Cost of LEED certification

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I recall someone once asked about the time needed to be spent on LEED
certification. Well, I have just come across a report prepared by
Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants
entitled Analyzing the Cost of obtaining
LEED Certification, which is available online at the following link:

It indicates that the documentation takes 226 working hours on average to
prepare and costs between US$8,000 - US$70,000 per project: the first
project costing between US$30,000 - US$60,000.

Paul Hay

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Anyone's first LEED project requires an investment of time to learn how to
do it. This learning curve is somewhat steep but once you learn how to do,
actually doing it takes considerably less time. Outside soft costs
(commissioning, energy modeling and LEED documentation) if you are spending
a dime more for construction costs than conventional for LEED Certified or
Silver then you have made an optional choice or are not properly applying
the system. Many projects attain the Gold certification level without an
increase in construction costs.

There have been several cost studies over the years than do not show that
LEED requires the type of investment purported by the American Chemistry
Council. Here are some links:

The Davis Langdon study above is far more thorough and comprehensive than
the much older ACC report which relies on a considerable amount of early
anecdotal evidence.

In many respects the cost of LEED comes down to what you assign to LEED as
an "extra" cost. Many teams have figured out how to neutralize even the
added soft costs through an integrative design process.

Marcus Sheffer

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This is an old study (2003) and costs have gone down from what I hear. Can anyone comment on other sources of cost information that's more current?

Scott Schreffler, LEED AP

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The LEED experience of the team is a factor. The LEED AP has to do a
lot more education and "hand holding" on a rookie team.

Paul Meyer, P.E.'s picture
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I agree with Marcus on this on. Langdon's study is a follow-up to his
earlier work and confirms the statement that LEED projects are
distributed across the cost spectrum rather randomly.

It all depends what you are comparing against. If you are trying to
design a high-performance building, there should be no construction cost
premium to go to LEED, provided you have an "experienced" design team
and construction manager / trades. There may be some soft premiums for
additional documentation requirements, but LEED requirements are not
that onerous for design teams. Mechanical consultants in particular
should be designing according to ASHRAE anyway for building code
compliance and modelling is an extension of the mechanical/architectural
integrated design process of optimizing buildings for low-energy use
starting with passive design and then high-efficiency systems. If on
the other hand you want to build a code building, then yes there will be
a premium.

Let's be serious, LEED is not rocket science, it should be code, not
some mark of distinction. The fact that LEED is seen as difficult to
achieve just shows how far behind the eight ball we are in trying to
address the environmental impact of buildings.

European buildings regularly achieve less than 100 ekWh/m2. Yet in
North America, we're not only consuming 3 times that amount, but we have
managed to lower our energy usage by a mere 7% since the 1920s!!! (See
Graph 3 showing the CBECS data in this article:
ters/) We have a long long way to go to Architecture 2030....roughly a
millennium if we keep this pace up!

Luka Matutinovic, B.A.Sc., LEED(r) AP

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Thanks for the links Marcus.

I have scanned the Langdon document and even looked at later articles
written on the topic. They agree that the Langdon study is more
comprehensive but still gravitate towards the costing provided by the
American Chemistry Council. My take on the matter is that the real issue
here is not whether LEED certification costs more, but how much does it
cost: both in terms of time and expense.

Paul Hay

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Without further context, the answer to your question would be: as much
time and money as any other building. I think the whole point of
Langdon's study is that LEED is NOT a differentiator of building costs.
LEED buildings cost as little as $200/sf and as much as $600/sf.

If you want, you can determine the cost of "certification" alone from
the USGBC website based on sf, and add the time required for USGBC's
LEED documentation review to the project schedule.

Luka Matutinovic, B.A.Sc., LEED(r) AP

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Paul without seeing the articles to which you refer I really can't comment
about the comparison of the studies.

