The U.S. Green Building Council, or USGBC, is the agency that is responsible for LEED (or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), certification. The idea, begun in 2000, is to have an internationally recognized standard to measure buildings, condominiums and homes for their compliance with certain standards that relate to saving energy and protecting the environment. This is not a government program, but rather a system within the free market that has the effect of making structures less costly to operate and more attractive to purchasers, owners and tenants. LEED certification can be earned for both new construction and renovation of older structures.
Many individuals who are seeking to either purchase or rent a condominium are attracted to the idea of LEED certification. For the condominium owner, it provides the opportunity to be part of a group that is actively being “green”, resulting in a cleaner and safer environment along with reduced energy costs not only to the individual condominium owner but also for the group association. The common areas also take on features that meet LEED certification with an example being a roof that contains vegetation.
Prior to building or renovating, the owner developer submits plans for the condominium to the USGBC for LEED certification. The process involves the awarding of points for providing certain features and meeting certain standards. A minimum number of points are required for LEED certification. Additional points earn different levels of certification. Once the LEED certification is obtained, it is used for promotional purposes and has the effect of increasing the value of the condominium. This makes LEED certification attractive to initial buyers and also increases resale value. There is a market of individuals who want to reside in a LEED certified building.
There are five main categories that are rated. The first is sustainable site, which evaluates the impact the project has upon the land and water resources. It measures the level of sustainability. The second category measures water efficiency, both inside and outside the building. In other words, is water being used efficiently with a little waster as possible? The next measurement involves energy and atmosphere credits. The emphasis is using energy wisely and minimizing the impact on the air around the structure. A good rating here not only increases the LEED certification but puts money in the pocket of the owner through reduced utility costs. The fourth criteria relates to materials and resources. Does the building use sustainable materials in its construction or renovation? Was there as little waste as possible of resources during construction? The last category is indoor environmental quality. For example, this measures the air quality in the individual condominium unit and the outdoor views and the amount of natural light. A unit with clean air, a good view of the outside environment and plenty of sunlight makes for a good living environment. Points are awarded in each category. Additional points can be earned for areas such as neighborhood location, green infrastructure and innovative design. That includes renovation projects in locations that are walkable to transit and other amenities.
The number of points determines the level of LEED certification. Earning the minimum points results in LEED certified structure. Additional points can reach the levels of silver, gold and platinum, which is the highest level. Owners and sellers that can advertise that their condominium is LEED certified at whatever level is achieved. The benefits are lower costs for maintenance and utilities, higher property values and the satisfaction of knowing the property is leaving less of an environmental impact.