Sustainability is a passion and a way of life for many people. But for all of the day-to-day green living efforts you might employ, sometimes you need to step back and look at the big picture. Efforts to infuse our built environment with eco-friendly features up-front can pay dividends in reduced energy consumption for decades on end. This is where LEED Certification comes into play, a set of standards that encourage small environmental footprints in new and existing residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Read on to learn more about LEED’s meaning and how these standards can help you set a foundation of sustainability for the rest of your life.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a standard set and enforced by theUnited States Green Building Council. The certification, which was first introduced in 2000, advances the goal of using renewable or recycled materials when building a home, while tailoring the building’s systems to maximize energy efficiency and decrease environmental impact. LEED is recognized internationally, involved in over 80,000 projects and counting around the world.
LEED certification looks at five major groups to assess the impact of a building on the larger environment: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. The standards are periodically updated and refreshed to reflect the most recent technologies, and arecurrently published as LEED v4.1. When all of the categories are taken into account, it means that every part of the building’s lifecycle is designed to be environmentally friendly, from design and construction through the entire time it’s occupied.
When you want to build or remodel a home or business to achieve LEED Certification, you work with a team from the USGBC for evaluation and certification. For each area of sustainability, the project scores one point. For example, a project may earn points for using recycled wood or installing a small wind generator. Depending on the number of points a project gathers up, the building can be designated as Certified, with higher rankings of Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
Different types of buildings follow different tracks to achieve their certification. In general, the builder or owner needs to register with the USGBC, pick which standards the building will pursue, then submit the finished product for verification. Certification is also available for groups of multiple buildings at once, although the entire portfolio must still meet the standards.
The exact meaning of LEED depends upon the type of building you're working on and whether it's new construction or a renovation, with each of the of available options coming with its own defining requirements. For one revealing example of new residential construction, try a virtual tour of this new home in Connecticut. Its features include triple-glazed windows, solar panels to heat water, and photovoltaic panels to power the energy-efficient light fixtures and top-rated Energy Star appliances.
Beyond the basics, real sustainability enthusiasts will appreciate the exterior siding being made from local white cedar abundant in the Northeast, while the roof shingles are made of recycled rubber and plastic. Inside, the kitchen cupboards are made of reclaimed oak, and the countertops are cement made with recycled glass. In the winter, the great room's concrete flooring is warmed by the sun and inlaid hot-water tubing. These are just a few of the possibilities that a builder can pursue when seeking out LEED certification. If you are interested in other examples, the USGBC maintains a list of homes, businesses, and government buildings in your city or state that are LEED Certified.
In addition to lowering the environmental impact of a building, LEED has the potential to bring major savings to businesses and individuals, since these constructions use so many fewer resources for their home systems. While the typical household spends $2,150 on annual energy bills, a LEED Certified house is designed to reduce energy use from 30–60 percent, meaning every year you stay in your LEED home you save more and more money. In addition to the energy savings, green certified homes can also fetch higher prices on the market, helping you recover even more of your investment if and when you decide to sell.
If you are interested in sustainability in your living environment, there are few better pathways to follow than pursuing the possibilities unlocked by the LEED certification process.