p.p1 site sustainability assessment has a significant

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Mahip Singh Sandhu
NUID: 001647381
SBSY 5100 Midterm Report
October 17, 2017
Mid-term report on LEED Site Assessment Pilot Credit
Intent of Site Assessment
“To assess site conditions prior to design to evaluate sustainable options and inform related
decisions about site design.”
The most critical preliminary choice in achieving a healthy, functioning landscape is the land
selection. The land is a crucial component of the built environment. Any landscape or site can be
planned, designed, developed and maintained to protect and enhance the benefits we derive from
healthy, functioning landscapes. The Site Assessment pilot credit is offered under the Site
Sustainability section of the LEED rating system. It accounts for a single point on the rating
system. The Site Assessment credit addresses the urgent need for a coordinated response among
landscape design professionals to take on the environmental requirements of the twenty-first
century. Having a dedicated credit for site sustainability assessment has a significant impact on
how the built landscapes are designed, constructed, and managed, as well as how they perform
within their larger environmental and ecological context. This credit ensures that the land
allocated for an upcoming construction is assessed for any kind of environmental impact that it
could cause.
Site Assessment is the first pilot credit of the Site Sustainability credit category of the LEED V4
rating system inducted for site inventory and analysis. To perform Site Assessment, a broad
knowledge of local ecology and social conditions is required. Since all sites are a part of a
landscape, the design teams must work with a comprehensive understanding of the living
systems and communities that they are impacting. To assess a site, it is important to define the
scope. To determine the attributes which need to be investigated for the site assessment
report, following 3 fundamental factors need to be considered-
1. Proposed site use
2. Existing on-site and off-site conditions
3. Requirements for permits and approvals (subjective to the location)
If the context of the site is not thoughtfully understood, the building construction could lead to
unpredicted environmental, social, and economic damages. Hence to meticulously assess and
determine the opportunities and limitations of a site, inputs from various sources, such as
ecologists, hydrologists, soil engineers, etc., are necessary. The inclusion of specialists in this
process not only helps with the selection of the site, but also provides opportunities to optimize
design efficiency within the existing parameters of the site.
High-performance, sustainable/green buildings have become a trend and are gradually entering
the mainstream as an important market sector in the United States and globally. Construction of a
sustainable building typically begins with the selection of a suitable site. A building’s location
and orientation on a site impact not only a wide range of environmental factors but also security
and accessibility factors. The Site Assessment pilot credit for site sustainability measure
promotes understanding of the character of the site and the physical, biological, and cultural links
between the site and the surrounding landscape. Performing an inventory of the site maximizes
the environmental efficiency of design and provides an opportunity to chart out preliminary steps
to protect what’s already there.
History and upgrades
LEED constantly works on increasing the rating system’s technical rigor, expanding the market
sector able to use LEED and simplifying the terms of usability. For such purposes, the site
sustainability credit has been modified several times over the years since its conception. Some
parts have had their reference standards updated, while some credits like brownfield remediation
and light pollution reduction have had their requirements moved to another credit. The Site
Assessment credit has been the most recent addition to Site Sustainability in LEED V4. It was
published and made effective on Nov 15, 2013 and since then the Site Assessment Worksheet
has been updated with LEED v4 final worksheet. There have been no modifications to Site
Assessment pilot credit since inception as there have been no updates to the LEED rating system
since then.
Understanding the credit
LEED V4 involves reporting a set of considering the following factors for the site assessment
report –
1. Topography – LEED inspects this factor based on Contour mapping, unique topographic
features, slope stability risks.
The topographic survey of the site is a fundamental part of most land planning decisions. The
topography maps provide data on the biophysical and cultural circumstances of a region and are
available in different scales (for example, 1: 20,000, 1: 500,000). These maps are available
through US Geological Survey, but in case of a precise assessment, a licensed surveyor in
accordance with specifications tailored to the construction could be required. The topography
influences aspects of the site, such as the microclimate, distribution of plant and animal species,
water movement, and storm water management practices. The goal of this section of the LEED
rating system is to promote options for minimizing disturbance and skillfully incorporating the
existing topography into the design.
