What is a LEED Certified Home, and What are the Benefits?

Published on JanaSchmidt.com

If you are wanting to own a green home, you would be well advised to build or buy a home that is green certified. However, you may find the alphabet soup of acronyms that refer to green certifications, a tad confusing. One internationally recognized rating system that is often used to certify a home as green is Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification – more commonly known as LEED.

Let’s take a look at how this rating system works, as well as the costs and benefits involved.

Benefits of LEED Certification

LEED certification offers the homeowner several benefits:

  • For starters, a LEED-certified home will typically use between 20-60% less water and energy than a standard home, which will obviously result in savings on monthly utility expenses. When measured over the long-term, these savings can be huge.
  • In some areas, there are tax incentives for constructing environmentally friendly buildings, which can mean further savings still.
  • And finally, green-certified homes fetch higher resale prices than standard homes, offering the homeowner a better return on their investment.

Cost of LEED Certification

Building a green home doesn’t necessarily have to cost more. Compared to a well constructed uncertified home built from good quality materials, the cost difference is likely to be negligible. However, when compared with a standard home that barely meets the minimum building standards, the costs are likely to be significantly higher, but then so is the quality.

LEED Certification Ratings

A LEED certified home is awarded points over several categories; a building project must satisfy specific prerequisite requirements within each category and can earn points for additional credits it meets. The final LEED certification rating is determined by the total number of points earned across all categories as follows:

  • A score of 45-59 points earns a Certified rating
  • A score of 60-74 points earns a Silver rating
  • A score of 75-89 points earns a Gold rating
  • A score of 90-136 points earns a Platinum rating

Let’s take a closer look at the main categories that apply to green homes, and how the scoring is assessed and points awarded.

1. Innovation and Design Process

In this category points are awarded for sustainability, durability, and cost-efficiency of the home. To maximize points in this category your home should be truly sustainable, with a lot of thought having gone into the planning and design. Thought should be given to utilizing the sun for passive heating and day-lighting to cut energy consumption needed for these services. In addition, the home should be built to a high standard and built to last.

2. Location and Linkages

In this category points are awarded for building on a sustainable site. Your home will score higher if it makes use of existing infrastructure. Homes built in an existing urban area that is situated near transportation networks, public recreation facilities and other services will rank higher in this category. If your home is to be built in a site that is not considered green by the above criteria, you can still attain LEED certification, but you would need to earn more points in other categories to make up for the deficit in this category.

3. Sustainable Sites

In this category points are awarded for minimizing the impact of your building and landscaping on both your site and the surrounding environment. To reduce the environmental footprint of your home, you need to consider its broader impact. For example, you will need to take effective measures, such as installing pervious paving or a rain garden to manage surface water runoff and soil erosion to reduce the impact on local freshwater systems. You should also use water-wise plants, and not plant invasive alien vegetation in your garden. Points are also awarded for heat island reduction and non-toxic pest control.

4. Water Efficiency

In this category points are awarded for technology and design that promotes water efficiency and water conservation in the home. While there is a 3 point minimum requirement for this category, it is fairly easy to implement basic water saving measures by installing water-efficient fixtures, and low-flush toilets; or by using recycled grey water or rainwater tanks for irrigating landscaping, together with water-wise plants.

5. Energy and Atmosphere

In this category points are awarded for constructing an energy-efficient home that 1) uses less energy, and 2) uses energy from clean, renewable sources. Some requirements, such as meeting the Energy Star minimum, are mandatory. Energy-efficient measures can include installing adequate insulation, energy-efficient windows, energy-efficient cooling, heating and hot water cylinders, together with energy-efficient lighting and appliances. You will earn more points if these electrical systems and devices are powered by renewable sources of energy.

While designing a home that is super energy-efficient may raise the building costs, the savings realized from reduced utility bills in the future will quickly provide the homeowner with a return on this investment.

6. Materials and Resources

In this category points are awarded for sustainable use of materials, recycling and waste reduction. The goal is to reduce the demand on raw materials/natural resources and minimize construction waste to improve sustainability. Consider using sustainably harvested-, or better still, recycled building materials for the construction and/or finishes.

7. Indoor Environmental Quality

In this category points are awarded for controlling indoor pollutants and generally creating an indoor environment that is comfortable and healthy for the inhabitants. The focus is primarily on indoor air quality, and ensuring that the occupants are not exposed to air pollutants from indoor fireplaces, exhaust vents, or toxic fumes released by products used in the construction. Consider natural ventilation or mechanical ventilation using air filters to enhance indoor air quality, together with low-emitting products.

8. Regional Priority Credits

In this category points are awarded for meeting specific environmental priorities set for buildings in that particular geographic region.

In order to obtain LEED certification, a green home needs to meet basic minimum standards, and accumulate points by satisfying various criteria under each of the categories listed above.