What is LEED and LEED Certified Building


The green movement is growing in size. People, organizations, and governments are increasingly looking for new cleaner more environmentally and energy efficient means of operating. LEED is one of the newest and most recognizable certification processes available for achieving these goals.

About LEED

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, was developed in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is a set of rating systems that promote, identify, and implement green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance. This certification offers a third party verification that the design, construction, operations, and maintenance of a building, home or community achieve high performance in areas of human and environmental health.

LEED measures nine key areas of human and environmental health. These areas include sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, materials & resources, indoor environmental quality, locations & linkages, awareness & education, innovation in design, and regional priority. These measurements are evaluated by and certification is awarded by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

The GBCI is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2008. The GBCI is independent from the USGBC, but the USGBC supported the establishment of the organization. The GBCI is comprised of a network of international certifying bodies to maintain the capacity of the LEED’s process. To maintain consistency and integrity of LEED’s certification, all certifying bodies are ISO-compliant.

The GBCI awards nine different LEED rating system certifications. These certifications include new construction and major renovations, schools, healthcare, retail: new construction and major renovation, homes, core & shell, commercial interiors, retail: commercial interior, and existing buildings: operations and maintenance. These certifications are offered at four different levels, certified, silver, gold, and platinum.

Attaining LEED certification provides both financial and environmental benefits that are measurable and immediately seen in the buildings’ performance. LEED certification will lower the operating costs of the building, increase the value of the assets, and qualify the owner for tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other financial incentives. Additionally, it offers environmental impacts, including reduced waste, energy and water conservation, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and provides a healthier and safer environment for those occupying the building.

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LEED Certified Buildings

LEED certified buildings are buildings that have been designed, constructed, operated, and/or maintained to more efficiently use resources when compared to buildings built to code standards. LEED certified buildings meet the point requirements for their particular building rating system. Minimum point requirements are 40+ for certification, 50+ for silver, 60+ for gold, and 80+ for platinum.

It is possible to achieve up to 100 total points on any of the seven rating systems. The five key areas that are evaluated include sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, materials & resources, and indoor environmental quality. The points possible in each area vary with the type of rating system. An additional 10 bonus points are available on every rating system for innovation in design, and regional priority. LEED for homes adds two categories to the standard seven, locations & linkages and awareness & education. Each of these nine categories encompasses a variety of components.

LEED Categories

The sustainable sites category is about site selection and development. LEED standards in this category encourage the use of previously developed land, minimal impact on the ecosystem, landscaping for the region, smart transportation options, and the control of storm water runoff. It also promotes the reduction of light and construction pollution, heat island effect, and erosion.

Water Category

The water efficiency category covers interior and exterior water usage. Exteriors with low water usage landscaping are highly encouraged. The use of water efficient appliances, fixtures, and fittings are suggested for interior use.

Energy and Atmosphere Category

The category of energy & atmosphere focuses on clean energy and energy conservation. The use of onsite or offsite renewable and clean energy is highly recommended. Commissioning, energy monitoring systems, and energy efficiency designs and constructions are some other areas of consideration. The use of energy efficient appliances, systems and lighting are energy conserving areas of consideration.

Materials and Resources Category

The materials & resources category not only focuses on what is being used but also what is being wasted and/or discarded. In the area of use, sustainably grown, harvested, produced, and transported materials are encouraged. In the area of waste, LEED standards encourage waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. Reduction of waste at a materials source is particularly encouraged and rewarded which is why metal building kits are so valuable to the green movement.

Innovation and Design Category

The innovation in design category is part of the 10 bonus points. This category awards points for buildings that go far beyond LEED standards or address issues that are not specifically set out in the LEED standards. It also awards points for those that use LEED accredited professionals.

Regional Priority Category

The regional priority category is also part of the 10 bonus points. This category awards points to buildings that address the USBGC designated regional environmental concerns for their area. Each region of the country has different regional considerations.

Locations and Linkage Category

The locations & linkages category is specific to the LEED for homes rating system. Building near environmentally sensitive areas and in non-developed areas is discouraged. Points are awarded to homes that are near existing infrastructure, community resources, transportation, and in areas that encourage walking, physical activity, and time outdoors.

Awareness and Education Category

Awareness & education is a category linked specifically to the LEED for homes rating system. This category emphasizes the importance for homeowners to understand how to use their green systems effectively.

Types of LEED Buildings

A buildings LEED certification rating system is determined by type of construction and space usage. The nine different rating systems can be broken down in to different building types.

New construction & major renovations buildings cannot principally serve the educational needs of K-12, retail, or healthcare. This building type would also apply towards buildings that are more than seven stories and residential.

School buildings can be on or off school grounds, but must have core and ancillary learning spaces. These building type and rating systems also apply towards non academic buildings that are on school campuses.

Healthcare buildings include standard medical facilities that provide inpatient and outpatient services. This building type may also include services such as dental, veterinarian, medical education, and research centers.

Retail buildings can use new construction or commercial interior rating systems depending on the type of construction. Retail buildings must sell goods and have a customer service area and preparation or storage area.

Home buildings can be defined as single family home residencies from 1-3 stories. They may also be considered multi-family residencies that are from 4-6 stories. Anything larger would fall under new construction & major renovations.

Core and shell buildings are only undergoing construction on the exterior of the building. This would also include buildings that are renovating their core mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems.

Existing buildings are those going under renovations and improvements. These buildings will have little to no construction.


How do you determine which certification rating system to use?

Determine the construction type, and then determine the type of space usage. If more than one rating system may apply the 40%/60% method is recommended for determining the rating systems. Do not use a rating system if less than 40% of the space usage is designated to a rating system. Use a rating system if more than 60% of the space usage is designated to a rating system. If between 40% and 60%, either rating system may be chosen.

Where can I get specific information on a LEED rating system?

There is a LEED Reference Guide for each rating system available for purchase in a PDF online version or hard copy at the USGBC website.

How much does it cost to get LEED certified?

Information on fees for registration and processes can be found at the Green Building Certification Institute website, at GBCI.org.

Where can I find more information on green materials, manufacturers, and products?

The USGBC does not endorse any products, but has a Knowledge Exchange website that can connect LEED professionals. Other LEED professionals may have the answers to any questions on green resources.

LEED Resources

  • U.S. Green Building Council: USGBC.org
  • Green Building Institute: GBCI.org
  • Canada projects, Canada Green Building Council: cagbc.org

Author: Conrad Mackie