LEED Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes is a certification program designed to promote more sustainable home building and homes that are more efficient, healthier, safer, more comfortable, and have better indoor air quality.
LEED certification is only given to the newly constructed buildings. However, there is a LEED certification program for retrofit interiors and the recommendations for LEED Certification for Homes can be implemented on the existing buildings for greater savings and environmental benefits.
LEED-Certified Home Benefits
LEED-certified homes are designed to provide clean indoor air and ample natural light and to use safe building materials to ensure comfort and good health. They help reduce energy and water consumption, thereby lowering utility bills each month, among other financial benefits. LEED-certified homes are also designed, constructed and operated to be resilient in adverse conditions and are developed with proactive design planning for potential impacts of catastrophic weather. Using the strategies outlined in LEED, homeowners are having a net-positive impact in their lives and on their communities.
- Health: LEED-certified homes are designed to maximize indoor fresh air and minimize exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants, making it healthier and more comfortable. The EPA estimates that indoor air is two to ten times more polluted than outdoor air. LEED-certified homes are designed to minimize your exposure to airborne pollutants and maximize fresh air indoors, with measures like proper ventilation and high-performance air filters. This ensures healthier indoor air quality and reduces your family’s risk of allergy and asthma like symptoms.
- Savings: LEED-certified homes use less energy and water, which means lower utility bills. On average, certified homes use 20 to 30 percent less energy than non-green homes, with some homes saving up to 60 percent. For you, that means lower utility bills, reduced maintenance costs, and an overall more sustainable home.
- Value: With proper planning, LEED-certified homes can be built for the same cost as non-green homes. And in many markets, certified green homes sell more quickly, and for more money, than comparable non-certified homes. LEED-certified homes may also qualify for discounted homeowner’s insurance, tax breaks and other incentives. And in many markets, certified green homes are now selling quicker and for more money than comparable non-green homes.
Developed by the U.S Green Building Council in 1998, LEED certification is a widely accepted green building rating system for measuring building sustainability. If you are interested in pursuing the world of green building for your personal home construction, then LEED certification should be on the forefront of your mind. However, its many different categories and ranking systems may feel overwhelming at first for those who are new to the process. Energy Savers wants to make the program easier to understand.
What a LEED Certification Means
Achieving LEED certification is one of the best ways to know that your home is truly "green." It means that your home achieves an exemplary level of eco-friendliness that can lead to better environmental outcomes, lowered utility bills, and increased health and comfort for occupants. There are four different LEED certification levels available that are awarded to homes based on their achievement in green building. Below, take a closer look at the four LEED certification levels to learn the steps required to achieve each award level.
The Four LEED Certification Levels
LEED works on a point system, where different elements of sustainable construction are assigned certain points based on which the buildings are certified, silver, gold, or platinum level. LEED certification is an impressive feat regardless of which level is achieved. However, homes that achieve Platinum and Gold levels of LEED certification are viewed as the pinnacle of green building. These levels of LEED certification require innovative design strategy and a true passion for the environment. LEED properties, especially those that are awarded Gold and Platinum scores, are revered for their energy efficiency; access to public transportation; reduced water waste; clean indoor air quality; inclusion of healthy, regenerable, or recyclable materials; and efforts to keep the construction site sustainable throughout the building process. These benefits create a positive impact for climate change, human health, water resources, biodiversity, material resources, green economy, and community development.
LEED Platinum is the highest level of certification in the LEED program. In order to achieve this impressive score, a home must receive 80 or more points on the LEED scorecard. These scoring components evaluate the home’s performance in relation to energy use, indoor environmental quality, integrative processes, location and transportation, materials and resources, sustainable site selection, and water efficiency.
Like the Platinum certification discussed above, LEED Gold homes also achieve a stringent level of eco-friendliness. LEED Gold homes score between 60 and 79 points total in the different scoring categories. Studies have found that both LEED Gold and LEED Platinum homes outperform the Silver and Certified homes in operation, and they have a more substantial positive impact on the environment.
