How much does LEED certification cost? Earning a LEED certification for a project involves several different types of costs, and you have to consider each separately to get an accurate picture.
Let’s envision the cost of LEED as an inverted pyramid with five levels from bottom to top. The bottom level is both the smallest (in size and cost) and the top level is potentially the biggest, but also a place where you have a lot of leeway. We’ll start at the bottom.
The most direct cost is also the smallest: the fees you pay to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to register and then to certify your project. These are roughly 3¢–5¢ per square foot for New Construction, depending on the size of the project and whether or not you get the USGBC member discount.
Next up the cost pyramid is the time and effort that someone has to put into compiling and submitting the LEED documentation and generally managing the compliance process.
This cost could be for an outside consultant hired just for that task, someone on the staff of the design firm, the contractor, or the owner. This is a big project for someone doing it for the first time, and not such a big deal for someone who has done it enough to have figured out the process and created or purchased effective tracking systems.
It helps if the team is experienced and each person doesn’t need too much coaching to provide her pieces of the documentation. It also depends how many credits you’re going after, and, to some extent, which ones. A few hundred hours to pull everything together for a big complicated project is not out of the ordinary; simple and small projects should take less time and effort.
At the third level, your baseline starts to become very relevant.
If your baseline is the cost to have a design team create a variant on their last few non-LEED projects, then designing to meet LEED standards will take some extra effort. But these added costs shouldn’t be attributed just to LEED—they are the costs of getting a better building.To realize any high-performing building the team has to develop a range of scenarios, run simulations to determine how they will perform and prepare cost estimates to price them out. They also have to investigate alternative products and materials and explore the feasibility of new technologies. All these steps take time and effort—how much depends a lot on how experienced the team is and how aggressive the performance goals are for the project.
LEED introduces a few requirements that add costs if they are not already part of the scope of the project. The most obvious of these is commissioning. At $0.50–$1.00 per square foot (or more for a complex building), commissioning may seem like a big investment, but it’s cheap compared to the cost of call-backs, fixes, and inefficiencies that are likely if you don’t do it. For this reason, many large owners, including the federal General Services Administration, require commissioning for all of their projects, so for them it is not an added cost.
Energy modeling is trickier. While energy modeling should be used to inform the design process for every building, they are most useful during early design phases. The models that have to be run for LEED documentation, on the other hand, are an added step, done late in the design process and often with different parameters. These models, or models like them, are also required by code in some places. If the models aren’t code-required then the LEED-specific model does represent an added cost that starts at $5,000–$10,000 and goes up, depending on the complexity of the project. For small projects it is possible to earn a few LEED energy points using the prescriptive path without doing such a model.
Construction cost premiums for LEED credits such as WEp1 Water Use Reduction are highly dependent on the savings being attempted and which strategies are chosen to get there. This table from the Cost of LEED report lays out the options.Another LEED-specific action—tied to an optional credit, EAc5 in LEED-NC—is to create a measurement and verification (M&V) plan and install monitoring devices needed to track performance. If you wouldn’t be doing this, then the monitoring equipment and writing and implementing the M&V plan require cost premiums, which are explored in the "The Cost of LEED" report. Like commissioning and energy modeling, M&V brings benefits—it’s the only way to know if your high-performance building is really performing as designed.
Finally, we get to the top of our inverted pyramid, and what might be the biggest part of the cost picture: the hard costs of construction.
If the design team is experienced and the goals aren’t too aggressive, there may be no overall added cost because every cost premium has been offset with savings somewhere else. (For example, a smaller HVAC system resulting from a more efficient envelope.) We know this is possible because lots of projects achieve LEED certification on budgets that were set before LEED was introduced as a requirement. However, various studies have targeted a typical premium for LEED projects at 2%–15%, with the high end including a lot of on-site renewable energy generation for LEED-NC EAc2.
To manage those costs you have to know, at least roughly, the price of a range of specific measures. It helps to know the following for example:
These figures, and many more, come from “The Cost of LEED”—a new report from BuildingGreen.
Going credit-by-credit through LEED for New Construction v2009 (LEED-NC), “The Cost of LEED” itemizes all the common approaches to achieving the performance that the credit requires and offers the view of an experienced cost estimator on the cost implications of adopting those technologies or design solutions.
“The Cost of LEED” can’t tell you what it might cost to locate your project near mass-transit for SSc4.1: Alternative Transportation—that’s too location and project specific for even a rough guess. But it can suggest a figure to put into your budget for any one of hundreds of specific technologies, and it identifies the other credits that might also benefit from that measure (so you can consider the appropriate synergistic benefits).
“The Cost of LEED” is available for purchase as a PDF through the LEEDuser website for $49.
