What Is LEED Certification, How It's Scored, and Why It Matters

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We're increasingly hearing the term LEED mentioned in architecture today, "silver", "gold" and "platinum" designations awarded like Olympic medals. But what exactly does the four letter acronym stand for, and how are LEED buildings awarded these architectural and construction scores?

What Is LEED? LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a ratings system applied to the construction of both commercial and residential architecture, a certification awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The ratings promote and validates eco-friendly approaches to new construction with numerous factors added up for a building's final score.

Let's start off by saying what LEED isn't. It is not simply a linear checklist of what to do to achieve a green home.

What the scoring attempts to do is recognize and award when "a building, home, or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality."

How LEED Is Scored: LEED certification consists of a series of prerequisites and credits. "Prerequisites are required elements, or green building strategies, that must be included in any LEED certified project. Credits are optional elements, or strategies that projects can elect to pursue to gain points toward LEED certification." It requires a combination of the two to achieve a goal that is different for each project.

The LEED ratings systems for homes is based on a 125 point system, plus an extra 11 Innovation in Design points). "Each credit is allocated points based on the environmental impacts and human benefits of the building-related impacts that it addresses." There are four types of LEED certification: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points), and Platinum (80+ points).

The USGBC provides a guide to selecting which certification to reach towards for any given project. Points are awarded toward certification in each of the following categories:

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"The points from each category are totaled to create a final score. The higher the score, the higher the certification level earned."

Why LEED May Matter to Homeowners: So why go through all the cost and effort for LEED certification? In addition to a lessened environmental impact contributing to a more energy conscious planet, consider the practical benefits of green homebuilding. The USGBC estimates LEED homes can potentially see energy use and cost reductions of 30% to 60%, leading to real savings. Extra value is added to a home as well, boosting the resale value. LEED certified homes requiring air quality improvements are better for the well being of its inhabitants as well.

For more information, visit the U.S. Green Building Council's website. The USGBC also has a Green Home Guide website which provides homeowners with ideas, advice, and assistance from professionals.

(Images: U.S. Green Building Council, Shutterstock/Ase)

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