LEED for HomesFor years you've lived the green life — from energy efficient lightbulbs to growing your own veggies to reusable diapers. Now you're ready to step it up by building an LEED home.

First off, it's a great time to enter LEED living. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently updated the requirements for becoming LEED certified. They call the requirements "LEED v4." One of the aims of the update is to make the process easier. Not that the requirements are less stringent, just more of a streamlined process and less paperwork.

 

Here's a quick break down of what to expect when building an LEED certified home:

    • Install a solar energy system.
    • Choose a tankless water heater.
    • Add a roof with a light color that will reflect the sun's rays during the summer months.
    • Place energy-efficient faucets in your home. They should use 50 percent of the amount of water when compared to regular faucets.
    • Landscaping to ensure trees shade the home and no invasive species.
    • The location of the home in the sense of proximity to public transit and other community amenities.

The above is just a taste of what's involved. Planning and designing before hand are a big part of becoming certified. 

Understanding the program

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a green rating system for houses, commercial structures, entire neighborhoods, and even maintenance services.

The LEED program launched in 1998 by the USGBC. Since its start, more than 40,000 buildings built meet the plan's standards and requirements.

You can build your LEED home from the ground up or renovate your existing home to meet the requirements. All requirements fall under these main categories:

    • Sustainable sites
    • Water efficiency
    • Energy and atmosphere
    • Materials and resources
    • Indoor environmental quality

Additional categories for residential homes include:

    • Location and linkage
    • Awareness and education

And you receive extra credit for these areas:

    • Innovation in design or innovation in operations
    • Regional priority 

At times the federal government offers a tax credit for energy efficient products. For instance, geothermal heat pumps and solar energy systems, which you will want to include in your LEED build.

Check out EnergyStar.gov for what federal tax breaks are currently available. Don't overlook local and state incentives as well. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency is an excellent resource.

New World Home - USGBC LEED Home in Georgia

LEED registration

Before beginning to build your own home, you must register the project on USGBC's website. There's a flat registration fee.

Additionally, you have to find a team of inspectors in your area certified by the organization. These "Green Raters" offer an initial rating of the design. They submit a written assessment of every aspect of your green home plans to the USGBC.

How many points do you need for LEED certification?

The LEED program gives a specific number of points to the project for each requirement the new house meets or exceeds. To receive a LEED certification, the home must reach 45 to 49 points by the Green Raters.

You can go above and beyond the basic certification level for Silver, Gold and Platinum certification. Each level requires more points. Discuss with your Green Raters what your goals are and what is workable for you. The basic certification is laudable by itself.

Sustainable sites

The planned design of the landscape needs to:

    • Limit the amount of turf on the property, 
    • Feature plants that can withstand long droughts, 
    • And lower the irrigation of the land by at least 25 percent.

Furthermore, the team of builders has to apply numerous strategies to prevent erosion. Such as, placing buffer strips or rolls of fiber on the ground and installing gabions on the side of any elevated part of the land.

You cannot add invasive species of plants near your home. The landscapers need to place natural substances on crops and on grass to deter invasive bugs and install traps to catch mice.

Using water efficiently

Your green home plans need to include a system for harvesting rainwater and for reusing it. Or the project has to contain a plan to use recycled municipal water.

Additionally, your washing machine should use at least 25 percent less water than a standard machine.

Lowering the costs of energy

The homeowner must receive certifications from Energy Star. It is the authorized organization to approve products of all types for the LEED program. With an Energy Star approved home, your home is 30 percent more efficient than the average home.

For instance, the new green home has to contain approved thermostats, Energy Star skylights, and at least four Energy Star fixtures.

The pipes connected to the water heater must have Energy Star certified insulation as well.

Selecting your materials

You provide a detailed list for each piece of lumber the contractors will use to construct your house. The list needs to include the origin of every piece, and a description of how the contractor will cut every wooden board or beam.

The home builder submits written plans to USGBC for removing waste swiftly from the construction site.

Improving the air quality of your interior space

When you build your own house, the structure has to feature at least two air vents that provide fresh air from the outdoors. Each vent should include an LEED-approved filter.

If the area has a high risk for contamination by radon, the builders should:

    • Add a layer of gravel under the home's foundation.
    • Seal any cracks in the driveway or walkways.
    • Install pipes to transport the radon harmlessly into the air.

An attached garage should have an exhaust fan, and the garage shouldn't contain any HVAC systems.

Your location does matter

The LEED system gives extra points if your home is in a well-developed community. The location should offer access to public transportation systems or feature a large amount of open space.

Here's a fun, related resource: Walk Score. You receive a score for walkability, proximity to transit, and bikeability. It also maps out the distance to specific amenities, like grocery stores, coffee shops and parks.

LEED awareness and education

Your home receives more points if you take part in at least one training program. The program covers how to save energy and cut waste of all types without damaging the environment.

If you're into green living, why not sign up?

Innovation and design

You must submit a list of companies building the home to the USGBC.

The file provides dates on when each contractor will be on site, and a full description of each company's specialties and tasks.

Is LEED certification worth it?  

If you're already kicking the idea around of an LEED home, then you probably have the cash flow to support a project from the ground up.

If you're looking to renovate, every area of your home is inspected, including tearing out portions of walls and ceilings.

Generally speaking, though, it is an environmental and living goal you and your family can be proud of. It is a process you are thoroughly involved in. Your home will reflect your personality. It's a lifetime investment that pays you back monetarily, physically and emotionally.

An LEED-certified home provides inspiration to those in the building community and other homeowners. In the end, your LEED home is a testament to the health of our planet and to quality.

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Rachel Wright is an editor and writer at QualitySmith, with more than 10 years of editing experience and seven years in digital media. She strives to make her home as energy efficient as possible. Rachel also enjoys gardening, baking and interior design.