A 47-page report from BuildingGreen, LLC published in April 2010. Cost premiums (if any) are explored for each credit, with alternate scenarios. $49 download.
This paper from Davis Langdon is a sequel to an earlier paper entitled "Cost of Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Budget Methodology." This update looks at the cost of green by examining a larger sampling of buildings and looking at additional building types.
This report from GSA is a review of the hard and soft cost implications of achieving LEED certification.
This oft-cited report from Greg Kats of Capital E is a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of green buildings.
This book by Greg Kats is a reference tool for cost-conscious designers interested in exploring the advantages of green buildings.
Our customer is asking us to become a LEED manufacturer. We make wood and metal fixtures. They also have LED's to light the display. How do we certify to our supplier that we meet the LEED requirements?
Dennis, I think you need to set expectations with this customer and others, letting them know there's no such thing as a LEED manufacturer, LEED certified product, or even LEED certified company. LEED/USGBC does not approve products. Some products, strategies, practices, etc. might help a project achieve LEED certification but that does not make the product LEED certified, or even "compliant" ... even more language to stay away from. I think the closest you can come would be to (credibly) describe your products as potentially contributing to some specific credits. Be specific and don't fall into the "credibility-abyss" like so many other product manufacturers who instantly lose cred by misrepresenting their products, their services, and often themselves. (Can I get a witness?)
I am totally on board with everything Greg said, except with the possible exception of describing a product as "LEED compliant"; from my perspective it is a reasonable presumption to assume that this refers to a product being compliant with specific LEED requirements. But I am all over your objection: Nothing puts a MFR farther down my list than when I hear reference to "LEEDS" and "you get a LEED point for using this product". The only thing I hear in translation is 'I don't really very much about the LEED Rating System, but I want you to think that I do"
-> RE: "LEEDs" ... This is arguably the #1 indicator that someone is familiar with LEED, just not enough to know we're not dealing with a city in England. I start all my LEED classes w/a few slides entitled "LEED vs. Leeds," complete with an image of a Leeds building. (In a recent class, an Englishman commented: "I've been in that building! It's the courthouse.")
-> I agree w/you that some products would could arguably be thought of as "LEED compliant." In fact, early on, I used that term as a handy alternative to anything else I'm "not supposed to claim" related to LEED... until I learned the USGBC objects to that very phrase. I think it comes too close to sounding as if THEY endorse the the product, and dhat's certainly an implication, isn't it? While the principle is one I agree with, the objection to such language is not so much from me as it is from the USGBC themselves. I once read stronger language but can't find it. This should suffice:
I am doing a little further investigating. As a manufacturer, I can not buy material unless I am LEED certified. Do you know about this certification?
Dennis, where are you getting that from? Doesn't make any sense to me.
Buildings can be LEED certified, people can be LEED accredited, but I have never hear of a requirement for a person to be accredited to be able to make a purchase.
If we want to ship under FSCIndependent, third-party verification that forest products are produced and sold based on a set of criteria for forest management and chain-of-custody controls developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit organization. FSC criteria for certifying forests around the world address forest management, legal issues, indigenous rights, labor rights, multiple benefits, and environmental impacts. then we have to be certified.
Dennis, you should read up on our MRc7 page and forum.
When I gave the exam for LEED 2.2, I read in FAQ's that if a project achieves Gold or Gold + rating, the registration fees is refunded to the team
is it true ? and still valid for LEED 2009 ?
The refund for registration fees was true for v2.2 Platinum certifications, and expired some years ago.
We have a multiple building project where we registered 5 buildings + master site under the only conditions that LEED Online offers now, which is registration of individual projects (with the 20% discount fee). But once LEED Online's full capability for group project is in place we will roll over our existing registration to that (we were informed by GBCI that this is possible). However, one of these 5 buildings is no longer meeting the MPR for minimum area of 93m², so we will have to exclude it from the group. Can we claim a reimbursement or apply this extra registration fee toward the cost of certification fee later on?
I am guessing that you cannot, however it can't hurt to ask and you will need to contact GBCI for that. Good luck!
Hello Tristan, Others,
I have been reading & tracking as closely as possible the discussions regarding the "cost of LEED" since 2001 and have always been disappointed in the ubiquitous avoidance of the cost of certification (i.e.that is, for the design team efforts, not the contractors' costs that are built into their contract or the actual LEED registration costs). I recall, sometime around 2002 the USGBC had on their website a write-up noting that design teams were reporting certification costs between $20,000 -$60,000, but, a few months after I first saw that, the USGBC took that down and never went close to that subject matter again. Nor have all thoe studies that looked at the construction cost premium (KEMAGreen, Davis Langdon, GSA, EBN, Kats,etc.). Especially with the development of the GBCI and the significant increase in bureaucracy and submittal information required (e.g. PIf1-4), I would really like to see some published consideration of this. Not that it would influence our opinion or preferred design approach, but I feel that the design teams - those that actually bring the USGBC's efforts to fruition - are too often left holding the proverbial bag, and so it would be great to see some recognition/discussion of the subject matter even if everyone agreed that it can only be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Thanks.