Regarding cost and LEED I can offer my own personal experience on more than
100 commercial projects pursuing LEED certification - none has even come
close to approaching the bottom end of the cost range in the ACC study. I
have no doubt that some projects are spending 4.5% to 11% more but frankly
they are using LEED the wrong way (as a checklist of independent variables
in a point hunting exercise) and the market will weed those practitioners
out over time. All things being equal LEED does add cost but it is only the
measuring tool. The real question is does a high performance green building
cost more? If done correctly my experience is that it does not.

We are currently working on a school project which is borderline Platinum.
It was bid last summer and came in significantly under budget and attracted
a $500,000 state grant. So the actual cost is less than conventional
overall even without the grant. Project cost drivers are primarily a
function of building type and location. Within those broad categories it is
about design choices, one can choose to focus resources on building
performance or on other priorities. Project teams who choose to focus on
the priorities spelled out in LEED can easily do so within the confines of a
conventional project budget. The rest is just a bit of paperwork.

The first time that an architectural firm had to use CAD drawings instead of
hand-drawn; the first time they had to comply with ADA; when major building
code changes occur - all of these things resulted in added costs. As
experience is gained costs come down significantly and the same thing is
happening with LEED (the ACC study indicates that this was likely to

The real answer to your question is - "it depends" - on many factors
including team experience, priorities, project size, strategies, design
process, etc. You really can't assume it costs more but if you do, it
probably will.

Marcus Sheffer

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On your last point I agree whole-heartedly!

Without entering that data quagmire, I suggest that we all need to do a
better job of understanding building energy use, gathering more data,
connecting modeled and actual performance, developing better tools,
producing more informed modelers, creating performance feedback loops for
designers, developing better metrics, etc. to make sure LEED and other
systems produce the right signals and improve performance.

If anyone has any thoughts on how to improve LEED to ensure better
performance feel free to pitch in and help us make it better.

Marcus Sheffer

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How about giving more weight on verification and measurement in the LEED certification process?

Xiaobing Liu2's picture
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LEED could use ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to document energy consumption over time since it provides weather normalization (non-eligible space types could use "other" space type category).

Zoeteman, Mark R.'s picture
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I think we're entering a whole new area of discussion rife with
controversy, but I can't help but throw in my two cents.

In terms of Marcus's last point, I think one of the quickest and easiest
ways to improve LEED in terms of delivering energy performance is to
split the M&V credit along commissioning lines and have a minimum level
of M&V mandatory as a prerequisite. This way LEED would finally mandate
a move away from predicted energy use and begin to close the energy
loop. Another idea is to make LEED EB certification a requirement for
LEED-NC buildings after say 5 years. At a minimum, make
re-commissioning every 5 years an on-going credit. As Straube pointed
out in the article I linked, operational energy is what's driving this
environmental train-wreck, but it's not what LEED or the design
community at large is focusing on unfortunately. Nor is there any focus
to educate building owners and operators on how to properly run all
these "high-performance" buildings full of all this wonderful

Once M&V becomes a requirement, our community will need to educate
ourselves on how buildings actually work and begin the difficult task of
creating calibrated simulations that include all energy uses and account
for weather, occupancy and operation.

Luka Matutinovic, B.A.Sc., LEED(r) AP

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Going back to the original question though I think (I might have misread
the two) the ACC study addresses the soft costs, while the Davis Langdon
study addresses hard costs associated with LEED, so you really can't
compare the two studies directly.

Harvey makes a really good point about the building performance. I think
a large part of that goes back to usage and retro commissioning. I've
seen projects do worse than the LEED ECB predicted, but I've seen it go
the other way too (especially if the owners have energy efficiency in
mind). Very often, the users have a big part to play in which way the
energy pendulum swings.

I think it's important to recognize the role of the energy model as a
proactive tool rather than a reactive (or retroactive) tool. One way
LEED could improve that is to come up with best practices guidelines for
SD & DD level energy modeling. That's where the big decisions are made.
One of the drawbacks of the system right now is that you do a submittal
at the end of construction documents and call it a design submittal,
when in fact the design was mostly frozen at the start of CDs. At this
point, any reviewer comments can't be implemented into the design
process, so LEED becomes a point grabbing tool rather than the best
practices design guideline tool that it should be (and we all want it to

So at the risk of incurring the wrath of my entire profession (who think
that there is too much paperwork anyway), how about incorporating a true
design submittal halfway through the design process?

