What Do the Various LEED Certifications Mean?
LEED certification is hot — lots of people want it, but do they even know what it means? The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system to certify buildings as meeting a specific set of standards for green building. They also provide accreditation to individuals known as LEED Accredited Professionals (AP) who have demonstrated knowledge of green building and their rating systems. Sometimes contractors say they are LEED “certified”, but they aren’t; they’re accredited (although they may be certifiable!). Only buildings can be certified, people are accredited.
Almost any building that people live in can be certified under LEED for Homes. This includes single-family homes, multifamily buildings up to six stories, senior living facilities, dormitories, and even fraternity and sorority houses. For example, Harvard University recently built a LEED Gold-certified graduate housing building features a sustainable design and siting and details like bamboo flooring. Boston and Cambridge, MA are leading the way with LEED certified university buildings. Harvard has 50 LEED certified buildings. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University have also completed LEED certified building projects.
Most LEED certifications are limited to new buildings, although some major renovations can be certified if the scope of the work is big enough. For a building to be certified under LEED for Homes, the project team needs to hire a Green Rater, an individual who is approved by the USGBC to manage the certification process. A Green Rater advises the team throughout the process, inspects the building before drywall is installed and again at completion to make sure it meets all the requirements, and collects all the required documentation and deliver it to the USGBC for certification. People who are accredited as LEED AP Homes professionals sometimes work on these projects, but only Green Raters are approved to do the certification work.
LEED for Homes certification requires that a project meets certain requirements or prerequisites, plus meets enough other credits that provide points to meet a minimum certification level. The level of certification depends on the total number of points a project achieves. The lowest level of certification is referred to as Certified, then goes up to Silver, Gold, and, at the top, Platinum. The amount of points you need to meet each certification level varies based on the size of the house and the number of bedrooms. The smaller a house and the more bedrooms it has, the fewer points it needs for certification – this is designed to encourage building smaller, more efficient homes. The prerequisites and credits are divided into eight categories: Innovation and Design (ID), Location and Linkages (LL), Sustainable Sites (SS), Water Efficiency (WE), Energy and Atmosphere (EA), Materials and Resources (MR), Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ), and Awareness and Education (AE). A project’s score is tracked on a very complicated Excel spreadsheet and credits are justified with specific documentation provided by the project team for each item.
Just in case all this information isn’t complicated enough, the rating system is undergoing a major revision, called LEED 2012, scheduled for release later this year. If you are a glutton for punishment (or just a major green building geek like me) there is more information than you could possibly digest about the new rating system on the United States Green Building Council's website. Have fun!