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Is it worth it to get your home LEED certified?

Home Construction Image Gallery Following LEED guidelines as you build a new home or renovate an existing property can mean significant energy and money savings. See more home construction pictures.
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If you're interested in building a green home -- or making your existing home greener -- chances are you've come across the acronym "LEED." It stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it's a green building rating system that the U.S. Green Building Council developed to promote (and provide tools and guidelines for achieving) energy savings, water efficiency, reduction in carbon emissions, reduction in waste sent to landfills, improved indoor air quality, protection of natural resources, and the choice of environmentally and socially responsible sites for the construction of new buildings [source: Natural Resources Defense Council].

There are LEED certification programs for commercial buildings and public facilities, as well as a program for residential buildings, known as LEED for Homes. Achieving certification is an involved process that requires a home to earn a certain number of points, and there are four available levels of certification. The maximum number of points any home can earn is 136.

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A home awarded 90 to 136 points gets Platinum certification; 75 to 89 points equals Gold; 60 to 74 points earns Silver; and 45 to 59 points means a home is simply certified, but hasn't achieved enough points to earn a Gold, Silver or Platinum status [source: Natural Resources Defense Council]. Earning points -- and certification -- requires verification by a designated third party, so you can't just claim that you've followed LEED guidelines and get certified. A LEED for Homes Providers or Green Raters needs to make sure you've done what you're supposed to do.

Whether or not you go through the process of getting certified, following LEED guidelines as you build a new home or renovate an existing property can mean significant energy and money savings. It also lessens your home's negative impact on the environment and creates a healthier space for you and your family. And if you do actually get LEED certification, that can mean good things for your home's resale value and potential tax incentives, not to mention bragging rights to your eco-savvy friends. Here's a look at some good reasons to become a LEED-er.

 

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LEED is designed to help you create a greener, healthier, more energy efficient place to live.
LEED is designed to help you create a greener, healthier, more energy efficient place to live.
©iStockphoto.com/nsj-images

The costs of heating and cooling a home can be huge -- both in terms of your wallet and the environment. Living in a home that's as energy efficient as possible cuts your personal expenses and your carbon footprint. LEED guidelines can help you do this by making sure every part of your home -- the walls and ceilings, of course, but also pipes and ducts and seams -- is properly insulated. Following LEED guidelines also means you'll be using less energy to heat your water and using less water overall, thanks to the installation of low-flow showerheads, faucets and toilets. And LEED specifications steer you toward placement of windows, doors, and shading elements like trees and awnings that maximize passive heating and cooling, driving your expenses (and energy use) down further [source: Natural Resources Defense Council].

Saving energy alone is one of the most important things we can do for the environment. If everyone's home were up to par with LEED standards, as a country we'd be emitting a whole lot less carbon into the atmosphere. But that's not the only way LEED benefits the planet. Homes built or renovated to LEED specifications use far fewer non-renewable resources (and fewer materials overall), send much smaller amounts of waste to landfills and are less of a drain on the local water supply [source: Natural Resources Defense Council]. What's more, a LEED-certified home is likely built in a location where it won't damage sensitive natural habitats -- and where its inhabitants can easily and safely access public transportation and community services on foot or bike, meaning they're spending less time in cars and cutting their carbon footprints even more.

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Having a green home is not only better for the environment, it's also better for you and your family. The air you breathe will be a healthier if you follow LEED guidelines and avoid products such as paints, primers and adhesives that emit toxic chemicals [source: Natural Resources Defense Council]. Controlling indoor moisture through the steps LEED recommends reduces the risk of mold development and makes your house more comfortable and durable. Properly ventilating your home cuts the potential for leakage of combustion gases into your living space and can reduce your exposure to indoor pollutants by freshening your indoor air with air from the outside, in an intentional method that doesn't drive up energy use and costs.

LEED guidelines also include suggestions for installing walk-off mats near doors and setting up a shoe removal and storage space near your main entryway, separate from your living space, to further diminish contaminants in your home, because it turns out we track a ton of them in on our shoes. Plus, living in a place where you can walk or bike to services -- move more and drive less, in other words -- is a bonus for your physical fitness level [source: Natural Resources Defense Council].

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Finally, one of the main reasons to go through the rigorous process of obtaining LEED certification (aside from making your home as green as possible) is its increased value when it's time to market and sell the place. As more and more prospective buyers become aware of the benefits of a LEED-certified house, having that distinction can seriously help a home stand out, even in (or especially in) a difficult real estate market. Homes that meet LEED criteria are less expensive to live in, because they use so much less energy and water than non-green homes. Furthermore, they're healthier -- the air is cleaner, and there are few toxic contaminants lurking on the walls, in the carpeting or anywhere else. Once a home has LEED certification, sellers can use signage, press releases and other collateral approved by the U.S. Green Building Council to let interested buyers know about a home's greenness.

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Sources

  • National Fenestration Rating Council. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://nfrc.org/
  • Natural Resources Defense Council. "LEED Certification Information." (Dec. 22, 2010) http://www.nrdc.org/buildinggreen/leed.asp
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Heat Island Effect." February 9, 2009. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://www.epa.gov/hiri/about/index.htm
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Energy Star." (Dec. 27, 2010) http://www.energystar.gov/
  • U.S. Green Building Council. "Green Home Guide LEED for Homes Certification Program." (Dec. 21, 2010) http://greenhomeguide.com/program/leed-for-homes
  • U.S. Green Building Council. "LEED for Homes Rating System." Jan. 2008. (Dec. 22, 2010) http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=3638
  • U.S. Green Building Council. "Scope and Eligibility Guidelines LEED for Homes." Jan. 11, 2011. (Jan. 12, 2011) http://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=5482
  • U.S. Green Building Council. "LEED Frequently Asked Questions." (Dec. 21, 2010) http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1819#Govt

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