In today’s modern society, many homeowners value having a LEED-certified home and minimizing their environmental impact. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a prestigious honor given to projects that meet specific requirements outlined by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) called “Credits”. While this certification can apply to almost all building types, receiving a LEED certification for your home is slightly different than receiving it for a commercial business.

If you want your next home-building project to earn its LEED certification, here are a few of the things you need to know before reaching out to a company like Florida Palm Construction.

What is a LEED Certified Home?

The USGBC designed LEED in order to further the Green Building initiatives and lower the carbon footprints that the building and construction industry has across the US. Their certifications require that strict credits and prerequisites are met by owners in an effort to encourage green building, design, and thinking which will hopefully catch on across other industries. The main intention behind these certifications is to uphold environmental, human, and social health in the areas where the buildings are being constructed.

By the time many people first start the construction process, they already know that they want to build a home that will lessen their environmental footprint. As a result of that confidence, they may initially tell their contractor that they want to build a green home that incorporates different energy efficient upgrades. For example, you might install solar panels or collect rainwater in a green home. You install a few features that make your home great for the environment and lessen your overall carbon footprint. The focus is generally on just a handful of small projects instead of on the overall building design.

A LEED-certified home takes a different approach. When you move into this category, every aspect of your building is designed with a triple bottom line in mind: people, planet, profit. Your home will be built from the ground up with green features in mind so that every part of the project will help contribute to better environmental and human health. These green features are also set up to save you money on things like energy and water bills over time. Earning your LEED certification requires a lot more time, planning, and the right resources than simply incorporating a few green elements into your home.

It requires more than simple lip service to earth-friendly practices. In order to earn your official certification, everything must be inspected and tested. This ensures that your features and home are held to the highest standards before they receive this award.

How the Rating System Works

Earning your certification can be a complex process depending on how far you are interested in taking it. All LEED-certified homes would be considered green buildings because of their inherently eco-friendly designs.

The rating system for homes is broken down into eight main evaluation areas:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Location and Transportation
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Indoor Environmental Air Quality
  • Materials & Resources
  • Innovation
  • Regional Priority

These categories allow you to gain credits in a variety of ways. Hiring a Contractor or Builder who is LEED Certified will help you determine how far you can take your project. After an initial assessment, a homeowner would need to determine which certification they will try to achieve based on the available credits. The certifications include:

  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum
  • Certified

To determine which rating you receive, the project is broken down into evaluation areas. You earn points for various pieces of the construction that you incorporate into the design of the building. The total points that you receive ultimately determines which type of rating you will qualify for.

You should keep in mind that a LEED-certified home will be held to a specific standard established by a third party (the USGBC). It requires your voluntary participation in order to earn this certification, but there is a fee for the submission and review process that is similar to the building permitting process.

Qualifications for LEED Certification

There are many different qualifications that your home must meet in order to qualify for the LEED certification. Every aspect of the building must be considered before a certification can be achieved. This often extends into categories other than the home itself. Many prospective homeowners who are building their first LEED certified home may not be aware of some of these criteria.

Defined Dwelling Unit

Every home that is LEED certified must first meet the basic definition of a dwelling unit according to building codes. The requirement references the International Residential Code that states that you need adequate space for certain basic activities. In particular, you need areas for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation. Without these fundamental spaces, a home cannot be defined as a dwelling unit that qualifies for the LEED home rating system.

Unlike some of the other LEED certification systems, there is no square footage mention for the home rating system. It simply must be large enough to accommodate all aspects of the dwelling unit.

Single Building

One project consists of only a single building. If you are building several houses at once, you will need to fill out separate pieces of paperwork for each building. You may seek LEED certification for homes that are attached (such as townhouses), detached single family homes, or a building of low-rise or midrise multi-family properties.

Permanent Location

One of the very first qualifications that your home must meet in order to qualify for a LEED rating is that it must be located in or on a permanent location. Mobile homes and other structures that are designed to be moved cannot be considered for a rating. Your home must be built on existing land as a permanent structure. This does mean that modular homes can qualify, as they are not designed to be moved once they have been installed on your property.

If you are building on existing land, you might also be able to use buildings on previously constructed docks, jetties, and other manufactured structures in or above the water. However, you cannot be the one who created this manufactured land for the design of your home.

