LEED certification: what it costs

How much does it really cost to earn LEED certification for commercial construction? A new report estimates the costs of green building.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

How much does it really cost to earn LEED certification for commercial construction?

In a new report, the folks at BuildingGreen.com outline what building green really costs, and where individual costs come from.

Here's what you need to know, in order from least to most expensive:

  • Registration and certification fees run roughly $0.03 to $0.05 per square foot.
  • Documentation costs, such as for an outside consultant or the time of a current staff member.
  • Compliance costs, such as for design, commissioning, modeling or extra research. This varies depending on whether you're modifying an existing design for LEED certification or starting from scratch. Commissioning runs from $0.50 to $1 per square foot.
  • Construction costs, which are the largest share but also offer the most leeway. Cited examples include demand-controlled ventilation (additional $1/cfm), bike racks ($5 per person) and occupancy sensors ($25 each).

BuildingGreen isn't the only outlet with a study on LEED costs.

A 2004 U.S. General Services Administration study using federal facilities pegged the price as low as $0.35/gsf for design and $0.41/gsf for consultation to be LEED certified, and as high as $0.69/gsf for design and $0.58/gsf for documentation to meet LEED Gold.

A 2003 KEMA study pegged the price at up to 2.5 percent to be LEED certified, up to 3.3 percent for LEED Silver, up to 5.0 percent for LEED Gold and up to 8.5 percent for LEED Platinum.

A July 2007 U.S. Green Building Council study (.pdf) that focused only on construction costs stated simply, "there is no significant difference in average costs for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings."

So what's the answer? Jim Nicolow at trade publication FacilitiesNet offers the quick 'n' dirty assessment:

If LEED certification is pursued at the beginning of the project, teams can conservatively budget 2 percent for construction costs and $150,000 in soft costs for Certified through Gold level certification on most projects.

The bottom line, however: to keep costs down, plan for sustainability from the get-go. In a great interview in Metropolis magazine, consultant Lisa Fay Mathiessen explains:

We found successful projects—ones that achieve a high LEED score and stay within their original budgets—are ones where the design team sits down with the owner right at the beginning to talk about sustainable design and clarify goals. [That way] everyone on the team has some input.

For more information, head to the Green Building Certification Institute, where you can enter specific data for an estimate.

Photo: LEED Gold-certified Hearst Tower, New York City.

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