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How LEED Certification Works

'Greening Up' Techniques
world trade center
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Seven World Trade Center received gold LEED certification in 2007.

Energy and Atmosphere
This category includes some of the most well-known "greening up" techniques and some of the most effective ways to save energy and money. By now, most people are familiar with Energy Star-rated appliances and those compact fluorescent bulbs, but there are many simple ways to make a big difference in this area.

  1. Complete requirements for an Energy Star home, including third-party inspection. You can find Energy Star builders in your area by checking out the government's Energy Star Web site.
  2. Install insulation to meet at least Grade II specifications (few gaps or holes in insulation).
  3. Reduce heat and cooling loss by "sealing the envelope" (the outer shell of your home -- walls, windows, doors).
  4. Use Energy Star-labeled windows and solar-window screens, which can block out not only the summer heat, but also harmful UV rays.
  5. Ensure that ducts fit snugly to prevent leakage, and insulate ducts.
  6. Install heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that meet or exceed Energy Star requirements. For around $100, a programmable thermostat will allow you to turn off the air conditioning (or turn down the heat) when you're not at home.
  7. Water heating uses about 13 percent of the energy in U.S. homes, according to the Department of Energy. Install an energy-efficient water distribution system -- keeping the water heater close to the plumbing fixtures and using low-flow faucets and alternative water-heating methods like solar and tankless water heaters.
    Solar water heaters typically cost $1,500 to more than $3,000, and tankless water heaters can cost from $900 to $4,000, not including installation costs. If you decide to stick with your old water heater, consider water heater blanket, which wrap around the heater to prevent heat from escaping. You can typically get one for less than $25 at a hardware store, and most estimates say it will pay for itself in utility-bill savings within a couple of months.
  8. Use energy-efficient fixtures and controls, like motion sensors on outdoor lighting, Energy Star-labeled fixtures and compact fluorescent bulbs.
  9. LEED Points

    When construction on your home is complete, your builder will fill out a LEED checklist. There are 129 available points in the LEED for Homes category, and the requirements are weighted. Using renewable energy like wind or solar power, for example, can get you 10 points, while installing exhaust fans in your bathroom is good for one point. A LEED-certified inspector will then award a level of certification.

    • Certified (45-59 points)
    • Silver (60-74 points)
    • Gold (75-89 points)
    • Platinum (90-128 points)

    ­Points can be added or subtracted from this total based on the square footage of your home. Check out the chart in the LEED for Homes Program Pilot Rating System manual for more information.

  10. Use energy- and water-efficient washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers and ceiling fans. Energy Star appliances use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. They're more expensive, but you'll make up for it in energy-bill savings.
  11. Install a renewable electric-generation system, like ­wind or solar power. You're going to need some space for wind power, obviously (it requires about an acre), but it has been effective in the Northeast and Midwest United States. Expect to pay about $40,000 to have a wind system installed. According to the American Wind Energy Association, "Well-sited small wind turbines can usually pay for themselves within 15 years, about half their serviceable lifetimes, if the right [tax] incentives are applied."
    If you want to use solar power, costs have gone way down in the past few decades -- as much as 90 percent less by some estimates. Plus, many states now require utility companies to charge homeowners for only the energy they consume beyond their solar production. This means that solar users won't be stuck in a cold, dark house on a rainy day. And some solar panels produce enough electricity to allow users to sell energy back to the utility company. Installation costs are still high -- in the thousands of dollars -- but they can be offset by tax incentives and rebates in some states.
  12. Use non-CFC refrigerants in HVAC equipment (CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, contribute to ozone depletion and are linked to global warming).