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What Aspects Are Considered for a LEED Certified Building?

Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Marina Onokhina
Michael Tobias

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LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is one of the most popular certification programs for green buildings in the world. LEED was developed by the US Green Building Council, and it is managed globally by GBCI – Green Business Certification Inc. Before a project can be certified, it is assessed across several performance categories, and the certification level awarded is based on the total score achieved.

There are several LEED certification frameworks, and each has been developed for the needs of a different type of project:

  • BD+C: Building design and construction
  • O+M: Building operations and maintenance
  • ID+C: Interior design and construction
  • Homes
  • ND: Neighborhood development

LEED certification is based on a series of credits that each award a specified number of points. In the case of new constructions and major renovations, the maximum possible score is 110. Building projects must have a score of at least 40 to be certified, and there are also three higher tiers: Silver (50+), Gold (60+) and Platinum (80+).

It is important to note that some LEED credits are mandatory for certification. A building that misses even one of the mandatory credits becomes ineligible, regardless of the score obtained.

How a LEED Score is Broken Down

As mentioned above, not all LEED credits have the same weight towards a building certification. For example, up to 6 points can be claimed for water use reduction, but there are 18 points available for energy performance. Project developers can aim for any combination of credits to certify a building, as long as the mandatory items are covered.

LEED credits are classified into eight categories, which add up 109 points. An additional point can be claimed by following an integrative process from the start of the project, bringing the maximum score to 110. The eight LEED categories and their possible points are the following:

  • Location and transportation – 16
  • Sustainable sites – 10
  • Water efficiency – 11
  • Energy and atmosphere – 33
  • Materials and resources – 13
  • Indoor environmental quality – 16
  • Innovation – 6
  • Regional priority – 4

The first six categories are equal for all projects, with a predefined list of credits. The 16 points under Location and Transportation can be earned automatically by selecting a site that is already certified under LEED for Neighborhood Development.

The innovation category grants up to 5 points for measures that reduce the impact of a building and are not covered in other categories. As their name implies, regional priority credits are based on geographic location. They cover measures that offer a particularly high benefit under local conditions.

Considering the wide range of technical areas covered, LEED certification requires a multidisciplinary effort. GBCI manages the application process for a LEED certified building, reviewing the credits for which the building is applying. Credits are awarded or denied based on the information provided, and additional information may be requested by GBCI to complete the certification process.

The Importance of Required Credits in LEED Certification

Required credits do not have a score attached to them, but they are mandatory for a LEED certified building. Note that required credits are independent from the LEED score: even if a building project earns more than 80 points, it cannot get a Platinum certification if any of the required credits was missed.

The following credits are mandatory for LEED certification in new construction and major renovations:

LEED Category Mandatory Credits
Sustainable sites Construction activity pollution prevention
Water efficiency Outdoor water use reduction

Indoor water use reduction

Building-level water metering

Energy and atmosphere Fundamental commissioning and verification

Minimum energy performance

Building-level energy metering

Fundamental refrigerant management

Materials and resources Storage and collection of recyclables

Construction and demolition waste management planning

Indoor environmental quality Minimum indoor air quality performance

Environmental tobacco smoke control

 

Depending on the type of project, additional credits may also be mandatory. For example, schools must meet all the credits in the table above, as well as an Environmental Site Assessment (Sustainable Sites) and Minimum Acoustic Performance (Indoor Environmental Quality).

When getting a LEED certification for a building, a recommended practice is aiming for a number of credits that leaves a margin of error. For example, if a developer plans for a LEED Gold certification, the project should aim well above 60 credits. That way, some credits can be rejected without bringing the project to a lower certification category.

Construction administration is also vital when a developer is working towards a LEED certification. LEED credits cover not only the finished building, but also its construction process. Even if the finished building consumes minimal amounts of water and energy, the LEED certification may be denied if the construction process was very polluting, or lacking in waste management practices.

Does a LEED Certification Offer Competitive Advantages?

Since an LEED certification demands a minimum performance level in water and energy use, the building owner can expect lower operating costs throughout the service life of the property. However, the certification also provides business benefits for developers who have tenant spaces for rent, especially in competitive markets like New York City and Chicago.

If a potential tenant is considering several spaces for rent, the LEED certification level of a building can be an important factor in the decision. Considering that the program has global recognition, using commercial spaces with a LEED certification can boost corporate image. Since the certification covers water conservation, energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality, it is associated with reduced utility bills and a human-friendly working environment.

LEED for Building Professionals

The LEED program not only offers building certification, but also professional credentials:

  • The entry-level credential is called LEED Green Associate, and it requires a specified number of training hours and passing an exam.
  • Professionals with advanced knowledge on green buildings can apply for the LEED Accredited Professional credential, and there is a version of LEED AP for each of the five frameworks listed above.
  • Finally, a LEED Fellow is a LEED AP with an exceptional track record in the green building industry. There is no application procedure – LEED Fellows are nominated.

Although a building can be certified without a LEED AP, the process is much simpler when one of the team members has advanced knowledge on the topic. In fact, the building project earns one point in the Innovation category for having a LEED AP as a team member with a principal role.

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of 30+ mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City; and has led over 1,000 projects in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia.

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