Hey there, this post is from David Guoin of SustainingOurWorld. Learn how you can build a “green” house with LEED. Enjoy!
Perhaps you’ve seen news stories bragging that a new office building, hotel, university building, or other project received LEED certification. It a big deal for anyone who cares about the environment. But did you know that you can get LEED certification for a new green house? The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) to set sustainability standards for such factors as efficient use of energy and water, eco-friendly materials and construction, and indoor air quality.
Builders and other construction professionals take tests to earn credentials. Their projects earn one of four levels of LEED certification, depending on how many points they get compared to the LEED checklist. Basic certification requires at least 40 points, silver certification at least 50 points, gold certification at least 60 points, and platinum certification at least 80 points. Certification for homes applies to single-family houses and multi-family homes of one to six stories.
If you are building a new house and want LEED certification for it, first hire an architect and a builder with LEED credentials. You will suggest what kind of house you want, and the architect and builder will suggest how to make sure it gets as high a level of certification as you want.
It costs more up front to build a LEED-certified house. LEED also puts some limits on where you can build it. What’s the payoff?
First, will be less expensive to live in it. It will be properly insulated—not only the ceilings and walls, but also the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. The placement of windows and doors will make as much use of natural breezes and sunlight as possible. With low-flow plumbing fixtures, it will use less water. And the limits on where you can build? Your house will be close to schools and shopping. That means you can walk or ride your bicycle more places. You will use your car less, which means you’ll use less gas, need less frequent maintenance on your car, and very likely qualify for lower insurance rates. You will also gain physical fitness from being able to leave the car at home.
Second, it will be healthier to live in it. The builder will use paints and other materials that don’t give off toxic volatile organic compounds. Indoor air quality will be better when you move in than it would be with conventional materials. The ventilation system will be designed to bring in fresh air from outside in order to keep the quality of indoor air from deteriorating. It will also regulate indoor moisture to inhibit mold from growing. There will be mats near every door where people can clean their shoes and shelves to keep them. You don’t have to deal with contaminants no one tracks in. Therefore, you and your family won’t develop allergies or other diseases associated with polluted indoor air. You’ll pay less for medicine and doctor visits.
Third, it will help you when it comes time to sell your home. You’ll have a LEED-certified home. Brag on it! The USGBC approves language you can use in advertising. Because it’s more efficient and healthy, your house will command a higher price. Even in a down market, it will be more attractive to buyers and probably sell faster.
Fourth, you’ll feel good about sustainable building practices that don’t necessarily put money back in your pocket. A LEED house doesn’t disturb wildlife habitats. It generates less construction waste, so it sends less to the landfill.
Sota Construction Corporate Headquarters in Pittsburgh earned LEED Platinum in 2012
There is a hard way and an easy way to gain LEED points for your house. You can have your builder look at the LEED checklist and either try to aim for full credit on everything or figure how to get as many points as possible by making easy choices. Here are some of them:
1. Build a smaller home. The size of houses has zoomed over the last 50 years while the size of households has shrunk. Much of that extra space is wasted by using it inefficiently. For a bonus, make sure as much space as possible qualifies as a bedroom, no matter how you plan to use it.
2. Build an infill project, that is, on land previously developed for something else. The house can get up to 10 points in location credits.
3. Build on a smaller lot.
4. Build close to public transportation, schools, shopping, and walking/biking paths.
5. Choose a detached garage. Build a breezeway to keep dry when it rains. You can get a lot of other good use from a breezeway. Adding a bench and shelves there for shoe storage gets another point. While you’re at it, ask for shoe storage at every door.
6. Choose not to install a fireplace.
7. Ask for locally sourced materials, concrete made with fly ash, recycling of construction waste, and similar sustainable procedures.
8. Ask for timers and motion detectors to control lighting.
9. Ask for a central vacuum system.
10. Ask not only for water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets inside, but also water-saving irrigation for the yard and garden.
11. Ask for insulated hot water pipes.
12. Ask for a soil gas vent system, even if your site is at low risk for radon.
13. Ask for hardwood flooring instead of wall-to-wall carpet. Buy area rugs for large spaces.
14. Ask not only for low VOC paints and other materials, but also ways to discourage termites without poisonous materials. The less wood used in framing, etc., the better.
15. Ask for upgraded filters for your heating and air conditioning system.
Remember, your house needs at least 40 points to earn LEED certification. The decisions suggested here can easily gain more than that. Your LEED certified architect and builder will know all about these easy LEED points and more, but may hesitate to suggest them. When you bring them up, you can be sure they will be included in the design. And because your architect and builder can see how serious you are about building a sustainable house, you may get additional suggestions to consider.
Something built here would be infill, although infill is most economically feasible on much larger plots with room for several houses.
LEED Green Building Rating Systems / U.S. Green Building Council
Is it worth it to get your home LEED certified? / Christie Matheson (How Stuff Works)
How to Cheat at LEED for Homes / Carl Seville (Green Building Advisor, May 24, 2011)