What Does it Mean to Have a LEED home?

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LEED is Leadership in Energy Efficient Design, and as its title and "leading" homonym suggest, LEED homes are at the cutting edge of sustainable building. To have a LEED approved home is to put your household well above the average. It is to embrace energy conservation at the point of use– the front lines, if you will– of the clean energy movement. And best of all, to have a LEED home eases the burden on the local electrical grid, and through lower utility bills, on your wallet as well.

The LEED ratings system for homes was created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to set a bar for energy efficient design. At present, LEED certification is the most prestigious achievement in sustainable building and is world renowned. It is a benchmark for architects, engineers, builders and remodelers to utilize and aspire to. LEED sets the pace for the future of green building in America.

LEED Platinum, Gold, Silver or Certified

There are four levels of LEED certification available, based on a point system developed by the USGBC. LEED-Certified is the minimum award, requiring a minimum score between 45 and 59 points out of a total 136. LEED-Silver follows, demanding at least 60 points. LEED-Gold requires 75, and in order for a home to be rated as LEED-Platinum, the highest award offered, it must score at least 90 points.

Points are accumulated through a wide range of energy efficient or renewable energy building attributes. For instance, everything from hiring a LEED AP contractor to installing a home solar power system will score points, but the exact amount of points can vary based on a wide and complex ratings system. That's why, whether building new or updating an existing home (LEED has separate programs for each), it's usually a good choice to hire a LEED-credited contractor who knows the ins and outs of the system. Nevertheless, information on LEED for Homes is available for free.

Saving Money

According to a USGBC document, an initial investment of 2 percent in green building design typically results in life-cycle savings of 20 percent, more than 10 times the upfront investment. Also, building sale prices for energy efficient homes are up to 10 percent higher per square foot than those using conventional building techniques. Operating costs of a green building decrease by 8-9 percent, while building value increases by 7.5 percent.

In other words, when you build or upgrade to a LEED home, you build your way into a long-term cash cow. Many homeowners are scared away by higher upfront costs, which is understandable given how difficult it can be in tough economic times to come up with even an extra grand for energy efficient windows. However, all evidence points to energy efficient design being an excellent investment over the long term, and money troubles are exactly why federal, state and local governments have developed tax incentives and rebates to encourage the dissemination and affordability of green building techniques.

Saving Energy

Well, actually, in addition to monetary savings, those incentives are designed to help us collectively conserve energy– a move so necessary in a society still energized primarily by dirty fossil fuels and diminishing resources. Green buildings use on average 26 percent less energy than conventional buildings, have 13 percent lower maintenance costs, 27 percent higher occupant satisfaction and emit 33 percent less greenhouse gases.

What It Is

Again, having a LEED home is to set you and your home well ahead of the pack. It is hoped that someday LEED standards will be the standard in home design and construction, but while we wait for excellence to be the standard, LEED remains the standard in excellence, if you still follow me.

Achieving LEED certification is not easy. Truly sustainable design requires attention to all details of building construction, including the materials involved, where they came from and how far they traveled to get there, how they were harvested, as well as how well they'll perform once installed. If you're living in a LEED home, the odds are you're well aware of what every component is up to and how it affects the overall performance of the home, including those living within.

Dan Harding is a well-versed veteran of solar critique, commentary and reporting.  He has published well over 1,000 articles on a wide variety of solar industry topics, ranging from cutting-edge technology and gadgetry to political satire and powerful editorials. CalFinder is proud to tout Dan as our resident solar expert. He holds a B.A. in English from Michigan State University, and enjoys reading, writing and home construction.