2. Hydrology – LEED rates this point based on flood hazard areas, delineated wetlands, lakes,
streams, shorelines, rainwater collection and reuse opportunities, and TR-55 initial water storage
capacity of the site. Change of land use may sometimes result in a negative impact on water
quality. Contamination may occur from any of the construction side effects, such erosion and
sedimentation, chemicals, or microorganisms. Any site-disturbing activities can increase the
risks of flooding, erosion, and other ecological impacts to properties. Hence all such components
and risks are considered under the hydrology part of the site assessment report.
3. Climate – LEED evaluates climate under site assessment report on credentials such as solar
exposure, heat island effect potential, seasonal sun angles, prevailing winds, monthly
precipitation, and temperature ranges.
This part requires stating the average annual and monthly precipitation, humidity, and
temperature of the site. It also involves provisions to identify onsite conditions that could provide
opportunities for renewable energy strategies, such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Sites that are
designed to thrive within their natural climatic conditions require fewer resources to sustain them
since they are tailored for those weather conditions. Other climatic aspects, like rainfall and
temperatures, affect design issues such as vegetation and material selection, storm water
management, and site layout.
Vegetation – LEED lists requirements in the site assessment report to inspect and term the
primary vegetation types, greenfield area, significant tree mapping, threatened or endangered
species, unique habitat, and invasive plants.
Every site set in an ecosystem has a variety of plant and animal habitats. This section of Site
Assessment encourages the efforts to look for opportunities to improve or restore habitat onsite.
Through this, LEED aims to check sites within the threatened or endangered species habitat and
prohibit development in those areas. Sites located in low-quality habitats, or those with degraded
vegetation, would be considered prime for designs that require significant soil and vegetation
Soils – LEED inspects the soil quality of a site in terms of NRCS soils delineation, USDA prime
farmland, healthy soils, and previous development disturbed soils.
Healthy soil conditions provide various ecological benefits such as water cleansing and storage,
carbon sequestration, and habitat. It is important to know the geology of a site because it lays the
groundwork and influences a site’s suitability for excavation, grading, wastewater disposal,
storm water management, and other common landscape amenities. There are provisions to
prevent construction at sites with unique and high-quality soils that are marked as Prime
farmland, unique farmland, etc.
Human Use – LEED rates this factor based on adjacent transportation infrastructure, adjacent
properties, and existing recycle/reuse of potential construction materials.
Reusing and recycling materials reduces the use of natural resources, further avoiding habitat
destruction and reducing waste generation and pollution. Existing public infrastructure can
influence the site selection for buildings, hence, the current LEED site assessment process
involves reporting of the neighboring buildings and facilities. LEED also accounts for the energy
used in commuting to and from the building site. The human use section of Site Assessment also
has provision to report to any kind of existing and known adjacent transportation infrastructure in
the report and further rewards sites with easy access to mass transportation.
Human Health Impacts – As stated earlier, LEED acknowledges the construction of a building
at a site and all its impacts on the existing ecosystem. It evaluates the proximity of vulnerable
populations, adjacent physical activity opportunities, and proximity to large sources of air
pollution. The construction of a building may lead to unwanted and harmful emissions into the
ecosystem. Hence, building use is defined and all possible effects on local populations are
determined to avoid any predictable future damage to health and lifestyle of the present
population at the site.
Efficacy of Site Assessment
Site assessment is a fundamental part of site sustainability credit of the rating system. Regardless
of the possible maximum points this credit contributes to overall environmental justice. It is
significantly helpful for the site design and construction representatives to inspect all geological,
hydrological and other important ecological aspects of the site. This information allows the
design teams to explore major environmental savings opportunities, while also enhancing design
integration into the ecosystem.
A site assessment of physical attributes is driven by both the project’s application and the
characteristics of the site itself. Physical properties on a site can have a great impact on how a
site is developed, used, and maintained over the course of time. This pilot credit promotes a
preliminary analysis of the site that is being planned for the construction to report all biological
aspects related to the site. The inventory and reporting of the site also help in fostering other
LEED prospects. Some LEED credit points such as site development, rainwater management, etc
are also subject to the geology and hydrology reporting of the site. Therefore, Site assessment
not only provides a valuable point under LEED rating system, but also lays down the
groundwork for design and construction teams to build an ecologically adaptive design that
would help them earn many other LEED credits.
