LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program, has long been the only standard for environmentally designed commercial buildings. Until recently, residential customers who wanted a greener home worked without a certification, researching and specifying building materials for their new homes and remodels. The challenge for many has been finding builders or contractors who can understand and build to a green model.
Now LEED for Homes (LEED-H) can guarantee that green building materials are used during construction, energy-efficiency standards are maintained, and indoor air quality is assured for the homeowners.
What It Means to Be Green
Much like LEED certification for commercial buildings, schools, and retail stores, LEED-H certification requires that the home meet prerequisites and earn points in different categories. The total number of points determines if a certificate will be awarded and at what level. Qualified homes can be Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum, with Platinum requiring a home to earn 90-128 points of a possible 129.
Homes are graded and awarded points for Innovation and Design Process, Location and Linkages, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environment Quality, and Awareness and Education. Builders who apply to receive LEED-H certification strive to achieve the maximum number of points per category.
“Some categories are hard to get points in, simply because of where we live,” says Peter Taggart of Taggart Construction in Freeport, ME. Taggart has been involved in two pilot house projects for the LEED-H program, one of which received a silver rating, the other a gold.
The requirements for LEED-H certification are demanding, and grading is done on every aspect of homebuilding, from design, and site management during construction to educating the homeowner on living in a green home. “The program requires a team effort by all the parties involved in the homebuilding process,” Taggart says. “There's no cutting corners.” The evaluation process takes place over the course of construction by contracted service providers on state and regional levels.
If the LEED for Homes certification program sounds familiar, it should. Energy Star, the Environmental Protection Agency's energy-efficiency program, has its own certification for new homes. An “Energy Star qualified” new home must meet standards, much like an LEED-H-rated home. Criteria include insulation, window performance, tight construction, and, of course, efficient products. The Energy Star Home Program limits its qualification criteria to energy-related improvements in the building model, however. To be truly “green,” one has to account for more than simply saving money on utilities.
Why Build LEED Certified?
The benefits of living in a LEED-certified home are numerous. According to Taggart, “homeowner pride” is the primary reason for deciding on a LEED-certified home. “The home speaks to the values of the homeowner,” he says.
A LEED home represents a commitment to energy-efficient living by virtue of added insulation, low-e windows, and Energy Star-rated appliances. The Indoor Environment Quality standard ensures that a family living in a LEED-certified house will breathe much cleaner indoor air through the use of low- or non-VOC paints and adhesives, in addition to the integration of an effective air exchange or ventilation system. These practices have been employed in commercial LEED buildings for years, and findings suggest that improved indoor air quality has led to increased worker productivity, higher attendance, and better morale.
Building a LEED-certified home may sound like an expensive undertaking, but market demand for energy-efficient products has added to availability while keeping prices reasonable. An increase in green building practices will drive the market to offer more energy-efficient and environmentally responsible products at competitive prices.
Building a LEED home actually lowers building costs to consumers by encouraging builders to use less material and produce less waste. Living in an energy-efficient home also saves on utility costs, while incorporating renewable energy technologies like solar heating and thermal storage that help homeowners produce their own energy as they reduce their dependency on carbon-producing technology. “The energy aspect has become the most compelling for homeowners,” Taggart says.
Finding a LEED-H Builder
The LEED-H program encourages homebuilders nationwide to apply for certification of the homes they build. Potential homeowners who are looking to build a LEED-H certified home can search for experienced builders through local and regional directories. Currently, the USGBC web site lists contacts for the local chapters of LEED and recognizes builders who practice sustainable building and have successfully constructed LEED-H homes. The goal of the program is to produce a registry that home buyers can access when looking for regional and local LEED-H certified homes and builders.