LEED Silver homes receive 50 to 59 points across the LEED scoring categories. Though it is a lower certification level than Platinum and Gold, a LEED Silver home will still take sizeable steps to create a healthy environment compared to what is required by standard building code.
A Certified LEED home achieves the base amount of components for certification. A home at this level will have received 40 to 49 points in the scoring process.
How to Earn the Points and Credits for LEED Certification
The goal of LEED is to factor in critical elements that work together to create better buildings that positively change the following “impact categories” in the world: climate change, human health, water resources, biodiversity and ecosystems, sustainable and recyclable materials, green economy, and the community. Points are awarded to each green building element of a property according to how it impacts these wider goals of LEED. However, elements aimed at certain goals are awarded more weight in the scoring process than others. For example, green building elements that impact climate change are given a higher weighted score than elements that impact water resources. Of all LEED credits, 35% relate to climate change, 20% directly impact human health, 15% impact water resources, 10% affect biodiversity, 10% relate to the green economy, and 5% impact community and natural resources. Most LEED credits are related to operational and embodied carbon.
The LEED certifiers who evaluate the home will award points on the scorecard based on the specific certification route that has been selected, and some items are worth more than others depending on the overall impact of that scoring item. The total scores are what determines the LEED certification levels.
Tips for Getting LEED Certified
- Set a clear environmental target. Before you begin the design phase of your project, decide what level of LEED certification you are aiming for and settle on a firm overall budget. Also consider including an optional higher certification target -- a "stretch" goal -- to stimulate creativity.
- Set a clear and adequate budget. Higher levels of LEED certification, such as Platinum, do require additional expenditure and should be budgeted for accordingly.
- Stick to your budget and your LEED goal. Throughout out the design and building process, be sure your entire project team is focused on meeting your LEED goal on budget. Maintain the environmental and economic integrity of your project at every turn.
- Engineer for Life Cycle Value As you value-engineer your project, be sure to examine green investments in terms of how they will affect expenses over the entire life of the building. Before you decide to cut a line item, look first at its relationship to other features to see if keeping it will help you achieve money-saving synergies, as well as LEED credits. Many energy-saving features allow for the resizing or elimination of other equipment or reduce total capital costs by paying for themselves immediately or within a few months of operation. Prior to beginning, set your goals for "life cycle" value-engineering rather than "first cost" value-engineering.
- Hire LEED-accredited professionals. Thousands of architects, consultants, engineers, product marketers, environmentalists and other building industry professionals around the country have a demonstrated knowledge of green building and the LEED rating system and process -- and can assist you in meeting your LEED goal. These professionals can suggest ways to earn LEED credits without extra cost, identify means of offsetting certain expenses with savings in other areas and spot opportunities for synergies in your project.
What Are the Major Requirements to Get My House LEED-certified?
Some of the main features to focus on are:
- Selection of sustainable location or site
- Reuse of waste water and conserve water energy.
- Use of green techniques to conserve energy.
- Reuse of waste materials for construction
- Use of energy efficient appliances and utilities.
- Maintain Indoor air quality.
LEED Through Site Selection
The LEED location specifications are challenging to meet, as some communities or locations comply with the regulations. Some of the important points in selecting the location are:
- Always buy the home or site in a LEED-ND (LEED Neighborhood Development Project). These sites are categorized as environmentally friendly and sustainable.
- Do not construct the home or structure on a wetland or farmland.
- Always try to build the structure within the existing communities.
- The building must be constructed within half a mile of the current water or sewer lines.
- Plan and build the home to get easy access to supermarkets, public transportation, and other amenities.
- Try to select a site that exists half a mile away from a community-based open space.
Sustainable Sites for LEED Certification
Some of the requirements mentioned above might be difficult or impossible for some homeowners due to a higher population density and less land area. But there are many ways to increase the sustainable quality of an area. Some of the recommendations are:
- Changes to the existing land must be undertaken in smaller portions to avoid disruption to the land.
