Working or living in a LEED certified building means more than just lower energy bills. It’s a badge of distinction that shows your commitment to sustainability and green building practices that preserve and protect the earth’s environment. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED certification is an achievement in green building that’s recognized around the world.
But for many, the process of LEED certification buildings has an aura of complexity about it. LEED might be the most rigorous national green building certification system in use, but homeowners and small business owners don’t really understand what buildings and green practices it applies to (and why), much less the continuing role of operations and maintenance in sustaining that certification.
So, we want to walk you through the basics of LEED certification both in terms of new construction and revamping current buildings. For more in-depth information (including some super-helpful and -detailed downloadables), please visit USGBC.org/leed.
What is LEED?
Currently, LEED version 4 focuses on the energy use, health, and environmental impacts of four main building elements:
- Materials — what’s in them, their effect on human health, and the environment;
- Performance — how well indoor environmental quality ensures comfort and health of the building’s occupants;
- Smart grid — using smart grid innovations to reduce energy usage and rewarding projects that participate in demand response programs; and
- Water Efficiency — using less water more efficiently as well as its uses for cooling and heating.
LEED certified buildings use 20-30% less energy than comparable un-certified buildings and minimize exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants. This enhances their value increase by about 4 percent.
Not surprisingly, working with an architect and building team that have LEED credentials and experience will make the process a whole lot smoother. LEED certification is available to the following:
- New commercial buildings — Proposed commercial building projects must meet all of the LEED Minimum Program Requirements.
- New home construction — Proposed homes must be defined as a dwelling unit and be complete, permanent buildings with a cooking area and a bathroom. Every unit within a multi-family building must earn the same certification level (e.g. Silver, Gold). Homes must comply with project size requirements.
- Existing commercial buildings — We’ll cover this later.
For new commercial and home certification, the steps include:
1) Register your project at LEED Online
- LEED home projects require on-site verification and performance testing. A LEED for Homes Provider Organization oversees the certification process and lines up Green Raters and Energy Raters to provide quality assurance for the project. You can learn more about LEED certification for building your new home at Green Home Guide.
- Commercial projects basically require three people on the project team: an owner who controls the property, an agent who has authority from the owner to register the project, and a Project Administrator who manages the project and checks that LEED submissions are complete.
2) Application or Verification
- New commercial projects apply for LEED certification. They identify LEED credits to pursue and assign them to project team members who document achievement of prerequisites, selected credits, and more. They then submit their completed certification application through LEED Online and paying a certification review fee.
- New home projects go through verification by meeting with the verification team on-site. This meeting will help establish the LEED Certification Level, the LEED credits you need to meet to attain that level, and to establish contact procedures to ensure that raters can make on-site visits during key points of construction. These visits will include a pre-drywall visit to inspect framing, plumbing, wiring, and even construction waste management. A second visit is required after construction is complete to test the home’s performance.
Once all construction documentation is complete, it is submitted for review.
Your LEED application is reviewed by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) first in a preliminary review for completeness. GBCI will respond with its preliminary review within 20-25 business days indicating which prerequisites and credits are anticipated to be awarded during final review. You have the choice to accept that review’s results as final or submit additional information and amend your application for final review. Once final review is complete, it can not be appealed.
Your certification results will be based on points for targeted credits.
LEED for Existing Commercial Buildings
LEED for Existing Buildings helps building owners operate their buildings in a sustainable and efficient way over the long term by providing certification and re-certification of building operations to recognize building owners’ ongoing achievements. Certification here looks at maintenance programs, water and energy efficient use practices, indoor environmental quality, use of environmentally-friendly products, and waste stream management.
Existing buildings can also benefit from following the Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Rating System, a set of voluntary performance standards for the sustainable ongoing operation of buildings.
What About LEED Home Renovations?
Though some existing homes may qualify for LEED if they are gutted down to the studs, there is LEED certification for remodeling or renovating existing homes.