Understanding LEED for Homes: Overview

| by Melissa Rappaport Schifman
Understanding LEED for Homes: Overview

Ever since we got our home LEED certified, I have gotten questions about what it takes to actually accomplish this. Is it all energy efficiency? Does it cost more? Is it worth it?

While these answers cannot be thoroughly addressed in blogs (which is why I am working on a book about this), here I present an overview as the first in a series of articles.

The LEED for Homes rating system is built around eight categories of sustainable design:

  1. Innovation and Design – to encourage integrated project planning and design for durability
  2. Location and Linkages – to reward preferable site locations
  3. Sustainable Sites – to minimize adverse impacts on the lot/site
  4. Water Efficiency – to lower water usage
  5. Energy and Atmosphere – to lower utility bills and reduce carbon footprint
  6. Materials and Resources – to reduce waste and minimize extraction/harvest of raw materials
  7. Indoor Environmental Quality – to ensure the home is healthy and comfortable
  8. Awareness and Education – to promote broad awareness of LEED in the operations and maintenance of a home

Each of these eight categories carries different weight in the rating system, energy being the largest and therefore most important category.

One can achieve certification at four levels: certified (basic certification), silver, gold, and platinum (the best). Each level requires a certain number of points out of 136 total possible points; the larger the home, the more points required to get to each threshold.   The rating system is as follows:


Minimum points required for “neutral” sized home









Any level requires that you satisfy 18 prerequisites. If even one prerequisite is not met, the building cannot be certified. (Two more clarifications: no products are LEED certified, but they may qualify for LEED points. Peopleare not LEED certified; they are accredited- as in, I am a LEED Accredited Professional.) Meeting these 18 prerequisites--but not getting certified--in and of itself would create a home that is more energy efficient and healthier than the average home.

The additional costs for LEED Certification need to be broken down into two components: the actual LEED fees and the actual investments in the home. For us, the LEED fees came to a little over $3,000 for registration, third party testing and verification, and certification. (If I had not done most of the documentation work myself, if would have been a few thousand more in consulting fees.) Costs of the investments in the home to achieve LEED varies greatly by location, homeowner preferences, and LEED certification level—and sometimes does not cost more, especially if you look at the payback from the investments.

The next several articles will go a little deeper into the LEED-specific categories listed above.

Slightly modified excerpt from Melissa's Schifman's upcoming book, The Costs and Benefits of LEED for Homes

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED

Melissa Rappaport Schifman
Melissa provides sustainability consulting services for businesses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Melissa is also the founder of Green Intention LLC, where she writes and blogs about her experience in getting her own home LEED Gold certified--and then trying to live more sustainably in the home. She chairs her congregation’s Task Force for Sustainability, has her MBA, Master's in Public Policy, and is a LEED AP for Homes. www

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