renewable energy system or a highly reflective surface. Examples of renewable energy systems are solar photovoltaics and wind turbines.

An appropriate highly reflective surface should have a solar reflectance index (SRI) of 82, which proves its ability to reflect and reject solar heat.

EP: EP can be achieved by achieving both Options 1 and 2 in addition to covering 100 percent of parking spaces.

SS Credit: Light Pollution Reduction

Credit Intent:

This credit aims to reduce artificial light use, which can be distracting, discomforting, and create a loss of visibility.


Teams should use the BUG Method, which stands for Backlight, Uplight, Glare, or the Calculation Method to meet IES-TM 15-11, Addendum Light Trespass requirements.

Now that we have covered the SS credit, we can move on to Indoor Environmental Quality!

Note, however, that we did not cover Healthcare or School rating system credits that are in the Poplar study guide. To gain access to that information, download the guide.

Indoor Environmental Quality

The IEQ credit focuses on the impact the indoor environment has on the health of building occupants. Since Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, it is crucial that buildings are developed with indoor quality control in mind. Creating an improved indoor environment can improve human productivity, decrease absenteeism and increase building value.

In today’s lesson, we will cover three prerequisites and five credits. You can download the guide to learn about the additional three credits covered in the guide related to Schools and Healthcare rating systems.

IEQ Prerequisite: Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance


The intent of this prerequisite is to establish minimum standards for indoor air quality (IAQ).


Teams should increase ventilation and monitor the ventilated spaces in their building. Ventilation can be increased through the use of operable windows or through the use of variable air volume (VAV) systems.

Teams must also install CO2 sensors within “Breathing Zones” located between three to six feet above the floor.

Note: Remember that this prerequisite references ASHRAE 62.1, which sets standards for ventilation. 

IEQ Prerequisite: Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control


This credit aims to prevent or decrease building occupant’s exposure to tobacco smoke in buildings.


Teams must prohibit smoking inside the building and designate smoking areas that are at least 25 feet from building entrances. Signage must also be visible within 10 feet of all building entrances that indicate a no smoking policy.

IEQ Credit: Enhanced Indoor Air Quality StrategiesPoor air quality can contribute to uncomfortable work environments and low productivity, hiroo yamagata, Flickr

Credit Intent:

Through increased indoor air quality LEED aims to improve building occupant comfort, well-being and productivity.


Project teams have two options for meeting this credit.

Option 1: Enhanced IAQ Strategies- To absorb dirt teams can install specialized entryway systems, interior cross-contamination prevention systems, filtration media, natural ventilation designs, and use mixed mode design calculations, according to Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) guidelines.

Option 2: Additional Enhanced IAQ Strategies involves exterior contamination prevention, increased natural ventilation in each room and CO2 monitoring.

Note: You should remember ASHRAE 52.2 for this credit, which defines air filtration standards using minimum efficiency reporting value or MERV. MERV measures air filtration quality on a scale of 1-16.

EP: Projects can earn EP if they achieve both Options 1 and 2.

IEQ Credit: Low Emitting Materials

Credit Intent:

This credit focuses on reducing human and environmental exposure to contaminants that damage air quality, human health and productivity.


Project teams should reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using Product Category Rules (PCRs) or VOC Budgets, the measurement of the total VOC concentration in a building’s indoor air. VOCs are commonly found in paints, coatings, adhesives and sealants, so to achieve this credit teams should consider measuring VOC levels and finding low VOC products that comply with the California Department of Health Standard Method v1.1-2010.

Teams have two options to achieve this credit:

Option 1: Teams should strive to achieve thresholds of compliance for interior paints, adhesives and sealants, flooring, composite wood, ceilings, walls, thermal and acoustic insulation and furniture.

Option 2: Teams can use the Budget Calculation Method, which is a weighted average calculation that includes VOC information for each product.

EP: teams can earn EP with Option 1 if they reach 100 percent of product thresholds. Teams can also earn EP for Option 2 if 100 percent of their products are low VOC.

IEQ Credit: Construction Indoor Air Quality Management Plan

Credit Intent:

The construction process can release contaminants and create poor air quality indoors. To alleviate health problems for building occupants related to poor air quality, this credit aims to minimize pollution during the construction process.


During the design phase, teams should create and implement an IAQ Management Plan that meets or exceeds the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) IAQ Guidelines for Occupied Buildings Under Construction. Teams must also plan to cover or keep absorptive materials outside to avoid exposure to contaminants or mold. Additionally, MERV 8 filters should be used for ventilation purposes per ASHRAE 52.2.

Note: For the exam, you should remember SMACNA and ASHRAE 52.5 for MERV filtration.

IEQ Credit: Indoor Air Quality Assessment:

Credit Intent:

This credit aims to establish exceptional indoor air quality during occupancy.


Teams have two options to achieve this credit:

Option 1: Building Flush Out- Once construction is complete, teams should perform a building flushout of at least 14,000 cubic feet of air per square foot or 3,500 cubic square feet during occupancy.

Option 2: Air Testing- Teams should conduct an IAQ test for each contaminant to make sure it does not exceed maximum levels allows in an occupied space. Testing should be completed to meet EPA, ASTM or ISO standards.

IEQ Credit: Thermal Comfort

Credit Intent:

LEED aims to ensure occupant comfort and productivity by giving occupants the ability to control temperatures within various spaces.


Teams should provide thermal comfort controls for air speed, temperature, or humidity for at least 50 percent of individual occupant spaces, as well as shared controls for multi-occupant spaces.

Teams have two options to fulfill this credit:

Option 1: Meet ASHRAE 55-2010 standard requirements for thermal comfort or a local equivalent for HVAC system design.

Option 2: Design the HVAC system according to ISO and CEN standard for Ergonomics of the Thermal Environment.

Study Tips: Flashcards

In my five step study regimen I stress the need to create and use flashcards to test your ability to recall key information for the LEED exam. You may have noticed that you need to define and remember many standards. Remembering all of the standards can be overwhelming. For example, ASHRAE 55, ASHRAE 52.2, and ASHRAE 62.1 are all referenced in different credits and refer to different building components.

Flashcards  can be incredibly helpful when remembering difficult data. If you are able to recall the information without choices, you will definitely be able to find the right answer when choosing from multiple choice options.

For only $29.99, you can have access to 400 LEED v4 Green Associate printable PDF flashcards

We have provided some flashcards to get you started! For more free LEED Green Associate Exam Prep, click here.

Next week we will continue on to discuss LEED Water Efficiency (WE) and Materials and Resources (MR) categories in detail. Keep studying! 


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