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What is LEED Certification?

When people ask “what is LEED certification?”, they can expect a few different answers. Basically, it is divided into four levels across several different categories. Projects earn points for using sustainable sites, using water and energy efficiently, using certain materials or green resources, and creating high-quality indoor environments. Each project is eligible to earn a total of 100 points in these categories with a possible 10 bonus points that are awarded for innovative tactics and regional priorities.


The number of points that a project earns determines their level of certification. There are four certification levels: certified (40 to 49 points), silver (50 to 59 points), gold (60 to 79 points) and platinum (80 points or more). When a project earns the platinum level, all of their certification fees are refunded. However, every project earns points in a different way depending upon which type of certification they are applying for. In the following nine sections, we will answer the question “what is LEED certification?” by looking at the different categories of certification.


LEED-NC (New Construction or Major Renovation)


This category applies to the new construction of commercial and institutional buildings, including offices, high rises, government facilities, recreational centers, factories, and labs. In this category, the site can earn 26 points, the use of water can earn 10 points, attention paid to energy and atmosphere is worth 35 points, materials are worth 14, and the indoor environment is worth 15 points.


LEED-EB: O&M (Operation and Maintenance of Existing Buildings)


This category applies to existing buildings that want to operate and maintain themselves more efficiently. It deals with areas such as cleaning the building, recycling efforts, maintaining the exterior, and upgrading equipment and systems. Buildings that have never applied for LEED can apply for this certification, and buildings that have already earned LEED for NC, SCH or CS can also apply. The points in this category are distributed almost exactly as they are in the LEED-NB category except that water efficiency is worth a possible 14 points, while materials are only worth 10.


LEED-CI (commercial interior)


The commercial interior category is primarily for tenants and interior designers. It allows people who do not have any decision making power over the outside of the building to make environmentally friendly decisions for the interior of the building. When they make the interior greener, they also make it healthier, more productive, and cheaper to run and maintain. The bulk of points in this category are awarded for energy and atmosphere with a total of 37 points available in that category. The quality of the indoor environment is worth a possible 17 points.


LEED-CS (core and shell)


This category, which is complementary to the LEED-CI category, deals with the core and the shell of the building. Thus, it addresses buildings’ structures, envelopes, and HVAC systems.   In this category contractors and developers can earn 28 points for their site, 10 for their efficient use of water, 37 for their attention to the energy and the atmosphere, 13 for the materials they choose to use, and 12 points for the quality of their indoor air. Additionally, they can earn the same 10 bonus points in innovation and regional priority that every category is eligible for.




This category addresses the particular needs of schools, from those housing primary grades to high school students. It is similar to the LEED-NC, but it also looks at the acoustics in classrooms, how the materials work to prevent mold, and other environmental factors that are important for children’s health issues. With 19 possible points, this category assigns more points to the quality of the indoor environment that any other LEED category.




This is the category that can help a bank, a restaurant, a clothing store, or an electronics store win LEED points. It is applicable to all retail projects. Under LEED-Retail, projects must apply for points under the new construction category or the commercial interiors category. To determine which categories may apply to you and how to earn points, you may wish to speak to a LEED consultant from Burnham. They can guide you through the entire certification process, whether you are applying in the retail category or any other category.




As one of the newest LEED categories, LEED-HC applies to health care facilities. Buildings that are being designed for use as medical facilities, such as doctor’s offices, nursing homes, and even medical schools, should try to earn points in this category.  Because this category has been in existence for less than a year, a LEED consultant may be necessary to help you ascertain how to focus on each of the six categories that you can earn points in.




Even residential structures can earn a LEED certification. These green homes must be carefully built with LEED guidelines implemented in every step of the process.




LEED-Neighborhood development is the ninth and final of the categories that buildings can earn points in. This category has been established as a joint effort between the USGBC, the Congress for New Urbanism, and The Council for the Defense of Natural Resources. To earn LEED certification in this category, a project must have third-party proof that their location and their designs are environmentally responsible and their development techniques are sustainable.

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