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April 18, 2007

LEED – A big deal for building efficiency

Category: LEED – Dan 8:34 pm

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about LEED™ — which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”. Buildings (residential, commercial, and industrial) are responsible for an estimated 43% of U.S. CO2 emissions[1], and LEED™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction, and operation of green buildings.First LEED Platinum Home in US

Next time you’re at a developer’s presentation (as I was a couple weeks ago for a proposed mountain community development), raise your hand and ask “Will you be LEED certified?”. If more and more developers hear this question, it will absolutely have an impact. These guys want to be perceived as green (or more to the point, the don’t want to be perceived as not being green…there is a subtle difference here). Make this an issue for every developer out there.

What is LEED™?

Let’s start with the words directly from the LEED™ section of the U.S. Green Building Council website.

LEED provides a roadmap for measuring and documenting success for every building type and phase of a building lifecycle. Specific LEED programs include:

  • New Commercial Construction and Major Renovation projects
  • Existing Building Operations and Maintenance
  • Commercial Interiors projects
  • Core and Shell Development projects
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development
  • Guidelines for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects
  • LEED for Schools
  • LEED for Retail

LEED has many complex components, but what provides a common language and is something everyone can use is LEED Certification. You want to ask “Will this project be LEED certified?”. If the answer is yes, you can follow it with “At what level?”

There are four levels of LEED™ certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Certification is determined based upon a points system, with investments in different green elements contributing to the overall score. LEED is unique in that it quantifies most of the “green credits”, for example 5% of the building materials must be from salvaged materials to earn a point for the “salvaged materials credit”. Points can be earned in six different topic areas[2]:

  • Site development (did you minimize stormwater runoff, increase urban density, include green space, …)
  • Water efficiency (what’s been done to reduce water consumption)
  • Energy efficiency (what’s been done to reduce the building’s energy needs)
  • Material selection (did you minimize construction waste, re-use an existing facade, use recycled or salvaged materials)
  • Indoor environmental quality (did you incorporate daylighting, use low off-emitting materials, provide operable windows)
  • Innovation in Design (did you incorporate innovative environmental features not covered in other areas)

LEED™ has a 69 point scoring system. Get 26 or more points to be Certified, 33 or more to get a Silver rating, 39 or more for Gold, and 52 or more for Platinum. What’s also interesting is this table available on Entermodal Engineering’s website that shows estimated costs and payback for different levels of LEED certification:

LEED™ Rating Certified Silver Gold Platinum
Energy Savings> 25 to 35%> 35% to 50% 50 to 60% >60%
Annual Utility Savings 40¢/ft2 60¢/ft2 80¢/ft2 $1/ft2
Typical Payback Under 3 yrs 3-5 yrs 5-10 yrs 10+ yrs
Incremental construction cost
Small Buildings 3% 7% 10% 15%
Small Buildings 1% 3% 5% 8%

What’s the bottom line on LEED™?

  • Ask for it! If you’re buying a home, if you’ve involved with a development, if you’re going to a citizen’s meeting on a new project, ask if they intend to get LEED certification!
  • Talk about it! If you see the certification plaque on a building, tell your friends. If a developer is seeking LEED certification, complement him on his choice to go green. Encourage your city government to demand that all new city buildings be LEED certified.
  • Get LEED certified. If you’re a building professional, look into getting LEED certification. Believe me — this is going to be a good career move!

Want to read more? Check out these sites: