Understanding the Process of LEED Certification

Posted by

Home Improvement
Green Living Image Gallery

Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images
The Hearst Tower was the first gold LEED-certified building in New York City. See more green living pictures.

If you’re planning to construct a house, and you’re environmentally conscious and want to save money on utilities, then LEED is the way to go. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was developed in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council, which has become the authority for builders who want to work with the environment. LEED’s green building standards can be applied to new construction or older homes, but only new homes can be officially certified. The regulations are designed so that construction is healthy and durable for the occupants and the environment.

Some cities have taken the initiative to adopt green techniques as part of their city building codes. Pasadena, California, was the first local government to require LEED certification for private construction in March 2006. As of October 2007, 22 states and 75 American towns and cities have adopted policies to require or encourage LEED’s green building practices.

LEED certification has been adopted by some major new buildings in New York City. The Hearst Tower received the first gold certification in the city in September 2006. Seven World Trade Center, the first of the WTC complex to be rebuilt, also got a gold rating. With the renovation of the United Nations headquarters, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon hopes the U.N. campus will “become a globally acclaimed model of efficient use of energy and resources.” The goal for the buildings is a silver LEED certification.

LEED certification has different categories, such as for schools, retail buildings, and commercial interiors. In this article, we will discuss LEED for Homes, which includes a checklist of areas in which points can be earned for certification.

LEED for Homes certification is currently only for new home construction or gut renovations. However, existing homes can also benefit from the recommendations, especially if you want to work on green landscaping and materials, water and energy conservation, and indoor air quality.

Location, Sustainable Sites and Water Efficiency

Richard Drew/AFP/Getty Images
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Governor George Pataki inspect the solar panels on the Solaire building in New York City, the largest environmentally friendly residential building in the United States.

Meeting some LEED location specifications may be more challenging than others. The LEED neighborhood development project (LEED-ND), which certifies eco-friendly, sustainable communities, is still in the pilot program phase, so there are not many of them yet. Some of the other regulations are easier to follow since they are linked to environmental laws that may already be in place.

  1. Purchase a home in a LEED-ND certified development.
  2. Avoid building on wetlands or farmland.
  3. Construct within existing communities.
  4. Build within a half-mile of existing water and sewage lines.
  5. Choose a location near resources such as supermarkets, libraries, or public transportation.
  6. Find a site within a half-mile of a community-based open space, such as a park.

Sustainable sites
Some of these requirements may be difficult or impossible for current homeowners (increasing the density of housing units on your property would involve zoning issues). However, adding mulch around your plants is much more feasible–and it won’t upset the neighbors as much.

  1. Disturb the ecosystem as little as possible by changing as little of the land as possible.
  2. Reduce the need for water by using mulch and native plants. A compost heap serves a dual purpose by eliminating garbage and producing mulch.
  3. Plant native trees and bushes to shade patios, sidewalks, and driveways to reduce heat islands–hot spots that increase the overall temperature in a metropolitan area, require more water to cool off, and increase energy demand.
  4. Install open pavers, retaining walls, and rainwater cisterns to prevent erosion and runoff.
  5. Use native plants and pest-resistant materials such as cement and stainless-steel screens to reduce the use of chemicals in your garden. Plant shrubs and trees at least 24 inches from the house so pests do not have a chance to jump from a tree to your basement.
  6. Save land by increasing the density of housing units (do not use 30 acres for your own private compound).
How do I get started?
Your first step
should be to find a LEED-accredited builder and/or architect. There is
a directory of certified professionals–which also includes interior
designers, attorneys, engineers, and landscape architects–on the U.S. Green Building Council website.

Water efficiency
There are many new innovations that can help reduce water use, and most of them are inexpensive and easy to implement. Some communities offer treated gray water (waste water) to homeowners as an alternative to using municipal fresh water supplies.

