Most owner and developers would imagine that the most significant costs of LEED certification are the front-end registration and back-end submittal costs.  Are they correct?  Depends. | The Cost of LEED

Environmental Building News prepared a primer on the costs of LEED certification for commercial construction.  As noted in the article, LEED certification includes various costs that must be considered separately in order to correctly analyze the total package.  According to EBN, here are the traditional costs explained in more detail:

  1. The fees. Registration and certification fees are roughly 3¢–5¢ per square foot, depending on the size of the project and other factors.
  2. Cost of documentation time and effort. 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.
  3. Cost of extra research, design, commissioning, and modeling for compliance. 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. LEED introduces a few requirements that add costs if they are not already part of the scope of the project. At $0.50–$1 per square foot, commissioning, for example, 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.  If energy models aren’t code-required, then the LEED-specific model represents an added cost that starts at $5,000–$10,000 and goes up, depending on the complexity of the project.
  4. Costs of construction. Including green measures can mean added construction costs such as the following: demand-controlled ventilation adds about $1/cfm to the cost of a standard ventilation system; bike racks will cost about $5 per full-time equivalent (FTE) occupant; occupancy sensors cost about $25 per fixture.

What does all this mean?  By looking at the diagram above, you can easily tell that construction costs account for the largest percentage of a green building project.  The real question remains whether the added costs of registration, adminstration, documentation and operation justify the savings (in terms of tax credits, cheaper operation, etc.) will justify those investments.  Check out what Minnesota has to say about the issue.  

So the real answer depends on a cost-benefit analysis.  The construction costs won’t change with non-LEED certified green construction.  If the benefits and incentives are worthwhile (depending on your project type and location), then the LEED certification may be the route to go.