Monday, May 3, 2010

LEED and Your Home

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) are the people who created and maintain the LEED standards, the familiar Certified (used to be Green), Silver, Gold or Platinum rated buildings. LEED is the leading green building certification system, intended to verify that a building or community was designed and built using accepted generalized strategies aimed at: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources. The standards tend to be fairly generalized and not region specific, but should be appropriately applied to produce an environmentally responsible building. LEED provides building owners, operators and buyers a concise and measurable framework for identifying, implementing and comparing green building design, construction, operations and maintenance. The USGBC has expanded these basic standards from commercial construction to operations to single family homes and now have created REGREEN Residential Remodeling Guidelines. Not all of us can rush out and buy a LEEDS certified home. There is a tremendous amount of existing housing in the United States and the REGREEN guidelines can offer a roadmap to improving the environmental performance of our existing homes. Green remodeling also reduces the environmental impacts of remodeling, including energy, water, and materials consumption; waste generation; and harmful emissions, both indoors and out. If you want to take a look at some of the things you could do to improve the environmental performance of your home, follow this link and explore the ideas and recommendations. An example is “Reflective (high-albedo) roofing materials and pavement surfaces as well as vegetative plantings can help minimize this heat island effect.”

There are eight areas of consideration in a LEEDS home. How these aspects are actually measured and quantified is the basis of the LEED scoring system. The first area is indoor air quality, a LEED home is designed to maximize fresh air indoors and minimize exposure to toxins and pollutants. This involves addresses air circulation, mixing and off gassing from building materials and furnishings. The second area is energy efficiency. In general LEED homes are built to use 20-30% less energy than the standard size typical home. Larger homes and homes that do not meet the goals in other areas can up their score by reducing the energy footprint of the home with energy generation. Most of the glamorous LEEDS homes you see need to meet a very strict home energy rating index because their footprint exceeds the reference size. An expensive, but quick way to neutralize size in LEEDS score is to shoot for a net zero home.
The next area is water efficiency; here is one of many areas where the standards lean towards urban and suburban issues. According to the USBGC wasteful water use is both costly and risky and tied to wasteful energy use: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, as much as ¼ - ½ of the electricity used by most U.S. cities is consumed at municipal water and wastewater treatment facilities. The LEED home standards encourage limiting water use and encouraging water reuse with grey water systems. In reality, water availability is a local issue. My water is supplied by a private well drilled into an incredibly productive aquifer. My wastewater is treated on site by an alternative on-site septic system. Thus my water is directly recycled back into the watershed. Water shed protection is the issue I worry about not water efficiency, though two decades in California has left me incapable of wasting water and our household water use is actually very low. Site Selection is another area where the standards judge based on old preconceptions. LEED encourages homes that are close to schools, shopping, work and transit. However, my husband and I live, work, and relax from home. Access to high speed internet, cable, and food supply sources were the important location issues we considered. In truth, I leave the house on average, three times a week. Coming from California, I worried about water availability, water quality and protection of the water shed.

The other areas of the LEED scoring system are site development, materials selection, resident awareness and innovation. It is essential that building a home and living in it not cause erosion, interfere with natural habitats and pollute waterways through storm water runoff and other actions. How you live in your house is just as important as how the house was built. At the end of the process, a home is awarded points in each area. Based on the number of points it receives, the home can be certified at one of the four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. LEED certification is both cool and desirable; however, it is not enough to ensure an environmentally responsible and sustainable existence. That is the result of all the elements of your life. The LEEDS tools especially the REGREEN guidelines are great tools for knowing what choices we have for our homes, but the sustainability and environmental impact of our lives is based on the total of all our choices.

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