Using the Boundaries

Your home itself is not the only aspect of the building inspected for LEED certification. The boundary line also includes contiguous land that is considered to be a part of the property. If there is a project or a feature that you will use after the completion of your project, it must be a result of your building process. Items within the boundary that may be considered for LEED consideration include:

  • Parking and sidewalks
  • Septic or stormwater treatment equipment
  • Landscaping
  • Other buildings on the property that are eligible for LEED certification

Other buildings that are not on the contiguous plot of land but still serve the occupants’ needs/usage may also be included if they support the LEED certification. These can include parking lots, bicycle storage, showering facilities, and sources for renewable energy. If you include these areas in the LEED certification, they cannot be double-counted for other projects.

How to Achieve a LEED Certification

Most people do not have the knowledge or experience necessary to plan out the projects that will help them achieve LEED status. Instead, they must hire a contractor or agency who is experienced with the criteria for this process. These professionals can help you to start thinking about focusing on building green before the project even begins.

To get started, you will want to contact a LEED Green Associate, or Associated Professional (AP) to help spearhead your project. These individuals have the credentials that show that they understand the LEED ratings and how to best obtain the maximum amount of credits for your project. These professionals will help to maintain good quality control over the project and verification services. Before the project begins, you will sit down with your project team to establish what level of certification you wish to achieve, schedule your site visits, and verify all of your prerequisites. 

You will meet with your designated LEED Professional throughout the design process to ensure that you are working toward the appropriate number of points to have your home LEED certified. They will be performing your mid-construction visit before the drywall is installed to verify some aspects of your eco-friendly design.

Your LEED Professional will continue to perform inspections throughout the construction process to keep you on track for earning your official title. You will have one final visit toward the end of construction when the building is complete and the landscaping has been installed.

In addition to the LEED Professional, you may also have a separate energy rater from the Residential Energy Services Network. Many LEED Professionals will also have this certification. This particular role is designed to conduct performance testing, while the LEED Professional ensures that you meet the credit requirements needed for LEED.  

When the building phase is complete, your LEED Professional will review your plan and the results of the inspections. You may need to provide documentation for the materials, specifications, and other aspects of the building that could not be inspected during the standard site visits.

Your LEED Professional and project team will work together to compile a package, known as the LEED for Homes Project Checklist, that gets submitted to the U.S. Green Building Council to confirm your LEED certification.

Certification Fees

At the time of your submission, you must pay the certification fees before the workbook will be placed under review. The certification fees will vary from project to project. They are based on the project rating system and overall size. Discounts are given to U.S. Green Building Council members.

Your LEED fees include:

  • Access to the Arc platform for green building
  • A dedicated LEED coach who has at least ten years of experience with green building
  • Access to the customer service team

If you are wondering just how much these fees may add on to your final bill, the cost isn’t terribly high. The registration fees for single-family homes are $150 for Silver, Gold, and Platinum level members. Those who are not members can expect to pay $225. Certification for one home is $225 for members and $300 for non-members.

Reviewing the Records

You will receive a preliminary review of which credits the Green Building Council anticipates awarding to your property within 20 to 25 business days. They will then collect any additional information required and conduct a final review that requires another 20 to 25 business days. If you are in a hurry for your LEED certification, you can pay an additional fee to cut the processing time in half for both the preliminary and the final review.

If you reach this final stage and certification has been denied, you may either decide to accept the review results or appeal them.  The additional cost of an appeal is an obstacle you might not be able to move past depending on your budget.

However, if you can afford an appeal, you will be able to submit additional information that supports the credits you are attempting to earn. Others may add new credits that they had not previously attempted to earn during the initial stages. An appeal process will require an additional 20 to 25 business days for a final ruling.

If you still are not satisfied with the results of your appeal, you do have the option to submit your documentation again for a second appeal.

Appeals do have an additional cost associated with them. Both members and non-members will pay $800 per complex credit or $500 for another credit. An expedited appeal costs $500 per credit for members. Obtaining LEED Certification for Your Home

Minimizing your carbon footprint and lessening your impact on the environment is a goal that many prospective homebuilders are looking at these days. Receiving a LEED certification for your project is one way of quantifiably proving that you took every precaution to build an environmentally-friendly home. Unlike a simple green house design, a LEED-certified home is built from the ground up to be as eco-friendly as possible.

The process of receiving your LEED certification can be long and involved. It requires a lot of advance planning, communication with your project team, and flawless execution of your plans. However, once you have this certification in hand, you can rest assured that your home is great for the environment and your health. Plan ahead so that you can meet all the criteria for this well-respected certification. 

If you’re interested finding out more about what it will take for your home to become LEED Certified, contact us at Florida Palm Construction today!