Green building is no longer just a trend; it’s a movement that’s gaining momentum every day. With climate change on everyone’s mind, people are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and leave a better planet for future generations. That’s where green building comes in. Builders, investors, and homeowners alike are jumping on the sustainability train, eager to make a difference.

One way to show that a building or development is committed to sustainability and equity is by getting it certified by a 3rd-party. The largest 3rd-party certification program in the world is LEED, with over 100,000 certified projects worldwide. From residential units to towering skyscrapers, LEED-certified buildings are often considered the gold-standard in sustainability.

But have you ever wondered if your home can be LEED-certified? If so, you’re in luck. Green building certification applies to any type of building, including houses. So whether you’re a homeowner in Duluth, MN, looking to live more sustainably, or a renter in Wilmington, NC, who wants to learn more, this Redfin guide is for you. We’ll go into the basics of the LEED certification program, the projects it covers, and how to get your home LEED certified. 

What is LEED certification?

LEED certification is a globally recognized rating system for sustainable, equitable, and environmentally friendly buildings. The acronym LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It was created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998 to encourage and recognize sustainable building practices. Since its founding, LEED has been through many different iterations and reached every corner of the world, culminating in the current version, v4.1. 

The LEED certification process evaluates various aspects of a building’s design, construction, and operation, such as energy efficiency, water conservation, use of sustainable materials, and indoor environmental quality. Based on the evaluation, a building is awarded points that determine its LEED certification level.

Certification levels

A project must reach certain point milestones to achieve LEED certification. These are:

Certified/Green (40-49 points)
Silver (50-59 points)
Gold (60-79 points)
Platinum (80-110 points)

It’s important to note that requirements vary depending on the specific LEED rating system, such as Building Design and Construction or Interior Design and Construction. Buildings may receive certifications in one or more categories and can lose them if they don’t meet continuing education requirements. 

What are the goals of the LEED program?

LEED looks at a building or community’s big picture, such as how it’s interacting with the environment, instead of a single element, such as energy or water. The goal of the program is to create buildings and communities that:  

Reduce contribution to global climate change.
Enhance individual human health.
Protect and restore water resources.
Protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Promote sustainable and regenerative material cycles.
Enhance the community’s quality of life.

Can a house be LEED certified? 

Yes, homes in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden can be LEED certified under their LEED for Homes program. Certification is available for many residential projects, such as single-family homes and multifamily buildings.

The home certification process is similar to other types of buildings. It involves evaluating performance in critical areas, including sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Points are then awarded, which determines your home’s certification level. 

How to receive LEED certification for your home

To get your house LEED-certified, you’ll need to follow a series of steps, from registering your project to documenting and submitting your application for certification. The process is much easier with new construction, as you can design and customize the home before building it. Here’s an overview:

Decide on the scope of your project and create a budget for improvements.
Assemble a team of experienced professionals, such as architects, engineers, contractors, and LEED consultants, who can help determine if certification is possible on your property.
Register your project on the USGBC website and pay the registration fee.
Develop a plan incorporating LEED strategies in various categories (site selection, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality).
Implement the planned strategies during construction, and maintain proper documentation.
Commission building systems to ensure they function as intended.
Compile and submit documentation through LEED Online, along with the certification review fee.
Await USGBC review and receive a certification level (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum).
Monitor and maintain your home’s performance to ensure continued adherence to LEED standards.

Is it worth it to get your home LEED certified?

LEED certification benefits both you and the environment by demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and the health of your neighbors. All LEED-certified homes are designed to maximize physical health, increase savings, and boost your property’s value. Because of this, LEED-certified homes often sell quicker and for more money. Additionally, some governments provide tax incentives for sustainable practicies.

While it has many benefits, the certification process can be expensive and time-intensive. Take your budget and schedule into account before applying.

Types of LEED projects

LEED certifies many different types of projects, each with unique requirements. Here’s a breakdown:

Building Design and Construction (BD+C): This category covers new construction projects and major renovations of existing buildings. Examples include commercial buildings, offices, retail spaces, schools, healthcare facilities, warehouses, and data centers.
Interior Design and Construction (ID+C): ID+C focuses on tenant improvement projects within existing buildings, such as office fit-outs and retail and restaurant interiors.
Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M): This category targets existing buildings undergoing improvements in their operations, maintenance, and occupants’ behavior to enhance their environmental performance. It applies to various building types, including commercial, retail, hospitality, and residential.
Neighborhood Development (ND): N+D addresses the planning, design, and construction of sustainable neighborhoods, promoting walkability, mixed-use development, and efficient resource use.
Homes: This covers the design, construction, and renovation of single-family homes, low-rise multifamily buildings (up to three stories), and mid-rise multifamily buildings (four to six stories). LEED for Homes includes specific criteria for energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable materials, and indoor air quality.
Cities and Communities: This evaluates citywide and regional strategies for energy, water, waste, transportation, and social equity.

What are LEED certification requirements?

LEED certification requirements are based on a set of prerequisites and credits that projects must meet or pursue to achieve a certification level. These requirements are organized into categories that cover different aspects of a building’s environmental performance.

The main requirement categories (and point values) are:

Integrative process (up to 1 point)
Location and Transportation (up to 16 points)
Sustainable Sites (up to 10 points)
Water Efficiency (up to 11 points)
Energy and Atmosphere (up to 33 points)
Materials and Resources (up to 13 points)
Indoor Environmental Quality (up to 17 points)
Innovation (up to 6 points)
Regional Priority (up to 4 points)

If a project receives enough points from these categories, they are awarded a LEED certification. Also, some governments may require or provide tax incentives for developers to receive LEED certification.

Final thoughts

LEED certification is an essential step to building a climate-friendly future. As such, many LEED standards have essentially been written into building codes around the world to ensure the next generation of buildings is more resource-conscious. However, it’s not perfect. LEED certification is an expensive process that is not financially viable for most people. Additionally, LEED is not enough on its own; more investment in clean energy is necessary to impact climate change. 

If you’re considering applying for LEED certification for your home, consider your finances and schedule, as the process may be difficult and expensive. If you succeed, take pride in knowing that you’re promoting the health of your community and local environment.

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