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Our LEED Blog series have been developed for project managers and architects who work on projects with a LEED certification objective. This LEED Blog summarizes everything you need to know about LEED for a good implementation and a successful certification process. Don't forget to go through our numerous resources to help you guide your clients towards obtaining LEED certification!

What is LEED?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an American building environmental rating system. Recognized in 132 countries, it is the most well-known sustainable building certification system in the world, with the most certified buildings to its credit. It is based on the holistic impact of a building, from impacts on human health to impacts on the environment..

How is LEED different from HQE?

What types of certification are possible?

LEED is applicable to new construction, renovations, existing structures, as well as specific parts of the building such as the envelope and structure or interior design. The LEED rating system can also be used to assess the performance of a neighborhood or community.

Among these systems, LEED offers several guides and scoring grids specific to the activities and functionalities of building types. There are also specific systems suitable for hotels, hospitals, residential projects, offices, schools, logistics centers, data centers and retail. For these types of buildings, LEED has developed specific guides applied to their functional needs. For example, a school or hospital-type building must imperatively conduct an environmental audit of the site and the Integrative Design Process credit will become a prerequisite for the development of a new project in the medical sector. LEED will also reward certain types of projects based on specific criteria that aim to maximize the performance of a building according to its use. This is notably the case for medical establishments, which are awarded additional points for the choice of materials and medical furniture with non-toxic content in order to further protect the health of the patients who occupy the LEED building.

My building has several building functions. How to determine which system to choose ?

If you are on a project that does not belong to one of these specific types of buildings, then the general certification system may be applied (New Construction and Major Renovation).

Which system should I choose if I have several buildings ? Can we certify several buildings on the same site at once? See our Blog Post on this.

LEED Categories

LEED assesses the sustainability of a building according to 8 categories:

  1. Sustainable Sites: planning and design that seeks to preserve and restore existing natural habitats and which aims to integrate the site into local and regional ecosystems as well as to preserve the biodiversity of the place.

  2. Location and Transport: selecting the project's site according to its proximity and access to existing developments, encourage compact developments, alternative transportation, connection to existing networks and local services.

  3. Water Efficiency: efficient use of water by minimizing water use, installing relevant controls, protecting potable and fresh water sources, collecting rainwater, using wastewater to meet outdoor, indoor and process water requirements.

  4. Energy and Atmosphere: minimize energy demand by incorporating passive design strategies based on local climatic conditions and supplementing the building's need with clean energy and energy efficient active systems and controls. (see our explanatory video on this subject)

  5. Indoor environmental quality: design a building that enhances the health, comfort and well-being of its users.

  6. Materials and Resources: choose materials that respect the environment, preferring those that are locally sourced, biobased, with low toxic emissions and which have a minimized environmental impact throughout their life cycle.

  7. Innovations: encourage projects to undertake environmental initiatives and set up innovations in terms of sustainable building that can both push the project towards exceptional performance and also catalyze the adoption of its innovations into other projects.

  8. Regional Priorities: encourage projects to take into account local geographic considerations in terms of the environment, social equity and public health.

It is important that the team becomes aware of the environmental criteria required by LEED as early as possible in the project's design phase. Some of the credits relate to the programming and implantation of the building such as the Integrative Process Credit which requires that the building footprint within the site, the vegetation of the site, the orientation or even the programming of spaces and their use be integrated into the master plan and that optimization options are analyzed from the concept design phase. In addition to these pre-design credits, there are prerequisites without which LEED cannot be obtained.

In order to remain as general as possible, you will find below the prerequisites for new constructions and major renovations of any type of building. Additional prerequisites are required for certain types of building, such as hospital or schools.

For the so-called “general” building types, there are 12 and concern the following aspects:

  1. Pollution prevention at the construction site

  2. Reducing the consumption of water used outdoors

  3. Reducing indoor (domestic) water consumption

  4. The permanent installation of water meters

  5. The permanent installation of energy meters

  6. The commissioning of the main HVAC systems

  7. Minimum energy performance to be achieved

  8. Refrigerant management

  9. Collecting and sorting of waste during the operation of the building

  10. Planning and management of demolition and construction waste

  11. The minimum performance in terms of indoor air quality

  12. Smoking control

You can download a cheat-sheet summarizing the list of necessary LEED prerequisites below.

Not to be confused with the Minimum Project Requirements (MPRs) which are LEED eligibility criteria.

What are LEED's MPRs ?

It is therefore a question of knowing these requirements in order to be able to anticipate them and explain them to the various actors so they can be integrated into the project as early as possible.

Points System

LEED points can be earned by meeting the criteria required for credits in each category. For a New Construction or Major Renovation project, these are allocated as follows.

Certification Levels

There are four possible certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. To achieve them, you must be able to justify obtaining a certain number of points. These points are obtained by responding to credits requirements.

Planning LEED in Standard Project Phases

Is there an impact on the project phases to pursue LEED? Yes certainly and the sooner this is taken into account, the more likely you are to facilitate a successful LEED implementation. The phases remain more or less the same but their weight in the overall planning changes. In addition to the documentation to be completed and submitted to LEED which is an additional step, the main difference is the time that must be allocated upfront in early design phases.

To understand in detail what this implies for your project, let's take a look at a classic project schedule.

In a traditional project context, the preliminary and concept design phases are relatively small. Often due to a lack of time and insufficient budget, these phases are kept to a minimum. For a LEED project (or sustainable building in general for that matter), these phases are much more consequent. The reason?

A significant amount of resource conservation measures, whether energy, water or material, are decided at the eraly design stages of the project. In terms of energy, this is notably possible thanks to bioclimatic architecture.