Proposed changes
The Site assessment pilot credit was included in the last update of the LEED rating system in
2013. Although it is new, it serves as one of the most significant parts of the site sustainability
credit. This inventory report directly relates the site to the relative ecological and biological
aspects of a landscape. This preliminary look at the conditions of the site enhances the
sustainability in the initial design and planning stages, providing a sustainable start to the project
planning. The site assessment worksheet should have more extensive site research inquiries
which further explore sustainable options. I propose the site assessment report should cover more
aspects of a construction site like-
1. Identify the onsite conditions that provide opportunities for Renewable Energy
2. Many sites have unique Microclimate effects which differ from the local climatic
conditions – Study shading from surrounding trees, topography, vegetation and buildings.
Study the path of sun for better solar integration and design purposes. Understanding the
micro climate would benefit design teams in utilizing and creating site conditions that
increase user comfort and reduce building energy use.
3. The assessment of the site should also identify locally manufactured, extracted or
distributed construction material. The current LEED site assessment worksheet assesses
construction materials with existing reuse or recycle potential. Along with this there
should be a provision for proximity of the site to manufacturing or distributing of such
construction material. This would help to reduce transportation resource use and the
associated pollution impacts.
4. The heat island effect provision under sustainable sites carries two-point weight on the
rating system when it just focuses on building envelope whereas site assessment should
require assessing the building setting and envelope before the construction even begins to
be able to make provisional steps during design and construction to reduce it (heat island
effect). Hence possible change suggested in this credit would be to increase the weight
from one point to at least two points in terms of LEED pilot credit points. This may
involve redistributing points amongst the existing categories. The Urban Heat Island
effect (2 points) should be absolved or reduced in weightage and included in the site
assessment report itself. This should make room for transfer of points and thereby
increasing the current point status of Site Assessment pilot credit.
The credit was originally included in the Integrated Process credit category. “It is intended to
incentivize project teams to thoroughly analyze the project site conditions prior to beginning
design.” Hence incorporating the above points would help impart more sustainable choices to the
design team during the planning phase.
Lagro, James A. “Part- 3 Site Inventory and Analysis.” Site Analysis – A Conceptual Approach
to Sustainable Land Planning and Site Design, 2nd ed., pp. 99–123. – In this book James A
Lagro carefully details each crucial step in the site analysis and planning process, from site
selection through design development. Chapter 5 Part 3 of the book covers physical attributes of
site inventory and analysis which coincide with all the aspects covered under LEED V4 Site
Assessment report.
Kubba, Sam. “Chapter 5 – Design Strategies and the Green Design Process – 5.4 Sustainable
Site Selection.” LEED Practices, Certification, and Accreditation Handbook, Elsevier, 2010, pp.
129–141 – This book provides users with a practical user-friendly roadmap that presents the
guidelines for selecting the LEED v4 rating system to better fit a project. Although this is an
older version of LEED rating system, but the sustainable site selection category provides a lot of
information about the credits being redistributed to new categories. The book also manages to
very clearly explain the purpose and efficacy of each pilot credit under site sustainability.
“Site Assessment.” U.S. Green Building Council, www.usgbc.org/credits/new-construction-coreand-
shell-schools-new-construction-retail-new-construction-healthcar-2. – The webpage offers
all the basic requirements of the Site Assessment pilot credit. Site assessment worksheet is
available for download through resources link on this page.
USGBC. “LEED Pilot Credit Library Pilot Credit 45: Site Assessment.” Https://New.usgbc.org/,
Sept. 2011. https://www.usgbc.org/Docs/Archive/General/Docs10098.pdf – Provided the
Applicable Rating Systems, Requirements, Submittals, Additional Questions, Background
Information, Changes to the Site Assessment pilot credit for LEED rating systems.
Calkins, Meg, and Michael Van Valkenburgh. “Chapter 2 – Predesign: Site Selection,
Assessment, and Planning.” The Sustainable Sites Handbook: a Complete Guide to the
Principles, Strategies, and Practices for Sustainable Landscapes, John Wiley & Sons, 2012, pp.
33–58. The book offered a detailed coverage of design, construction, and management for
systems of hydrology, vegetation, soils, materials, and human health and well-being. Also,
helped with understanding LEED Site Assessment concepts such as Topography, Hydrology,
etc., design considerations and information gathering.

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