How does LEED for Homes compare?

| by Farah Ahmad
How does LEED for Homes compare?

LEED for Homes is one of several nationally recognized green home programs.

In case you’re not familiar with it, LEED is a voluntary third party certification program in which buildings are assessed on a variety of factors for their measure of sustainability. Other programs, available on either the national or local level, include Environments for Living, the U.S. Department of Energy Builders Challenge, ENERGY STAR, and the REGREEN Residential Remodeling program.

Since several initiatives exist for homeowners to boost the marketability or enhance the sustainability of their homes, I want to undertake the task of assessing the scope of the LEED for Homes Rating system. Each program is a step in the right direction- is LEED the right option tailored for your residential project? Let’s take a look at what sets LEED apart from other programs, and why it may or may not necessarily be a suitable direction for you.

LEED for Homes examines many angles of the environment in respect to the home’s impact upon its occupants and on its external environment. It is probably one of the more comprehensive systems out there. However, the downside is that earning points and keeping up with the rules of LEED is trickier.

Not only are requirements often more challenging to meet, the homes must be tested and inspected in order to ensure that LEED regulations are followed. Furthermore, extensive documentation must be submitted, and another person (the LEED for Homes Provider) will need to sign off and verify the accuracy of the attempted strategy.

Another potential ‘flaw’ of the system is that project teams may attempt to rack up the ‘easier’ credits and earn just as many points as another home which may have implemented a more substantial credit- one that may have been more thoughtful and integrative in the design and construction stages.

For example, LEED awards points for providing bike racks and for having at least one LEED Accredited Professional on the project team. Can earning credits for approaches such as these really make a project more green than the one which has carefully selected its site to achieve minimal impact?

Another criticism to the LEED approach is of the costs associated with gaining certification. Even receiving technical guidance on a credit or program requirement, by submitting a ‘Credit Interpretation Request (CIR)’ for a specific project, costs money! In fact, each CIR must be submitted separately and will increase your payment.

I do agree with certain LEED tactics and believe they are positive measures all around. For example, incorporating passive systems into your home by taking full advantage of the natural elements- daylight and ventilation, just to name a couple- won’t necessarily drive up the cost of the home. It will instead take advantage of inherent resources. However, ‘tacking on’ tons of expensive green technology in an effort to become ‘greener’ will not necessarily be the most practical strategy. Another beneficial LEED tactic is construction waste management. I appreciate that LEED takes into account the organization of resources in an effort to divert waste and reuse it in other projects.

If you want to gain certification for your home, it is important to look at the other programs briefly mentioned. While I have not analyzed every program, I came across Green Globes, an alternative to LEED. Green Globes boasts a more streamlined and cost-effective approach, with less paperwork and requiring less ‘expert’ knowledge than LEED. Furthermore, there are easy to use online software tools which will help you assess your building’s energy and environmental performance.

LEED will certainly increase your home’s market value. Bragging rights that your home uses interior finishes with lower VOC content and enhances the indoor air quality is certainly an appealing factor. Moreover USGBC will allow homeowners to use signage and press releases in order to help sell the home.

The LEED system is undergoing many improvements. While it is sometimes criticized as a ‘money-making business’, LEED is putting green buildings on the map and raising awareness! LEED helps others realize that there is a negative impact by building design, construction, and operation, and that, even we, as homeowners, must step in and do our part.

So what’s my verdict? Going down the LEED path requires a lot of commitment- time, money, and expertise. Know that you will need technical guidance down the path and must be incredibly thorough with documentation along each and every single step of the way.

I personally feel LEED has gained the most recognition in the United States, and will therefore help you highly in marketing your home. No matter what certification path you choose to embark upon, any support for environmental initiatives will raise the awareness of it to your neighbors, and encourage them to do their own homework as well. 

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Topics: Certification / LEED

Companies: U.S. Green Building Council

Farah Ahmad

Farah Naz Ahmad was born in New York City and holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from The City College of New York. She is a LEED Accredited Professional in Building Design + Construction. Her career goal is to make an impact on the field of sustainability in design and construction. Her past roles as President of CCNY's American Institute of Architecture Students and as a team leader for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon have increased her passion for eco-friendly design.

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