LEED for Homes: Guaranteed Green?

Reader Contribution by Peter Yost
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What are the pros and cons of building or buying a LEED-certified house?  

The main benefit of any green-building rating program, such as LEED for Homes, is the information you receive during the certification process. All the green features of your home are identified and verified so you know exactly what you’re buying. Also, consider that green-building rating programs have the potential to improve the way homes are designed, built and operated, so by participating in this program you’re helping support the long-term trend toward greener building practices.

Full disclosure: I have done work for several of the major green-building ratings programs, but I am not a rater for any of them and I have no vested interest in which one you might use. I do, however, think there are some aspects of LEED for Homes that make it a standout program.

What is LEED for Homes? LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s a rating program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The LEED program began in 1998 and was first used for commercial buildings. LEED for Homes is a newer program, which was officially released in 2008.

Points and Prerequisites. Like most green-building rating programs, LEED for Homes relies on a total number of points, and I think this program’s approach to points is a solid one. It makes “good” building mandatory, and awards one point for “better” and two points for “best” building practices. While not all green rating programs have mandatory items, LEED for Homes has 18, and these include some valuable standards. For example, a LEED-certified home must earn the Energy Star label, which creates a solid energy-efficiency foundation for any home.

Home Size. Bigger homes have to work much harder for LEED certification than smaller homes. That’s because LEED for Homes has a unique “home size adjuster.” Homes that are larger than average need more points at each level (certified, silver, gold and platinum), while smaller-than-average homes need fewer points. This makes home size an overarching issue, as it should be, because more resources are required to build and maintain a larger home.

Brand Recognition. While many green labeling or rating programs are just beginning to penetrate the real estate and appraisal industries in a significant way, LEED for Homes is already well-recognized in the marketplace for well-built, energy-efficient and comfortable homes. This label should be attractive to potential buyers when you decide to sell your home in the future.

There are some costs associated with the documentation of a LEED-certified home. I’ve heard of costs as low as $1,000 and as high as $2,500 for total rating program costs. But you need to think of these costs as part of the value of the certification, because documentation is critical to the substance and credibility of the program. Also remember that some of the features of a LEED-certified home — such as high levels of energy and water efficiency — will save you considerable money over time through lower utility bills.

For more information on LEED certification, visit U.S. Green Building Council. For a review of all major green-home-building programs, check out Green Building Advisor.

— Peter Yost, director of residential services for BuildingGreen  

Above: This Vermont home is LEED Platinum — the highest level of LEED green-home certification. Photo by Scott Gibson.  

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