Try a few of these links
Ralph DiNola wrote a great post about this back in 2001 called LEED Design Fees but it doesn't seem to be on the web anymore. Try a Google search and see if you can find it.
As the lead author for the GSA LEED Cost Study, I can tell you that it did include a section on soft costs (including a pretty detailed breakdown in the appendix). While the study is dated to some degree, it addresses the issue in a relatively comprehensive way.
Overall, I think the GSA study still has a lot of useful insights, particularly on how you approach LEED cost impacts in an overall building project. At the time it was released, it received a lukewarm response from EBN, who seemed to feel that it did not address synergies adequately. After purchasing the EBN/LEED User report, which I find much more schematic than GSA's and much harder to apply, I think the GSA report deserves a second look. It's too bad they have not decided to update the study to match the current LEED requirements - perhaps they'll do it for LEED 2012.
I am looking for a clarification on who qualifies for the USGBC Member Fee for a registered project - does the project owner need to be a USGBC member or is it the LEED Administrator who registers the project? I have not been able to find specific documentation that defines who needs to be the the USGBC member to qualify for the USGBC Member registration fee.
In my experience the project administrator, the person or company who registers the project, needs to be a member of USGBC in order to recieve the discount.
Thank you Emily - that is what I had thought, just wanted to confirm it as I am updating projected LEED costs for an upcoming LEED project.
Our office has taken over a project that was originally registered by another firm that was not a USGBC member. If we are members (which we are) can we get the USGBC member pricing for the design and construciton reviews? Or did the project need to be registered initially with a membership?
Do you know how to associate a project with our current membership? Or will GBCI automatically know that we should get the reduced rates when submitting since our account is associated with our membership?
Thanks for any guidance you can provide!
Breana, I would assume you could get the member discount for the review. I would contact GBCI for help with this. I am not sure they would automatically konw. Or perhaps when you go to pay it will become apparent one way or the other.
Just a note that appeal fees are up to $800 for some EA and EQ credits (primarily EAp1, EAp2, EAc1, EQp1 and EBOMEBOM is an acronym for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, one of the LEED 2009 rating sytems. EAc2). See updates for more details:
Hi Everyone!....just joining the LEED forum family.
I am evaluating a case for LEED Campus Cert. in order to prepare a service proposal, but complex conditions are encountered in the site. I just read the MPR and the 2010 AGMBC, and while reading previous comments on this website related to the subject, some things are clear, but some are more confusing.
1- Whether the pre-approved Master Site credits are to be applied to each individual LEED project certification, when applicable to one or more projects, or these credits are consumed when applied to the first LEED project certification?
2- A very particular condition in the site is as follow: Building A (BA) is a 7 story existing tower (only 1st and 3rd floor are owned ), Building C (BC) is a 4 story existing building in operation. As an in-fill building, a third will be inserted occupying the opened space separating BA and BC, named Building B (BB), a three story new construction building, intended for leed certification. BB is attached to both BA and BC, and will be connected to both in the 1st and 3rd floor with BA and connected through 1st floor with BC. How should LEED certification process be approached in this case where a new building connects to and facilities are shared with adjacent buildings?
At this moment i have considered to use LEED-BD&C. Please correct me if i am wrong. I will greatly appreciate any opinion or suggestion to solve this uncertain case.
The master credits are not "consumed" -- they can be applied to multiple projects.
For your question on the attached buildings, have you checked out the Minimum Program Requirements supplemental guidance? There are some great tips in there. Let us know if you have more specific questions relative to that guidance.
On-Site Renewable Energy is one case of a credit that is "consumed" by the individual projects.
Assuming a project has 100kW of site-wide photovoltaic systems, and it has two LEED projects. The 100kW is split between them. If project one "consumes" 50kW and project two 30kW then 80kW is used up.
Of the total site-wide system 20kW would not be "consumed." The owner has the option to pursue a third LEED project and use the 20kW they have left over.
The General Services Administration (GSA) also has a very helpful study they published in 2004 on the cost of LEED in GSA projects. It's a bit dated but is also helpful in getting a rough idea on LEED costs. It can be dowloaded here: http://www.wbdg.org/ccb/browse_doc.php?d=90
Our customer asking us to provide ROI for the LEED. Does any one have an Idea where to get compiled set of Savings for each of the credits. For example the client spent a lot of money to pave the entire site with intelocking blocks. How to calculate savings for this. Is there any publication avaialbel out ther for LEED ROI similar to COST OF LEED.