- Shade the patios, driveways, and the sidewalks by planting trees and bushes. This helps to prevent hot spots and control the overall temperature in metropolitan areas. The need for more water and energy to decrease the temperature can also be avoided tremendously.
- Prevent erosion and runoff by installing open pavers, rainwater cisterns, and retaining walls.
- Try to conserve the land by reducing the density of the housing units.
LEED Through Water Efficiency
There are many ways to reduce water consumption in a building that can be affordable and easy to implement. One such system adopted by communities is the use of treated greywater instead of municipal freshwater supplies. Some of the other methods include:
- Perform landscape irrigation by using rainwater and greywater.
- Rainwater can be collected using a rain barrel.
- Install high-efficiency irrigation systems that possess moisture-sensor controls. This new technology helps to reduce evaporation and overwatering.
- Fix leaky faucets and pipes to save even more water per day.
LEED Through Greening Up Techniques
This category involves the techniques to save energy and money.
- Seal the envelopes within the home to reduce the heat and cooling loss.
- Employ energy star-labeled windows and solar window screens. This technique blocks summer heat and harmful UV rays.
- Install the ducts properly to prevent future leakage.
- Install heating ventilation and HVAC systems that either meet or exceed the energy star requirements.
- Use solar water heaters for hot water, which can save around 13% of the energy.
- Use energy-efficient fixtures and compact fluorescent bulbs, motion sensors for outdoor lighting.
- Use electronic items like washing machines, refrigerators, fans, dishwashers that are energy and water-efficient. It consumes 10 to 50% less energy compared to regular home appliances.
- Install renewable electric-generation system by using wind or solar power.
- Employ non-CFC refrigerants (CFCs or Chlorofluorocarbons that contribute to ozone depletion is reduced).
LEED Through Recycled Materials and Resources
The use of recycled materials and resources for the construction of a house requires detailed study and research. It is because the requirements of each home are unique. Some general recommendations provided by LEED regulations are enlisted below:
- Floors and walls can be constructed by salvaged, reused, or wood-alternative materials. Use products that have lower levels of volatile organic compound emissions.
- Try modular framing and materials, instead of lumber.
- Try to employ products manufactured near the site, thus reducing the pollution and cost due to transportation.
- Reduce the job-site waste, either by reusing the wood, metal, or cardboard.
LEED Through Efficient Appliances and Utilities
Efficient appliances can sharply reduce overall electric consumption. The first approach is to make sure you plan for the type and size of appliances that are right for your family's lifestyle. Oversized appliances for small households are not necessary. Nor are appliances you will never use. Also, make certain to use Energy Star-certified appliances whenever possible.
Reducing energy use is not the end result. Energy will always need to be supplied to the house. You can create a green power supply by generating on-site power with a rooftop photovoltaic system or small wind turbines. If you cannot generate power on-site look into green energy credits from your utility or into community solar programs.
LEED Through Indoor Environmental Quality
Indoor pollution is caused mainly due to high temperature, humidity levels, and improper ventilation. It can cause respiratory and heart diseases to the occupants. Some methods to improve the indoor air quality include:
- Employ a ventilation system that can control moisture, heating, and cooling.
- Use ventilators for fireplaces and stoves, which help to remove toxic gases from the interiors. The use of a carbon monoxide detector is recommended.
- Installation of humidity-control system.
- Ventilate the indoor air using an outdoor air system, either by opening the window or by filtering the air entering the space.
- Employ exhaust fans for bathrooms and kitchens.
- Air-duct system must be designed such that the airflow is evenly distributed among the rooms.
- Installation of air filters.
- Employ a radon detector for the foundation.
- Garage must be sealed from the home to avoid penetration of carbon monoxide gas from vehicles.
For better homes, accountability makes a difference. Through a carefully managed, independent, third-party verification system, LEED-certification affirms the integrity of green building commitments. Third-party validation helps guarantee that each project saves energy, water and other resources, reducing overall environmental impact and offers proof your home is operating as designed. No cutting corners.
For more details on how LEED certification works and its design process, visit the LEED official website.
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