They say home is where the heart is. Unfortunately, many of us live in homes that waste energy and water, contain toxic building products, and have indoor air quality issues. As a result, several third-party certification programs exist to help distinguish green or energy-saving homes.
The Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED) certification program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to differentiate buildings that meet their environmental standard. The USGBC introduced LEED criteria in 2000, and the standard has continued to evolve as new sustainable construction technology becomes available. There are many different green building standards and certifications, including Energy Star, Passive House, and Net Zero Energy Home, each with their own emphasis and qualities.
Let’s explore LEED for Homes.
There are four levels of LEED certification: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. Green building features earn points, and the platinum standard requires the most points. The certification program includes a variety of buildings, including homes, schools, office buildings, retail spaces, and hospitals.
Why Live in a LEED-certified Home?
LEED-certified homes are growing in popularity, and the demand for third-party certification is increasing. The LEED for Homes standard includes testing, verification, and certification. The LEED criteria take home siting, durability, construction materials, natural lighting, water-wise landscaping, construction waste, and design into account. In addition to conserving resources, LEED certification also takes occupant comfort, daylighting, and home air quality into account. Occupant health is an important consideration in the design phase of a LEED-certified home. While uncertified projects may have these features, building to LEED standards ensures house and occupant will be healthy.
“One of the most important investments a person will make is in their home, and the quality of these spaces can have a direct impact on an individual’s health and well-being,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of USGBC. “As an industry, we want to find ways to raise everyone’s living standard, so we need to prioritize the construction and remodeling of homes so that they are not only environmentally friendly, but they also have the power to improve the quality of life for all human beings.”
Certified homes consume 20 to 30 percent less energy on average than non-green homes, according to the USGBC. This can significantly lower the operating costs of the house by reducing energy bills. If you rent your home, look for LEED-certified rentals. If you are constructing a new home, consider building to the LEED standard.
Finding a LEED-certified Rental
Designed with natural light and indoor air quality in mind, LEED-certified rental units have many advantages. Unfortunately for tenants, they tend to have higher rents.
The number of LEED-certified green apartments is growing. In fact, there are 300 percent more certified units in large buildings than a decade ago. Since 2014, more than 40,000 certified units were built each year. There are now more than 1,150,000 LEED-certified or registered residential units with the majority being in the U.S. Although this may sound like a lot, it still can be difficult to find one.
There are hotbeds for green rental apartments, including Chicago; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Portland, Oregon. Several small cities also stand out for green rental units, including Evanston, Illinois; McLean, Virginia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. On a state level, California and Texas lead the nation in LEED-certified residential units.
If you are unable to find a LEED-certified rental, there are a couple of other possible options. Either find a rental unit with a different green certification or look for other green features, such as a location near public transportation, pesticide-free landscaping, solar power, effective weatherization, energy-efficient appliances, recycling, composting, and water-saving plumbing fixtures. If you plan to buy an electric vehicle, look for a unit with EV charging capabilities.
Building a LEED-certified House
Although it isn’t possible for everyone, building a new home to LEED standards is a great way to go green.
Start by considering some of the most important green features and highest priorities. Pick a building site that helps support your green vision. For example, if you want to install solar panels, ideally the site won’t be shaded.
Then, assemble a group of green building professionals who are familiar with LEED standards, including the architects, builders, subcontractors, and landscapers. When selecting these professionals, ask about their LEED and green building experience. The USGBC offers credential programs for professionals including Green Associate and LEED AP. Consider hiring a LEED Homes Power Builder, a distinction for homebuilders with a high percentage of LEED-certified projects. A credentialed LEED for Homes Green Rater will verify that the design and construction of the home qualifies to be LEED-certified.
Make the design phase as collaborative as possible to spur innovative thinking and approaches. It is important to consider sustainable building features early on and throughout all stages of design, construction, and even maintenance. Meeting LEED certification is an effective way to ensure that your project meets rigorous green goals and testing criteria.
“Owners and designers both want to set high-performance targets, and certifications, while not a design tool, are a very useful way to align the perspectives and the actions of the design team, contractor, and owner,” said ZGF Architects Principal Chris Chatto. “Certifications help ensure that design aspirations and targets are manifested in the final constructed building.”
Proactive Design for Climate Resiliency
Although some green builders take specific aspects of environmental performance into account, LEED for Homes also examines resilience. As the climate crisis increases, this emphasis becomes more important. “LEED homes are also designed, constructed, and operated to be resilient in adverse conditions,” wrote Ramanujam in 2019. “They are developed with proactive design planning for potential impacts of catastrophic weather, and LEED takes into account several strategies that can ensure the longevity of homes based on location and environmental issues specific to a particular region.”
Ultimately, building greener homes involves looking at the entire lifecycle, from design through end-of-use. Will these homes help us live healthy lives? Will they endure extreme weather events, promoting occupant safety? LEED for Home is helping to share the green home market now and into the future.
Here is a video from USGBC that provides an overview of LEED for Homes certification for your new home construction.