Vikram Sami, LEED AP

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Hello all,

We are working on a project in Georgia that is served by Georgia Power. Their utility rate is structured as below.

In eQUEST, the problem arises because there is a an energy tier within a kWh/kW tier. eQUEST will not let the Step Size in the KWH/KW Block Charge.

How do you set different kWh limits within a set kWh/kW hours?

There was a previous thread on this subject in 2004, but nothing came out of it for eQUEST, as the recommended flag schedule is not what this rate is asking for.

Any help would be appreciated.



All consumption (kWh) not greater than

200 hours times the billing demand:

First 3,000 kWh................................................................... at .................................10.8471? per kWh

Next 7,000 kWh................................................................... at ...................................9.8355? per kWh

Next 190,000 kWh............................................................... at ...................................8.3880? per kWh

Over 200,000 kWh.............................................................. at ...................................6.4648? per kWh

All consumption (kWh) in excess of 200

hours and not greater than 400 hours

times the billing demand...................................................... at ...................................1.1062? per kWh

All consumption (kWh) in excess of 400

hours and not greater than 600 hours

times the billing demand...................................................... at ...................................0.8730? per kWh

All consumption (kWh) in excess of 600

hours times the billing demand........................................... at ...................................0.6292? per kWh

Dana Troy

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Thank all of you for your contribution.

What may also be of interest here is that I came across the ACC study while
reading an article entitled "Collaboration, Project Management, and Project
Information Management Solutions in AEC" :

Written in February 2009, the article reviewed a selection of Project
Management tools and mentioned that one customer-requested enhancement of
Newforma Project Center was to improve LEED certification administration;
and I quote:

"Newforma Project Center Sixth Edition has several features that can help to
reduce these costs and make the process more efficient, including the
ability to clearly assign LEED roles and responsibilities, capture tasks as
action items, easily file incoming email to the appropriate action item, and
conveniently re-assign action items for follow-up via email notifications.
The current status of a LEED-related action item can be seen at all times,
and reports can be quickly generated to keep all team members informed.
Action items can now be associated with milestones in the project timeline
(see Figure 1), allowing more efficient execution of LEED-related

It seems this tool is suggesting that the LEED certification can be improved
by changing the administration of the whole process.

Paul Hay

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Marcus and all,

While the cost of LEED Certification is important, equally important are
how well are LEED projects performing. The New Buildings Institute study
(March 2008) of 121 LEED NC v2 buildings certified through 2006 claimed
"on average LEED energy use 25-30% better than the National Average."
However a number of critics of this study has emerged, many of whom used
the same data that NBI used. Henry Gifford has question the methodology
used in the NBI study. The American Physical Society in their Energy
Future: Think Efficiency Report as well as Joe Lstiburek has also
questioned the NBI study. Now Dr. John Scofield from Oberlin has
completed a detailed re-examination of the NBI study and has found that
"the NBI data shows that LEED certification has done nothing to lower
building primary energy consumption and associated GHG emission." I have
attached his paper which will be presented at the International Energy
Program Evaluation Conference scheduled for Portland, OR. August 11-14,

I believe that the Bldg-Sim community needs to address this issue.
Otherwise the services that we perform will become seriously questioned
by the building profession. Even if LEED buildings cost more, which I
believe most building professionals and clients would accept. It is
unacceptable if they can't deliver on energy performance.


Harvey Bryan, Ph.D., FAIA, LEED AP

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I agree with Harvey and further recommend a recent paper by Newsham et.
al. in Energy and Buildings titled 'Do LEED-certified buildings save
energy? Yes, but...' ( doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2009.03.014
). The authors also
conducted a re-analysis of data supplied by the New Buildings Institute.
They found that 'On average, LEED buildings used 18-39% less energy per
floor area than their conventional counterparts. However, 28-35% of LEED
buildings used more energy than their conventional counterparts.'
Somewhat sobering news for owners of LEED buildings.


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