How to Achieve LEED Certification

How to Become LEED Certified

Max Twogood for Zondits, July 9, 2014

There are many ways to certify a building through the LEED ranking system.  It first depends on the type of building to be certified. LEED has specific rating systems for the different building types:


Building Design and Construction (BD&C) applies to newly constructed buildings or major renovations, whereas Interior Design and Construction (ID&C) is for complete interior fit-outs. Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB: O&M) applies to existing buildings that are undergoing improvements with little to no construction.


Neighborhood Development (ND) is used to rate new land developments containing residential use, non-residential use, or a mix thereof. The Homes rating system is used for single-family homes and low- to mid-rise multifamily units. Each rating system uses points to evaluate a building’s performance in four categories that the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has deemed essential to sustainability, including: water, energy, materials, indoor air quality, and land use.

LEED uses a specific checklist with guidelines and metrics to determine the building’s performance in each category. For example, water fixtures must be low-flow fixtures, which they define as 0.5 gpm for commercial lavatory faucets. The sixth category, shown in the figure, is Innovation in Design (ID).  This category’s points are primarily awarded for exceptional performance above the prerequisites set forth by the other categories or for innovative design in sustainability that is not specifically addressed by the rating system. A project can earn a maximum of 5 ID points.

Not all the point categories are worth the same amount of points, and in fact they can vary by region due to regional priorities. For example, in California, a state often at risk of drought and water shortages, water efficiency plays a heavier role in certification. Regional priority credits are accounted for separately and are automatically awarded to the project by the USGBC based on zip code. A maximum of four regional priority credits can be awarded per project. Each rating system has four certification levels based on the total number of points awarded:



The process flow for a LEED project can be lengthy and heavy in documentation, so it’s helpful to have a designated project manager coordinate it. The first step is to decide on the rating system that applies to your building and then register the project on LEED Online, a web-based project management and application preparation software (registration fees apply). Then, early on in the design process, an integrated project team consisting of stakeholders, designers, engineers, and architects collaborates to design a sustainable building that achieves the desired number of points for its design and/or operations. When satisfied with the expected number of points, the project coordinator will prepare the application and submit via LEED Online (application fees apply). The GBCI reviews the application, performs any necessary audits, and awards the certification. If the project is awarded fewer points than anticipated and it jeopardizes the certification, there is an opportunity to reconcile; however, additional fees may apply for multiple reconciliations.

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