  1. You can use rainwater or gray water for landscaping by collecting it in a rain barrel. These barrels are placed under gutter downspouts to catch rainwater, and can be covered with a screen filter to keep out debris. Rain barrels are available at varying costs depending on size and features, but generally start around $100.
  2. A high-efficiency irrigation system with moisture-sensor controls can minimize evaporation and overwatering.
  3. The installation of high-efficiency fixtures, like low-flow showerheads, faucets and toilets, can save water. Fixing leaky faucets and pipes can also save gallons of water per day.

‘Greening Up’ Techniques

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Seven World Trade Center received gold LEED certification in 2007.

Energy and Atmosphere
To save energy and money, Energy Star-rated appliances and compact fluorescent bulbs are well-known. Other simple ways to make a big difference include:

  1. Complete requirements for an Energy Star home, including third-party inspection.
  2. Install insulation that meets at least Grade II specifications.
  3. Reduce heat and cooling loss by “sealing the envelope” of your home, which includes walls, windows and doors.
  4. Use Energy Star-labeled windows and solar-window screens to block out the summer heat and harmful UV rays.
  5. Ensure ducts fit snugly to prevent leakage and insulate them.
  6. Install heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that meet or exceed Energy Star requirements. A programmable thermostat, which costs around $100, can allow you to turn off the air conditioning (or turn down the heat) when you’re not at home.
  7. Install an energy-efficient water distribution system by keeping the water heater close to the plumbing fixtures and using low-flow faucets and alternative water-heating methods like solar and tankless water heaters. Solar water heaters cost $1,500 to over $3,000, and tankless water heaters cost $900 to $4,000 (not including installation costs). Alternatively, you can use a water heater blanket, which wraps around the heater to prevent heat from escaping, and typically costs less than $25.
  8. Use energy-efficient fixtures and controls, like motion sensors on outdoor lighting, Energy Star-labeled fixtures and compact fluorescent bulbs.
LEED Points

After construction on your home is complete, your builder will fill out a LEED checklist. There are 129 available points in the LEED for Homes category, and the requirements are weighted. Using renewable energy like wind or solar power can get you 10 points, while installing exhaust fans in your bathroom is worth one point. A LEED-certified inspector will then award a level of certification.

The LEED for Homes Program Pilot Rating System has four certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The points required for each level are 45-59, 60-74, 75-89 and 90-128, respectively. Your square footage can affect your total points, so you should consult the chart in the manual for more information.

To make your home more energy and water efficient, you can use Energy Star appliances, which use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. You can also install a renewable electric-generation system, like wind or solar power. While installation costs are high, tax incentives and rebates can offset them in some states. Another way to help the environment is by using non-CFC refrigerants in HVAC equipment.

Using recycled materials is another way to make your home eco-friendly. You can use salvaged, reused or wood-alternative flooring and walls, and products with low VOC emissions. You should also try to use products manufactured within the region to decrease pollution from transportation. Additionally, you should reduce job-site waste by recycling or reusing wood, drywall, metal and cardboard.

Indoor air quality is an important factor to consider when making your home eco-friendly. Poor ventilation, high temperature and humidity levels can increase indoor air pollution, which can lead to respiratory and heart disease.

  1. Prevent mold, pests, and airborne pollutants by using a moisture-control, heating, cooling, and ventilation system like Energy Star’s Indoor Air Package.
  2. Get rid of toxic gases from fireplaces and stoves by installing ventilators. Additionally, put carbon monoxide detectors for safety.
  3. If you live in dry climates, use a humidifier to control humidity, and in wet climates, use a dehumidifier.
  4. Filter the air that comes inside with an outdoor air system. You can either purchase devices that filter the air or open windows.
  5. Install exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms to reduce pollutants and moisture.
  6. Design the air-duct system so that air flow is evenly distributed among rooms.
  7. Improve air quality with mechanical, electrical, or ionic air purifiers.
  8. Protect indoor air quality from outside contaminants with permanent walk-off mats and central vacuum systems. Remove construction contaminants by running the HVAC system fan for a week while the windows are open.
  9. Seal the foundation of the home and install a radon detector. Contact the regional EPA office to find a qualified radon testing company.
  10. Seal an attached garage and prevent carbon monoxide emissions from cars from entering the home by painting the walls and installing weather stripping around the doors.

