With the rise in awareness of environmental issues over the past 4 decades, you may be wondering how the residential construction industry has kept pace. Since its formation in 1993, the United States Green Building Council (or USGBC) has provided guidance, advocacy and certification on all matters related to sustainable building practices. This organization has developed a proprietary scoring methodology to rate the materials and techniques used to build commercial and multi-family residential buildings which is referred to as LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED concept was introduced in 1998 and remains a voluntary code. To this point the building practices detailed within LEED represent increased cost relative to conventional practice. Given the housing market in the US, developers have been reluctant to incorporate LEED standards into a majority of new construction, however there remains a niche of homebuyers who are willing to absorb additional cost to lessen their carbon footprint.
In accordance with the USGBC, whether a project adheres to LEED standards is subject to confirmation by an independent, third party. In becoming certified, this third party awards up to 100 points based on the characteristics of the building including land use, water efficiency, energy consumption, atmospheric impact (ie carbon emissions), construction materials and indoor air quality. The total number of points determines which LEED level of the building: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59), Gold (60-79) or Platinum (over 80). At this time, LEED certification focuses on larger buildings (therefore single family homes are not eligible for LEED certification at present).
How is the LEED level determined?
The process for having a building rated by LEEDS is as follows. For more information, please check out the U.S. Green Building Council website:
- USGBC requires an application and a registration fee to review a building. The cost is around $900 for the developer/builder if they are members of the USGBC, or $1,200 for non-members.
- Every one of the 100 potential points is based on pre-defined criteria that must be detailed in the application. The developer is responsible for bringing all qualifying points to the attention of the USGBC in the application. For each point that is sought, backup documentation must be available for review by the independent auditor.
- There is an appeal mechanism should a Builder/Developer feel that the independent auditor did not calculated the points correctly.
- All LEED projects will receive a formal certificate of recognition and will be included on the US Department of Energy - High Performance Buildings database.
Why would a Builder seek LEED certification?
Notwithstanding the added cost of becoming LEED certified, there are longer term environmental and financial benefits to this designation. These include:
- Lower operating costs for all utilities (water, electricity, sewage, waste).
- Tax incentives and zoning for LEED certified buildings.
- Improved indoor air quality for residents and tenants of LEED buildings
- A reduced carbon footprint
- The peace of mind in knowing you are acting on your intention to live a sustainable lifestyle.
LEED in the future
It is my sincere hope that the recovery in the US housing market combined with increasingly affordable green technologies will lead to a major increase in the number of buildings conforming to LEED standards. As well, the single family residential housing market seems ripe for some type of environmental standard (although talk of a 'net zero' carbon home is being discussed). Over the coming decade, I would look for these 2 trends to gain significant momentum.