LEED for Homes

LEED for Homes is a green building rating system, developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), that certifies new residential properties that incorporate energy efficiency and reduced environmental impacts into their design and construction.

Certified homes use less water and 20-30% less energy, though some can use up to 60% less. Additionally, the cerified homes have better indoor air quality than conventional homes, which means they are healthier for residents.

The LEED for Homes program is becoming more and more popular. On June 13, 2012, the USGBC announced that it had certified over 20,000 homes via the LEED for Homes rating system, and has 79,000 additional Homes projects in the pipeline. This was a milestone for the relatively new rating system, which launched in 2008.

How Does It Work?

LEED awards points to homes for achieving certain requirements in a number of sustainability categories: Innovation & Design Process, Location & Linkages, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality.

Prerequisite credits are worth zero points and are mandatory for certification.

The other credits in the rating system are optional and worth points. These points add up to a score, which determines the home’s certification level. There are a total of 136 points available, and 45 are required for certification. The levels of certification include:

Certified: 45-59 points
Silver: 60-74 points
Gold: 75-89 points
Platinum: 90-136 points

So, while credits are optional, project teams must earn a certain number of them for the home to earn certification.

How to Certify Your Home

There are five basic steps for participating in LEED for Homes, according to USGBC:

Contact a LEED for Homes Provider: The Provider offers technical assistance and orientation in the process. A Green Rater is an individual who works as a part of the Provider’s team, and performs field inspections and performance testing. Once the Provider is chosen, the builder or project manager can register him or herself and the project with USGBC.

Identify a project team: The project team works together to identify project goals and challenges from the design phase, as part of an integrated project delivery strategy. The Provider or Green Rater will give the home a preliminary rating.

Build the home to the stated goals: Contact the Green Rater with any questions, problems, or changes during construction. Schedule on-site performance tests and visual inspections with the Green Rater.

Certify the project as a LEED home: The Green Rater performs a final inspection with a field inspection and performance testing, then completes the project documentation. The Provider reviews the documentation and notifies the USGBC if it is certified.

Market and sell the LEED home: The builder can market the home using USGBC collateral, including signage and press releases. (This is not relevant if the resident plans to live in the home.)

Green Raters

The LEED for Homes rating system is the only one in which on-site verification is required for certification. The rating system requires each project team to have a Green Rater work with them from the design phase through verification and certification. If you are interested in pursuing LEED for Homes certification, one of your first steps will be to contact a LEED for Homes Provider, which will have Green Raters. You will need to select a Provider (and consequently, a Green Rater) before registering your project.

Additionally, LEED for Homes projects require the help of a Home Energy Rating System Rater (HERS Rater), who will perform home energy audits on your home. Many Green Raters are HERS Raters, and can perform both verification and the energy audit.

Costs and Benefits

LEED for Homes certification is relatively inexpensive.

Single Family: $225 for USGBC members, $300 for non-members

Low-Rise Multi-Family Housing (per building): $0.035 per square foot for USGBC members, $0.045 per square foot for non-members

Mid-Rise Multi-Family Housing (per building): $0.035 per square foot for USGBC members, $0.045 per square foot for non-members

Certifying your home can pay for itself, because having a third party certification can increase your property’s value. A study of 4,000 LEED certified California homes showed that LEED certification added an average of 9% to a home’s selling value.

Plus, homes will have lower utility bills because they are more energy efficient (typically 20-30%) or use renewable energy.

Does Size Matter?

The common conception is that smaller homes are greener homes, because they use fewer resources and energy. However, many homeowners, especially in the U.S., desire homes that have more space than they would truly need. Because LEED is a market-based system, it does not have a size limit for certified homes. Inside, it has a Home Size Adjustment system that "compensates for the overarching effect of home size on resource consumption", according to the rating system.

The Home Size Adjustment changes the point thresholds for various certification levels based on the home's size. For example, the average 2-bedroom home is 1400 square feet, and this home would need to earn 45 points for LEED certification. Homes that are bigger than this would need to earn more points for certification, and smaller homes would need to earn fewer. For example, a 2-bedroom 1700 square foot home must earn 50 points for basic certification, while a 2-bedroom 1160 square foot home only needs 40 points. This point adjustment is applied to all certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

LEED AP Homes

Green building professionals who want to work on LEED for Homes projects may be interested in earning either the LEED AP Homes credential or Green Rater certification.

The LEED AP Homes credential demonstrates the exceptional expertise of green building professionals participating in the design and construction sustainable, healthful and high-performance homes that use fewer resources and produce less waste. Having a LEED AP work on a project can add an extra Innovation in Design point. However, it is optional to have an AP work on a LEED project.

Green Raters, unlike APs, are required for LEED for Homes projects. A Green Rater, designated by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), verifies that the home is designed and built to the rating system's standards.

The process of becoming a Green Rater involves meeting eligibility criteria, two-part training, an exam, and a mentorship program. Because the eligibility requirements include a minimum of 3 years of experience in residential construction, it can take a significant amount of time to become eligible for the certification.

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