LEED: What It Means for the Homeowner

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Green homes hold the promise of using less energy, having less environmental impact and providing a healthier living space than conventionally built homes. In the past decade, the proportion of green homes being built has increased from 2 percent to more than 23 percent of all new homes. Until recently, however, there has been no industry standard that defined what makes a home green. Now LEED, a voluntary green certification standard for commercial buildings, hospitals and schools, is available for residences. The LEED for Homes, or LEED-H program, helps home buyers determine just how green a new home is before they buy it.

What Is LEED?
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification program for environmentally designed buildings. Founded in 1993, the USGBC is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes sustainable practices for the design, construction and operation of buildings. LEED certification is a recognized standard among builders in the United States and throughout the world.

How is LEED Applied to Homes?
In order to receive LEED-H certification, a home building project must earn points by satisfying requirements. Different levels of points earn different levels of certification, from Certified through Silver, Gold and Platinum. The categories used by the rating system are Innovation and Design Process; Location and Linkages; Sustainable Site; Water Efficiency; Energy and Atmosphere; Materials and Resources; Indoor Environment Quality; and Awareness and Education. Builders who apply for LEED-H certification are encouraged to earn the maximum number of points available in each category.

A homebuilder who has applied for LEED-H certification agrees to on-site evaluation by a third-party verification team throughout the design and construction process. The builder is also required to make a commitment to educating the homeowner or tenant by providing a manual that describes the home’s green features and the operation and maintenance of its technologies.

LEED-H certification can be applied to many types of residences, including single-family houses, apartments, condominiums, manufactured houses and affordable housing. It is available for residential projects up to eight stories in height.

LEED-H isn’t the only certification available for green residential buildings. According to the USGBC, there are more than 70 local and regional green homebuilding programs, each with its own requirements and rating system. The advantage of LEED-H is that it’s the most-recognized national certification program for green homes.

You may hear ENERGY STAR mentioned when LEED certification is being discussed. ENERGY STAR is a green certification program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that focuses on the role building materials play in a building’s energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR for Home certifies that a new home is up to 30 percent more energy efficient compared to typical new homes. All LEED-H certified homes must have ENERGY STAR for Home certification, but they also must satisfy requirements in a broader range of green categories.

Why Homeowners Should Care about LEED for Homes
LEED-H certified homes offer many benefits for homeowners. They are energy efficient, using a minimal amount of energy for heating and cooling. Energy usage ranges between 30 percent and 50 percent less than for comparable non-green homes. These energy savings are due to best practices in the areas of insulation, windows and appliances. Many LEED-H certified homes also include renewable energy technologies such as solar or thermal, reducing the homeowner’s dependence on the utility grid.

According to the EPA, indoor air can be two to ten times more polluted than outdoor air. The USGBC has been certifying commercial buildings for years and had established practices that help improve air quality and the quality of life for people who spend time in a building. These practices are part of LEED-H certification, including improved air exchange and ventilation; the use of eco-friendly paints and stains with low or no VOCs; and the use of advanced moisture-control strategies to fight mold and mildew.

Buying a home with LEED-H certification can also benefit the homeowner’s wallet. Research conducted in California between 2007 and 2012 found a 9 percent higher increase in the value of LEED-H certified homes compared to non-certified homes in the same price range. This potential increase in value combined with energy savings quickly make up for the roughly 2.4 percent in upfront costs for certification.

As of August 2015, USGBC reports that 82,000 new homes have received LEED-H certification. Nearly half of the certifications are for affordable housing, proof that green homes don’t have to be more expensive than traditional homes.
If you’re thinking about building a home that is LEED-H certified, be sure to find an experienced builder who is familiar with the program’s rating system. For more information about green homebuilding and LEED-H certification, visit the USGBC’s Green Home Guide website at greenhomeguide.com. HLM

Sources: BobVila.com, EnergyStar.gov and usgbc.org.