Bioclimatic Architecture

Bioclimatic architecture relies as much as possible on the local climate and architectural features to meet the ventilation, heating, cooling, lighting and water supply needs of buildings. This allows buildings to maximize comfort while minimizing ressources use. By optimizing the massing and designing the envelope to take advantage of the sun, wind and light, buildings require less energy, water and therefore operational costs to operate.

Take a look at our video which goes through our design process to achieve high energy efficiency.

How do I apply bioclimatic architecture to my project in aligment with LEED ?

Follow our guide.

Integrative Design Process (IDP)

It is also in the early design phases that it is possible to optimize the integration of natural light, to design natural ventilation pathways, to integrate the landscape into the building or even to specify design requirements such as natural and non-toxic materials. These are all measures that make it possible to obtain high levels of performance in terms of visual, thermal comfort and air quality.

In order to do so, throughout the whole design stage of a LEED project, we undertake what we call the Integrative Design Process or IDP.

The IDP is “an iterative process that relies on a multidisciplinary and collaborative team whose members make decisions together at an early stage of the project based on a shared vision and holistic understanding of the project.”

These iterations make it possible to integrate environmental concerns within the project and across all the disciplines involved.

The advantages of this process are multiple but where it is particularly interesting is that it allows to achieve high levels of performance while staying on schedule AND on budget.

If properly implemented, this process minimizes the building's energy demand and allows for HVAC system downsizing which in turns saves on construction costs. This type of process relies on computer simulations to inform the design and anticipate any changes to be made before the project gets too far along. Pushing the workload at the start of a project gives room to troubleshoot eventual issues which covered later in the design process are very likely to be more costly and difficult to implement.

How do I apply an IDP process to my project?

Discover The Green Design Brief!

This is what our LEED project schedules look like.

Do you have a project seeking LEED and need support? Contact us.

How to Estimate LEED Costs?

So, if we add additional time to the design phases in addition to the materials and technologies specific to LEED, this must have a significant impact on the budget, right?

Not really, or at least very little. The advantage of a project with a longer upfront design phase is that your project is better thought out and designed according to the program and LEED requirements than if you had had less time to do so. You actually gain from having a front loaded process as explained above by the IDP process. The additional costs associated with LEED will come from environmentally friendly materials, high performance systems and equipment related to the production of renewable energy. But then again, if LEED is taken into account from the start, you can significantly reduce these costs. For example, by considering solar panels to replace a roof which will therefore have a triple structural, thermal and energy-producing functionality. In addition, there are state and regional aids which makes it possible to finance these type of projects both for new constructions and renovations as long as they meet high performance levels or LEED ratings.

So, what would be the premium costs for a LEED project? It's difficult to bring a specific answer without speaking about a specific project. As a matter of fact, these costs depend on the team's experience, whether they have applied an IDP early in the process, the country and the building code of the country where the project is located, the type of building, the project size, if this project is a new construction or a renovation, the climatic context, the LEED version as well as the LEED credits pursued and the targeted level of certification.

But in short, what we observe is that on average a certified project compared to a standard project incurrs an additional cost of less than 2% over standard development costs. The higher the certification levels, the more additional costs you can expect.

A study done in the United States which analyzed the costs induced by LEED on new construction projects ranging from educational establishments to residential establishments show the additional costs of LEED depend on the level of certification as follows.

Keep in mind that these numbers are only guidelines and that these must be reassessed with your project variables. In any case, for new construction projects, the earlier the susainability intentions ae brought up in the project, the more opportunities you have to rake advantage of passive design strategie and the smaller the costs associated with LEED will be.

For an estimate of the additional LEED costs specific to your project, do not hesitate to contact us, we can help you budget them.

What are the fees to be paid by the project manager for a LEED certification application? Download our LEED Fee Calculator below.


What are the eligibility criteria for a LEED project?

First and foremost, a building must meet the Minimum Project Requirements or MPR in order to be able to apply for LEED certification. In order to be eligible for LEED, a project must:

  1. Be a permanent structure on an existing site

  2. Use a reasonable LEED boundary

  3. Have a minimum GFA

See our blog post on MPRs for details.

My building has several building functions. How to determine which system to choose?

LEED does not, as such, allow a building to be certified under several certification rating systems. So you have to choose a system for the whole building. The LEED rule says that the building's type is established according to its majority type. This majority is governed by the 40/60 rule. To do this, indicate the building type room by room. Next, determine what is the total area of each type. If one of the types reaches 60% or more, this one will prevail.

What if the typologies are tied or if there is no majority type above 60%? In this case the decision is up to you. Choose the system that seems most appropriate to you.

If, however, you have several buildings on the same site, which have different functions, you can pursue certification under several rating systems. This may be the case for a university or hospital campus which groups together different types of buildings (residences, classrooms, research or clinic building, cafeteria, etc.). In this case, you can consider Campus or Volume certification. See our blog post on this subject.

Which system should I choose if I have several buildings? Can we certify several buildings on the same site at once?

Which system to choose depends on the certification method you choose. If you are going on a Group mode, all buildings in that group must have a unique certification system and all must individually match that system. This is why Group mode is more relevant for multiple buildings of a similar type. If you have buildings of different types or if you want to certify different buildings with different systems at once, you will therefore have to consider the Campus approach.

See our blog post dedicated to the certification of multiples buildings for more information.

Can the extension of a building be certified on its own?

Yes, as long as it is an addition to the existing building. You can also opt to certify the whole building as one.

My project is a partial renovation of a building. Can I get only this part certified?

Yes, provided that the LEED boundary includes the entire perimeter of the construction work and that it is well delimited physically.

Can we have each building certified under a different system? For example an office building and a warehouse building?

Yes, it is possible by following the Campus mode See our blog post on this subject. In this case, you can have the buildings certified under up to three different systems among all the buildings are registered under a common master site.

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