Being Green: LEED and ENERGY STAR

energy efficient

It’s getting easier and easier to be green when it comes to buying a home, especially a newly constructed home. Many builders pursue green certifications with every home they build.

Home buyers who want to find environmentally friendly options may notice that certifications come from several different organizations. Let’s take a look at how to understand what these certifications mean.

In the US, there are two major indicators to keep an eye out for: LEED, which certifies environmentally friendly buildings, and ENERGY STAR, which certifies energy efficiency.  

LEED home certification

Who runs LEED?

LEED is a program of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which also runs additional programs toward its mission “to improve quality of life by transforming the design, composition and operation of the places where we live, work, learn and play.”

What does LEED really mean?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In USGBC’s words, “LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.” It does this by providing certification to recognize buildings (including homes) around the world that have achieved levels of sustainability.

What’s the benefit of a LEED certified home?

LEED gives these benefits:

-Certified homes are built to be healthy. They provide clean indoor air and incorporate safe building materials.

-Certified homes use less energy and water, leading to lower utility bills.  

-In many markets, certified homes currently sell faster and for higher prices than comparable non-green homes.

How does a home get LEED certified?

Points toward LEED certification are awarded in various categories including Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation and more.

The reference guide for residential certification gives details about how homes can earn points as well as prerequisites that must be met.

What are the levels of LEED certification?

There are four levels of certification, based on how many points a home (or any building project) earns: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), (Gold 60-79 points), and Platinum (80+ points).

Quick facts about LEED

-LEED is the most widely used green building system in the world

-The LEED rating system launched in 2000

2.2 million square feet are LEED certified every day

-LEED is in 165 countries and territories

-LEED Zero verifies achievement of net zero goals for carbon emissions, energy, water, and waste

ENERGY STAR home certification


ENERGY STAR is a government-backed program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which sees ENERGY STAR as “a symbol for energy efficiency, providing simple, credible,and unbiased information that consumers and businesses rely on to make well-informed decisions.”

What does ENERGY STAR really mean?

ENERGY STAR certification means that a home is at least 10% more energy efficient than homes built to code and, on average, ENERGY STAR homes are 20% more efficient than typical new homes. ENERGY STAR certifies products, non-residential buildings, and industrial plants in addition to  homes.

What’s the benefit of an ENERGY STAR certified home?

The benefits of ENERGY STAR certified homes include:

-Better durability thanks to a comprehensive water management system

-Better comfort thanks to more consistent temperatures

-Reduced utility and maintenance costs at an average of $250 per year

Based on national averages, ENERGY STAR certified homes built in 2018 alone are the equivalent of:

-Growing 3,558,179 tree seedlings for 10 years

-Avoiding the consumption of 323,313 barrels of oil

-Removing 29,812 passenger vehicles from the road

How does a home get ENERGY STAR certified?

Independent inspections and tests ensure that a new home meets the EPA’s guidelines for ENERGY STAR certification. These guidelines outline standards for heating and cooling equipment, windows and doors, water heaters, thermostats and duct work, and more.

Both the builder and a third-party  Home Energy Rater take many steps during design and construction to meet the requirements, whether they be the national criteria or specific criteria for certain states including Washington and California.

Quick facts about ENERGY STAR

-Since 1992, ENERGY STAR and its partners helped save almost 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity and achieve over 3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions, which equals taking over 600 million cars off the road for a year

-Each ENERGY STAR certified home reduced greenhouse gases (GHG) by 3,287 pounds per year compared to a typical home, the equivalent of planting 39 trees

-90% of the nation’s largest home builders build ENERGY STAR certified new homes and apartments

-In 2018, 83,000 homeowners retrofitted their existing homes for improved energy efficiency through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program

ENERGY STAR products

Even if your home isn’t ENERGY STAR certified, you can make it more energy efficient with ENERGY STAR products. Many appliances and other products can earn ENERGY STAR certification. The list of most efficient products for 2019 is a great place to start for washers and dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, ceiling fans, windows, heating and cooling systems, and more.

Finding a certified home

So how do you find certified homes?

Note that LEED and ENERGY STAR aren’t alone in their efforts to recognize energy efficient homes. Green building designations also exist on local levels, such as Built Green star levels in Washington and GreenPoint Rated certification in California.

Keep your eye out for these certifications and investigating what they mean when you find one you don’t know much about.

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in some regions offers listing real estate agents the opportunity to call out green certifications. Many agents will also include the information in the description that goes with a home listing.

Because there’s no requirement for doing so, if you don’t see them in a listing for a home you’re interested in, ask your agent for help verifying whether or not the home has earned a certification.

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