LEED-Homes Overview

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LEED-Homes Overview

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has created a number of “green building ratings systems.” This LEED-Homes Overview addresses the fundamental structure of LEED-H, and outlines the different roles involved in the rating process. While the residential rating system is quite similar to other LEED systems, the players and process for LEED for Homes certification deserves additional explanation.

LEED for Homes:
Fundamental Structure and Jargon

LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. It was not by accident that the word Energy precedes Environmental.

People are accredited, as in “LEED Accredited Professional,” or “LEED-AP.”  Buildings are certified, as in “LEED-Gold Certified Building.”

There are a handful of LEED Rating Systems in use and under development today, including:

There are six primary credit categories within every LEED system:

  1. Sustainable Sites (SS)
  2. Water Efficiency (WE)
  3. Energy & Atmosphere (EA)
  4. Materials & Resources (MR)
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ), and
  6. Innovation in Design (ID)

LEED for Homes is designed for residential construction and has two additional credit categories: Locations & Linkages (LL) and Awareness & Education (AE)

All LEED Rating Systems utilize a point tallying process and LEED Checklist in order to rate a project. The USGBC uses the following certification levels, from easiest to the most difficult to achieve: Certified (45-59 points), Silver (60-74), Gold (75-89) and Platinum (90-136)

In order to discourage McMansions and enormous houses too easily branding themselves as “green,” LEED-H utilized a Home Size Adjustment “to compensate for the effect of home size on resource consumption.” Based on the size of the building and the number of bedrooms, this sliding scale either adds or subtracts the number of points necessary to achieve each level of certification. A “neutral” 1-bedroom home < 900 square foot, 2-BR < 1400 sf, 3-BR < 1900 square foot, 4-BR < 2600 square foot.

LEED-Homes Overview

LEED-Home Size Adjustment Chart

LEED-H Projects are further categorized by project type, and there are variations to the rules depending on if the building is viewed as a Single-Family Home, Low-Rise Multifamily, Mid-Rise Multifamily, Production Home, Affordable Home, Manufactured or Modular Home, or Existing Home.

LEED-Homes Overview of Roles

LEED-Homes Overview

LEED-H Roles = Many Hats

The USGBC continues to create and maintain LEED Rating Systems, but they got burnt out managing the credential and certification programs. Several years ago the USGBC decided to outsource that role to another non-profit called the Green Building Certification Institute. GBCI is now responsible for training and accrediting LEED-APs, and certifying LEED Buildings.

With the exception of LEED-H, all other LEED certifications are administered through GBCI. However, for LEED-H, they’ve thrown in another layer of bureaucracy and required a LEED-H Provider and LEED-H Rater.

LEED for Homes Provider: Registers the project and can offer orientation and up-front technical assistance. Providers review final project applications before sending them to USGBC for final approval before certification is awarded.

LEED for Homes Rater: This individual is involved with early design charrettes and the creation of the initial LEED Checklist, and is a technical resource throughout design and construction. The Rater acts as a liaison between the LEED-AP (and project team) and the LEED for Homes Provider. The Rater is also responsible for limited (visual) field verification visits during construction and upon project completion.

LEED for Homes AP/Consultant: This is the role that HBS generally plays. We are in the trenches with the project team throughout design and construction. We facilitate design charrettes, dole out homework to the design team, and ensure owner LEED goals are incorporated into the project drawings and specifications. During construction we are a resource to the builder, and review material submittals for compliance with LEED requirements. We help prepare the final submittal package and send it up the ladder to the LEED Rater.

So the hierarchy looks something like this:

  • USGBC – Rating System & Certification of LEED Homes
  • GBCI – Certification (except LEED-H) & Accreditations
  • LEED-H Provider – Quality Control & Application Initial Review. Liaison to USGBC
  • LEED-H Rater – Credit Clarifications & Field Verification. Liaison to Provider
  • LEED-H AP/Consultant – Guides Team Through LEED-H Process. Liaison to Rater

Initially these roles were created as a means to avoid potential conflict of interest and establish quality control oversight. At this point, however, due to pressures from the market, Raters and Providers can be from the same company. Raters and Providers may not “rate” or “certify” projects on which they consult. Raters and Providers may NOT be the LEED-H AP/Consultant.

LEED-Homes Overview of Certification Process

LEED-Homes Overview

LEED-H Platinum Plaque

Within the Rating System this five-step process if made to look incredibly easy:

1) Contact LEED for Homes Provider and register the project with the USGBC.

2) Identify a project team, including the LEED-H AP/Consultant.

3) Build the home to the stated goals and have green measures verified by a Green Rater and qualified energy rater (HERS in CA).

4) Achieve certification as a LEED home.

5) Post-certification PR and marketing support.

We find LEED to be a very useful tool to push sustainable design for teams with limited “green building” experience. The process of goal setting forces the team to consider many facets of sustainable design. The verification process, although it feels cumbersome at times, gives the owner confidence that their goals are being implemented. And the marketplace knows and recognizes LEED as the de-facto green building benchmark in the US.

Most of the information and images for this post came from the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, 2009 Edition.