Does the report also covers cost issues for undertaking LEED certifications outside the US? Such as in the Middle-East?
Good question, George! The report focuses on construction costs for the high-performance measures that would be used to achieve each credit, based on the specific experiences of a team of designers and cost estimators in the Northeastern United States. The particular cost premiums that it provides would probably not be directly applicable to projects outside the U.S., but the list of suggested measures and the methodology for getting at the cost implications of each credit would likely still be quite useful.
So, if you have access to your own cost information for some of these measures that you can integrate into the information in this report, I think it would be quite useful. If you don't, it might still be interesting, but less valuable.
This report should NOT be called the cost of LEED. It is clearly NC. When dealing with an existing building the costs and benefits are totally based on the facility that you're working in. When are we going to stop generalizing?
Finally! I'm really pleased with the presentation and report. Thank you for sharing your research and providing this useful tool, which will greatly enhance decision making for Owners and Project Teams. I am very happy to see both hard cost data and soft cost estimates discussed openly. Now we just need this information for EBOMEBOM is an acronym for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, one of the LEED 2009 rating sytems. and LEED-H.
Michael, I'm glad you like the report. We worked hard on it and we're glad it's going to be useful to you.
Richard, a number of people have asked if this report is relevant to LEED-EBOMEBOM is an acronym for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, one of the LEED 2009 rating sytems., and my answer has been that while there may be some pieces that are relevant, it's not addressed directly. As you point out there are a lot of unique challenges with EBOM buildings.
We tried to make that clear in the title of the report, "The Cost of LEED: A Credit-by-Credit Look at the Cost of LEED-NC v2009."
This looks like a good report - like many earlier "cost of LEED" studies, it will be incumbent on us in the practice community to use the information well - e.g apply it and scale it as appropriate to our own projects. The lengthy list of assumptions at the beginning of the report (p. 3) are really important to the accurate use of the data. I look forward to delving into it!
Thanks, BuildingGreen team for developing this.
This report looks very interesting.indeed it's a report focus on leed NC projects,i hope more accurate information can be shared for the previous leed projects,inclusive of acutal operation performance.BTW,do you have some figures about leed proects in China or asia?thanks l lot!;)
If other LEED users have cost information on their projects--what, if any, premiums they've paid to accomplish the performance required to earn certain credits, perhaps they'll post those here.
We hope to add information soon about how projects are achieving LEED certification in China--though it may take a bit longer before we can offer any cost information. Do you have any experiences to share?
George, if you have any questions concerning LEED costs and compliancy in the Middle East, please visit our website at http://www.leedintl.net. Fillout our "contact us" webpage and a representative will contact and assist you with any questions or information. Leed International has offices in Riyad, KSA.
Thank you for the work in putting this report together! Just a small note for something that seems beneficial to see in an addendum--particularly for discussion with building owners--is the return on investment for each credit (daylight building vs. non-daylight), in terms of the cost savings in utility bills, etc. over a certain time period. While I realize there are many variables in this, it would be helpful to have a range to reference within the report.
Can you post a copy of the report deleting the actual cost numbers, so that we can see how it is structured and what is covered?
Michael, I'm afraid not—the way the report is structured, showing options on how to earn the credits, is part of the content. We couldn't just strip out the cost data. Also it would be a lot of work!
If you buy the report and it doesn't meet your needs we'll give you a refund.
Michael, one other thing I forgot to mention—a sample page from the report is shown above. That should give you a sense of how it's structured and what kind of information you'll find.
Is there any way for us to enlarge the sample page above? With the report, are the costs fixed or is it a formula where we can enter costs and based on our particular project we will get an idea of what the LEED portion of the project will costs?
Sherry Bonelli, LEED Green Associate
Sherry, an enlarged image is not available, sorry. Of course, it is included inthe report, and we offer a full money-back guarantee if you purchase it and aren't satisfied.
The report shows the cost information in two ways—one, as a hard cost, and two, as a cost premium over conventinoal practice. In relevant credits, such as WEc3, various methods of earning the credit are shown, with respective costs. All the info is broken down by credit.
Go to your browser and zoom in. Or just buy the report, for general purposes it's a nice guide.
The true value of this document is that it allows you to show your client ( and the Professional Team ) an independant take on the costs of a LEED project ?
Especially for projects outside continental USA. Many QSs and Architects have no idea of what the costs should be and it helps instill confidence in the LEED process.
In some ways it aslo helps keep the construction material suppliers honest. I pull out the report and show them where they are overpricing ;-) This leads to some interesting conversations !
Buy "The Cost of LEED" report ($49 for PDF download) from LEEDuser, packed with cost details relevant to all projects.
USGBC LEED Faculty, President
Copyright 2013 – BuildingGreen, Inc.