Getting LEED Credit for Floors: Looking at the Trees in the Forest of Green Building
July 2nd, 2008

July-August 2008

By Diane Choate

So many people in the construction industry are throwing around green terms—“Green building,” “green products,” “environmentally friendly,” “LEED,” “LEED-certified,” “USGBC”—that it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. If we follow this analogy, the forest reflects the environmental commitment of the construction industry and the products used in construction are the trees. It can benefit us all if we take a clear look at what green means in terms of those products used in flooring installation systems.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has developed the LEED® Green Building Rating System™ as a yardstick for measuring the sustainability and environmental impact of new construction and existing buildings. LEED is an acronym for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Ecologically designed and constructed buildings contribute to a healthier environment today and sustain our world in the future. Building owners seek a LEED rating as an added advantage to offer to potential occupants.

A careful review of the LEED guidelines shows that the use of LEED-compliant flooring installation systems can contribute toward LEED certification in four areas:

1. Materials and Resources MR Credit 4.1 and 4.2: [Manufactured with] Recycled Content

2. Materials and Resources MR Credit 5.1 and 5.2: [Use of] Regional Materials

3. Environmental Quality EQ Credit 4.1: Low-Emitting Materials: Adhesives & Sealants

4. Environmental Quality EQ Credit 3.2: [Development of a] Construction Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Management Plan: Before Occupancy [Particulates]

Recycled Content

Builders can contribute 1 LEED point to a building’s rating if the building products used contain 10% recycled content (MR Credit 4.1). An additional point is added to the rating if the recycled content amounts to 20% (MR Credit 4.2). Gaining these two points is a little tougher than it looks. The points are awarded only if the sum of the recycled content constitutes at least 10% (or 20% respectively) of the total value of all the materials used in the project. This means flooring installation products containing recycled materials are only part of the total recycled value being calculated for these two points.

If he can only make a partial contribution to 1 LEED point, why would a flooring contractor go to the extra work of ensuring that the installation products he uses contain 10% or 20% recycled materials? The LEED instructions suggest that the builder should “establish a project goal for recycled content materials and identify material suppliers that can achieve this goal” (LEED for New Construction, Version 2.2). Contractors who use installation materials with recycled content have an advantage when bidding for projects seeking LEED certification.

When a manufacturer states that one of its flooring installation products contains 10% recycled content, the 10% must come from post-consumer and/or pre-consumer waste. If the recycled content is from pre-consumer waste, only half the amount of recycled content counts toward the 10% calculated by the LEED rating system. It is very important for a contractor to obtain a written letter from the manufacturer regarding recycled content in its products.

Regional Materials

Another area where builders can contribute 1 point toward LEED certification involves the use of regional materials manufactured within 500 miles of the project jobsite. According to the LEED manual, this standard supports “the use of indigenous resources and [reduces] the environmental impacts resulting from transportation.” During the construction of the building, the builder will quantify the total percentage of all local materials used. If the total of all regional materials equals at least 10% of the cost of all the materials used, the project can qualify for 1 LEED point. If the total is equal to 20%, the builder can gain an additional 1 LEED point (MR Credit 5.2).

By using materials that have been manufactured regionally (within 500 miles of the jobsite), flooring installation contractors have another advantage when bidding on projects seeking LEED certification. Showing that their installation can contribute in multiple ways to valuable LEED points helps establish a strong working relationship between the builder and the contractor.

Low-Emitting Materials: Adhesives & Sealants

The purpose of EQ Credit 4.1 is to “reduce the quantity of indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of installers and occupants.” If all the adhesives and sealants used in the project meet the VOC limits as specified by South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule #1168, the builder can qualify for 1 LEED point. These products can include general construction adhesives, flooring adhesives, fire-stopping sealants, caulking, duct sealants, plumbing adhesives and cove base adhesives.

The requirement states that all adhesives and sealants must meet the VOC limits in order to gain this LEED point. If the flooring installation contractor can provide documents certifying that his installation products meet these limits, he is providing the builder with a powerful motivation to choose his company for the current project and future projects.

Carpet adhesives that meet the standards for VOC-compliant products can also help contribute to an additional LEED point under the EQ Credit 4.3: Low-Emitting Materials: Carpet Systems.

Construction IAQ Management Plan: Before Occupancy

The intent of this LEED credit is to “reduce indoor air quality problems resulting from the construction/renovation process in order to help sustain the comfort and well-being of construction workers and building occupants.” To gain 1 LEED point in this category, the builder must develop an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Management Plan and implement it during the pre-occupancy phase of construction. Once construction ends, the builder must flush out the building with 14,000 cu. ft. of outdoor air at 60°F and 60% relative humidity, or conduct baseline IAQ testing that demonstrates maximum concentrations of contaminants in line with EPA standards, including 50 micrograms per cubic meter of particulates (dust).


Flooring installation contractors can contribute significantly to the forest of green building by helping build individual trees in the LEED Rating System. A clear view of the “trees” to which flooring-installation contractors can contribute includes (1) recycled content, (2) regional manufacturing, (3) indoor air quality and (4) IAQ management plans for particulates. The most important role manufacturers can play is to provide contractors with easy-to-access documents they can include in their bids and in their discussions with builders.

Diane J. Choate is PR/Corporate Communications Specialist for the MAPEI Corporation.

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