How LEED Certification Works

Location, Sustainable Sites and Water Efficiency

solaire building
Richard Drew/AFP/Getty Images
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Gov. George Pataki check out the solar panels on the Solaire building in New York City, the largest green residential building in the United States.

Some LEED location specifications are more difficult than others to meet. The LEED neighborhood development project (LEED-ND), which certifies environmentally friendly, sustainable communities, is in the pilot program stage, so there aren't many around yet. Some of the other rules are easier to comply with because they're linked to environmental laws that could already be in place.

  1. Buy your home in a LEED-ND certified development.
  2. Don’t build on wetlands or on farmland.
  3. Build within existing communities.
  4. Build within a half-mile of existing water and sewer lines.
  5. Set your home near resources like supermarkets and libraries or near public transportation.
  6. Select a site within a half-mile of a community-based open space, like a park.

Sustainable sites
Again, some of these items could be difficult or impossible for current homeowners (increasing the density of housing units on your property would mean getting into zoning issues). But adding mulch around your plants is a lot more doable -- and it won't upset the neighbors as much.

  1. Change as little of the land as possible to avoid disrupting the ecosystem.
  2. Minimize the need for water by mulching and using native plants. A compost heap does double duty, eliminating garbage and producing mulch.
  3. Plant native trees and bushes to shade patios, sidewalks and driveways to reduce heat islands -- hot spots that raise the overall temperature in a metropolitan area, require more water to cool off and increase energy demand.
  4. Install open pavers, retaining walls and rainwater cisterns to prevent erosion and runoff.
  5. Use native plants and pest-resistant materials like cement and stainless-steel screens to cut down on the use of chemicals in your garden. Plant shrubs and trees at least 24 inches from the house so pests don’t have a chance to hop from a tree to your basement.
  6. Conserve land by increasing the density of housing units (don’t use 30 acres for your own private compound).
How do I get started?
Your first step should be to find a LEED-accredited builder and/or architect. There is a directory of certified professionals -- which also includes interior designers, attorneys, engineers and landscape architects -- on the U.S. Green Building Council Web site.

Water efficiency
There are many new innovations that will help you reduce water use, and most of them are inexpensive and easy to implement. Some communities offer treated gray water (waste water) to homeowners as an alternative to using municipal fresh water supplies.

  1. Use rainwater or gray water for landscape irrigation. A rain barrel is an increasingly popular alternative for collecting water. Basically, it's a plastic or clay barrel that you place under a gutter downspout to catch rainwater. You can cover it with a screen filter to keep out leaves and debris, and putting a lid on it after it rains can prevent some evaporation. Rain barrels range in cost, depending on the size and features, but they generally start around $100.
  2. Install a high-efficiency irrigation system with moisture-sensor controls that minimize evaporation and overwatering.
  3. Install high-efficiency fixtures, like low-flow showerheads, faucets and toilets. Fixing leaky faucets and pipes can save gallons of water a day.