For more than 20 years, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification has been the sustainability gold standard for commercial buildings. But now, LEED-certified homes are soaring in popularity.
The exclusive framework has caught the eye of people who want to build or remodel their homes to improve energy efficiency, lower carbon emissions, and create a healthier environment for their families. And there’s plenty of incentive to seek the certification: A new home built to LEED standards can be worth 8% more and use up to 60% less energy than a conventional home.1 What’s more, LEED-certified homes often qualify for insurance discounts, tax breaks, and other incentives.
The LEED road map for greener living
LEED-certified homes provide clean indoor air and ample natural light, and they use safe building materials to ensure comfort and good health, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). They reduce energy and water consumption, lower our contribution to global climate change, and enhance a community’s quality of life.
“The difference between a LEED-certified home and a ‘green’ home is that third-party certification demonstrates a home not only has these measures installed but also is performing at a different level,” says Jennifer Owens, USGBC’s quality director for LEED Residential.
In other words, the proof is in the performance.
Whether LEED certification is the end goal, there are many steps homeowners can take on the journey to making their homes more energy efficient and sustainable. If you want to rethink your habitat, USGBC suggests focusing on these six areas:
1. Human health and comfort
LEED-certified homes offer improved air quality as well as thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. Consider enhanced ventilation systems, radon-resistant construction, and low-emission building materials and furnishings.
By using renewable energy sources, such as solar or geothermal systems, LEED-certified homes use fewer fossil fuels and contribute less to air pollution.
3. Water efficiency
Lower water consumption by remodeling kitchens and baths with high-efficiency fixtures and fittings, changing your approach to hot water distribution, or finding ways to capture and reuse rainwater and gray water (such as used water from your shower). Landscaping with native or climate-acclimated plants also helps.
Choose homes and neighborhoods with easy access to public transportation, sidewalks, and bike paths, thereby reducing dependence on cars. If you can’t relocate, advocate for changes that help your community be more physically active while reducing overall emissions.
In addition to promoting sustainably produced materials, such as FSC-certified lumber, LEED standards reward the use of locally sourced, recycled, or salvaged materials. A life cycle analysis can identify materials and finishes that last longer and produce less environmental waste.
LEED-certified residential buildings have features like eaves, berms, and backup power sources that reduce risk from wildfires, extreme heat, flooding, and winter storms. “If a home makes it through a wildfire because of intentional design, that’s obviously a huge cost and material savings,” Owens says.