Innovation and Design Process
This section is for educating consumers and design innovation. It is intended for new homeowners who want to make a long-term investment and get LEED certification.

  1. Use a team of architects, energy engineers, and land planners to implement performance testing. Work together to place solar panels without compromising the house’s appearance.
  2. Use high-quality, durable materials appropriate for the foundation, exterior walls, roof, air sealing, and mechanical systems.
  3. Go above and beyond LEED standards for bonus points. Contact LEED to see if your ideas qualify.

Before completion, your builder should give you a LEED for Homes rating certificate, the completed checklist, general guidance for equipment and appliances, and a walk-through.

To learn more about LEED certification, see the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient
  • How to Save Money on Home Energy
  • How Smart Windows Work
  • How the EPA Works
  • How Fluorescent Lamps Work
  • How Air Purifiers Work
  • How House Construction Works
  • How Prefab Houses Work
  • How Water Heaters Work
  • What can you do to your home to save energy?
  • What is gray water and can it solve the global water crisis?

More Great Links

The following is a list of sources, including organizations and websites, that provide information on green building and energy efficiency:

– Green Building Initiative

– U.S. Green Building Council

– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

– Home Energy Saver

– Checklist for LEED for Homes Program

Sources are crucial for obtaining reliable information on green building and energy efficiency. Various organizations and websites, such as the Green Building Initiative, U.S. Green Building Council, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provide valuable resources and guidance on sustainable building practices. The Home Energy Saver and Checklist for LEED for Homes Program are also useful tools for those interested in improving energy efficiency in their homes. Additionally, there are numerous other sources available, such as articles, guides, and reports, from organizations like the American Wind Energy Association, Earthcraft House, Energy Star, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.


1. What is LEED certification?

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification program that promotes sustainable building practices. It was established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998 and has since become a globally recognized standard for green building.

2. How does a building become LEED certified?

A building can become LEED certified by earning points across several categories, including energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable materials, and indoor air quality. The number of points a building earns determines its certification level, ranging from Certified to Platinum.

3. Who can apply for LEED certification?

Any building owner or developer can apply for LEED certification, regardless of the building’s size or location. The certification process is voluntary, but many building owners choose to pursue it to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

4. How long does the certification process take?

The certification process typically takes several months, depending on the complexity of the project and the level of certification being pursued. The process involves submitting documentation and undergoing a review by a third-party organization.

5. What are the benefits of LEED certification?

LEED certification offers several benefits, including lower operating costs, increased property value, improved indoor air quality, and reduced environmental impact. LEED-certified buildings are also seen as more attractive to tenants and buyers who prioritize sustainability.

6. Is LEED certification expensive?

The cost of LEED certification varies depending on the size and complexity of the project. However, the USGBC estimates that the cost of pursuing certification is generally offset by the savings in operating costs over the life of the building.

7. How often does a building need to be recertified?

A LEED-certified building must be recertified every five years to ensure that it continues to meet the program’s standards. Recertification involves submitting updated documentation and undergoing a review by a third-party organization.

8. Can LEED certification be revoked?

LEED certification can be revoked if a building no longer meets the program’s standards. This can happen if a building undergoes significant renovations or changes in ownership that affect its sustainability performance.

9. What is the role of third-party organizations in the certification process?

Third-party organizations, known as Green Raters, play a critical role in the certification process. They review project documentation, conduct site visits, and provide guidance on how to earn points in each category.

10. What is the difference between LEED certification and other green building certifications?

LEED certification is one of several green building certifications available, but it is the most widely recognized and comprehensive. Other certifications, such as Energy Star and Green Globes, focus on specific aspects of sustainability, such as energy efficiency or water conservation.

11. Is LEED certification only for new buildings?

No, LEED certification is available for both new and existing buildings. Existing buildings can pursue certification through the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM) program, which focuses on improving the sustainability performance of buildings that are already in use.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *