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What is LEED Certification?

Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2013

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In the past decade, LEED certified badges have been popping around the US and the globe. But does that mean? How does one become “LEED certified” and why is it such an honor?

The acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and was created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating cost-efficient and energy-saving buildings. A broad spectrum of criteria must be met in order to gain LEED certification, including location and size of the building materials. LEED certification can only be done through a third party that works with the owners, architects, builders and key sub-contractors. This synergy is created to produce a home (or building) that is healthy, sustainable, and less impactful on the environment.

According to the USGBC, the reasons for seeking LEED certification are:

  • Savings: A LEED home is designed to save energy and water, and therefore money
  • Heath: A LEED home has been built to provide a healthy environment for families.
  • Value: Data has shown that green and efficient buildings often sell for more, and in less time, than non-green buildings. 
  • Trust: A LEED home is performance tested and green measures are third-party verified.

While re-imagining a current structure to fit LEED standards is possible, the easiest way to attain certification is by constructing new buildings.  Having to compile to a third party certification rating can result in a more expensive building cost. This is what any prospective builder has to weigh against the long-term savings from a reduced carbon footprint. A home that achieves LEED certification has been designed to maximize fresh air indoors, minimizing exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants.  It also has the potential to use 20-30% less energy—and some up to 60% less—than a home built to code.

What are the differences between silver, gold and platinum certification?

For commercial buildings and neighborhoods, to earn LEED certification, a project must satisfy all LEED prerequisites and earn a minimum 40 points on a 110-point LEED rating system scale. Homes must earn a minimum of 45 points on a 136-point scale.

LEED typically recognizes performance in six key areas of human and environmental health:

  • Sustainable Site Development
  • Water Savings
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Materials Selection
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Innovation & Design Process

A building is then deemed LEED certified based on the points they receive for those key areas.

LEED-Certified is the minimum award for recognized green homes. According to the latest version of LEED For Homes, a home must score between 45 and 59 points out of 136 to become certified. LEED Silver requires a minimum of 60 points; for Gold, it's 75; and then Platinum - the highest award offered - requires a minimum of 90 points. As an added bonus, LEED Platinum-rated buildings have all certification fees refunded. This relatively simple system and the profound popularity for LEED-certified builders mean that LEED structures are multiplying fast.