LEED Certification: Why Better Air Distribution Lowers Environmental Impact & Costs


Shifting to green buildings is not only a significant way to support the environment, it ’s also a proven and increasingly-adopted method of building valuable long-term savings. This is achieved through lower energy consumption, efficient water management and other methods of reducing building operating costs. Be it a new construction project or refit of an existing property, the best way to start is by ensuring that you are aligned with credible industry standards and are using proven industry solutions.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a building-rating system created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to certify if new and existing buildings are aligned with today’s resource efficiency and emission standards. Implemented in more than 167 countries, LEED is the most widely used green building rating and certification system globally for assessing building projects, including commercial, residential and institutional properties.

LEED certification is carried out by the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which serves as an independent body. The GBCI maintains a staff of technical experts for the LEED process. It works in concert with the WELL Certification, which examines impacts on occupant health.

According to the USGBC, LEED-compliant buildings and projects “use fewer energy and water resources; save money for families, businesses, and taxpayers; reduce carbon emissions; and prioritize environmental and human health”. In the United States alone 2,647 commercial and institutional projects attained LEED certification in 2017, totaling 484.6 million square feet of real estate space. Globally, upwards of 6.5 billion square feet of real estate is LEED certified.

How LEED Certification Works

The USGBC was established by Rick Fedrizzi, David Gottfried, and Mike Italiano in 1993 as a non-government entity. Its mission is to “promote sustainability-focused practices in the building industry”. In 2000, the USGBC revealed the LEED rating system as a framework for determining if and how well a project aligns with green building practices. The USGBC is constantly working on LEED, ensuring that it is up-to-date with emerging industry trends.

LEED Rating System

LEED has a total of four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. However, in addition to accumulating points for LEED Certification, the building project must also be ‘precertified’ prior to being measured for LEED. In other words, the project must showcase a number of design prerequisites in each of the eight areas of evaluation (below) before it can qualify for points.

To attain certification, a project requires a minimum of 40-49 points in addition to precertification. You would basically select one of these four levels before undertaking your intended building project. Points are accumulated by incorporating specific design elements, which cover every aspect of your building, namely:

  • Location & Transportation for up to 16 points (e.g. dense areas with residential and shopping units, proximity to public transit, reduced parking, bicycle facilities, etc)
  • Sustainable Sites for up to 10 points (e.g. protecting/restoring a habitat, managing rainwater, heat island reduction, light pollution reduction, etc)
  • Water Efficiency for up to 11 points (e.g. indoor and outdoor water use reduction, cooling tower water use, metering water usage, etc);
  • Energy & Atmosphere for up to 33 points (e.g. optimizing energy performance, demand response, green power and carbon offsets, enhanced commissioning, etc)
  • Material & Resources for up to 13 points (e.g. life-cycle impact reduction, disclosing raw material sourcing, construction/demolition waste management, etc)
  • Indoor Environmental Quality for up to 16 points (e.g. indoor air quality and air distribution systems, thermal comfort, noise reduction, etc)
  • Innovation for up to six points
  • Regional Priority for up to four points

The complete list of prerequisites as well as how to practically accumulate rating points can be found on the USGBC website. To achieve Silver, Gold or Platinum LEED status, your project will require 50-59, 60-79 and 80+ points, respectively.

Finally, LEED is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ attempt at certifying buildings. The USGBC has specific guidelines for assessing each category of a project:

  • Building Design & Construction (BD+C) for evaluating new construction projects or major renovations
  • Interior Design & Construction (ID+C) for interior refit projects involving construction
  • Building Operations & Maintenance (O+M) for examining refit programs for existing buildings that involve limited or no construction work
  • Neighborhood Development (ND) for land development or redevelopment programs for commercial, residential, non-residential or mixed uses
  • Homes including single family homes as well as low and mid-rise multi-family projects, such as one-to-three story or four-to-six story buildings, respectively.

Since January 05 2018, LEED has been on its fourth iteration – i.e. LEED v4. LEED v4 strongly emphasizes the use of metering and monitoring, especially at the LEED precertification stage in which it examines if a project has formal energy commissioning, building-level energy metering and minimum indoor air quality (IAQ) performance.

Getting Started with LEED

Whether you have a new building project or are looking to undertake a refit of existing property, it is a prudent business decision to go green. In fact, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) stated in its 2013 report, “green buildings can now be delivered at prices comparable to those for conventional buildings and these costs can be recouped through operational costs savings.”

The LEED category with the highest impact on a potential LEED rating level is – at 33 points – Energy & Atmosphere, followed by Indoor Environmental Quality at 16 points. You can address both areas by reviewing your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Consider examining improved HVAC solutions, such as an underfloor air distribution system (UFAD), as a start to an effective processes of achieving LEED certification or even raising your LEED rating. Contact us today to discuss how to incorporate an effective HVAC strategy to your LEED Certification efforts.