You may have seen homes, condos or commercial buildings referred to as LEED certified. You know that this means they are “green” but what does it really mean?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a third-party certification program that rates buildings on a point system. Ratings are based on five areas: building site, water, energy, choices of materials and indoor air quality. Depending on the score from these five areas, a building can be certified as silver, gold or platinum.

Usually, LEED certification only applies to new construction, but if an existing home is gutted—the drywall or exterior siding is removed to expose the insulation – then it would be possible to participate in the program and earn LEED certification.

Like any “green” home, a LEED-certified home is less expensive to maintain since it uses less energy and less water. But LEED certification offers much more than just efficiency. Because of the choices of materials, a LEED home will have better indoor air quality and be healthier and more comfortable. For commercial buildings, a healthier indoor environment means healthier employees and less sick days and lost work. For a home, it means a healthier family.

A LEED building uses more sustainable resources and is built to generate less waste. It will continue to use less and waste less over its lifespan, and does not cost much more to build than a conventional home. Some estimates place the increase in cost at only about 3 per cent. With an energy savings of up to 35 per cent and a payback of just three years just for the certified level, it is money well spent.

LEED certification provides a specific measurement of how “green” a building is and an ability to quantify its environmental impact. For example, in order to qualify for the points available for recycled content in the LEEDS program, the building must have a minimum of 10 per cent recycled content in its building materials. That could be recycled drywall or using concrete with a high-recycled content, such as fly ash.

LEED is a voluntary program and certification costs must be taken on by the owner/builder. With LEED programs like LEED Neighbourhood Development (ND), “green” homes may even become the norm. In addition to the usual LEED ratings, neighbourhoods must also offer traffic control and walkability scores. Several LEED-ND neighbourhoods on Toronto’s waterfront have reached certification.

When it comes to choosing a “green” home, choosing LEED-certified is a healthy choice.