What is LEED Certification?

Posted by Brian Enright on Tuesday, June 4th, 2019 at 1:49pm.

LEED is about leadership in green thinking — it's intended to make buildings more efficient and better for the environment. You've probably seen a LEED certification on a building before, or perhaps you've seen it advertised in a new condo building that you are considering buying into. You probably already know that LEED means green.

However, as you might expect, it's a little more complex than that. Below, you'll find a quick condo-focused guide to the points that LEED considers, the process of reviewing projects and the various levels of certifications available.

An Introduction to Green Buildings

The USGBC is currently on LEED 4.1., and the program has expanded to cover various different types of developments. There are nine major categories points that a building could earn. Please continue to read on for a brief discussion of every category and why it would matter to you as a potential residential buyer. even though you may not be reading the entire LEED report on every perspective condo you consider, it may help to know what excellence in all of these categories means.

Location and Transportation

Many home buyers these days prioritize convenience. More people now are seeking the vibrant, live-work-play lifestyle that's available in city centers and walkable communities. This category of LEED points relates directly to this car-free lifestyle. Buildings may receive a higher LEED classification if their residents can walk, take bikes or ride public transit everywhere they need. It takes amenities, such as parks and restaurants, into account; chances are that a highly rated LEED building would give you superlative access to many recreational and cultural opportunities.

Sustainable Sites

The sustainability of the site is closely related to the location and transportation category. Think about it as the natural side of the building's location. Projects get more points if they are integrated into the natural environment. For you as a buyer, could mean that higher certifications have more green spaces, better drainage and various other quality-of-life benefits.

Indoor Environmental Quality

Are you going to be spending a lot of time in your home? The answer is probably yes. Even if you're buying an investment property, you probably want a healthy indoor environment for your potential tenants. Here are some environmental quality factors that LEED considers:

• Natural cleaning chemical use

• Thermal comfort

• Light quality

• Pest management

• Air quality

In general, this category is all about making interior spaces that are comfortable, healthy and generally pleasant. It could even take aspects such as acoustics into account. High ranking in this category would suggest an extraordinary level of attention to interior detail.


Innovation could be an important point for you as a buyer. Excellence in this category often means that a forward-thinking team designed the building. The points go to non-standard strategies that were effectively implemented during the design phase of the building. For example, if new designs were responsible for significant improvements in water efficiency and environmental quality, the project might get points for innovation.

Energy and Atmosphere

The energy and atmosphere category seeks to reward buildings that reduce dependence on non-renewable sources of energy. For example, a LEED-certified condo building might have a sustainable energy source on-site to supplement energy supplies during peak hours. This could reduce the need for the development of power plants. The building may also use sustainable energy sources, such as solar or biofuel.

Material and Resources

The LEED material and resources category is concerned with the materials used to build the structure and the treatment of construction waste. If you are concerned about shopping local, this is one of the most important categories — it looks at where every product comes from. It also takes into account other aspects of the physical construction supplies, such as the percentage of post-consumer content in a given material.

Water Efficiency

It doesn't take much to know that water is an incredibly important part of human life. The water efficiency category intends to manage water use and reduce waste. There are many different credits available in this general area, including points for the use of municipal wastewater and harvesting of rainfall. The general goal is to encourage builders to reduce water use, keep track of consumption and use every drop in a mindful manner.

Regional Priority

If you are buying in Las Vegas, the concerns of building sustainably and efficiently are much different than if you're looking for a condo in Seattle. The LEED system recognizes this and offers special credits for buildings that consider their impact on the immediate environment. This category would be different anywhere you go, but the point is to get developers to start thinking locally.

Integrative Process

The integrative processes category may be one of the more difficult ones to understand for someone outside of the construction industry. It's almost entirely concerned with the design part of the building. It looks at how intelligent and environmentally focused thinking works across multiple categories to increase total energy efficiency.

The Rating System

Now that you know where the points come from, it will be much easier to understand how the system works. Generally, a panel of experts and leaders forms to rate every building that applies for LEED using a 110-point system. The building then gets a certification with one of the following rankings:

Platinum: 80 or above

Gold: 60 to 79

Silver: 50 to 59

Certified: 40 to 49

In addition, there are some basic prerequisites that any LEED aspirant has to meet before they even get the opportunity to be ranked. Unless you are extremely concerned about a specific environmental issue, even the certified level should be an indication that your potential building is a good choice for the planet. With this in mind, don't be afraid to ask a local real estate expert about LEED certification status during your condo search.


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