Archive for the 'LEED for Homes Category' Category
Website Updated – finally!

Hey folks, we finally updated the Gallery on our website to include the professional photographs of the house taken by famed Dallas architectural photographer, Charles Smith.  His work is fantastic!  We’ve used his images of the house in multiple publications, so these may not be new to you.  But with these new photos added (thanks, Budi!) we feel like the website if finally done, done, done (as I’m fond of saying).  We even added the USGBC LEED for Homes Platinum Certification logo on the landing page!  Check it out here.


Patio PadsI’ve been having some conversations with our Home Provider about permeability. 

Because stormwater runoff is a bad thing (moving water with pesticides, fertilizer and general trash into the sewer system, local lakes and streams), LEED SS4.2 values permeability – meaning it’s a good thing for the rainwater falling on your property to soak into your property and not run into your neighbors yard or into the street.

LEED provides a graduated point system that ends with 4 points for 100% permeability.  Keep in mind that 100% permeability doesn’t mean you can have -0- concrete.  Rather the Rating System states that you have to have features that direct water falling on the impermeable areas to features designed to capture the water and direct it to an area where the water will be absorbed.

With this post I provide a photo of our back patio – designed to direct water to the spaces between the concrete pads (versus having a solid slab).  Also, next to the patio (and difficult to see in this photo) is a swale that keeps the water from running downhill into our neighbor’s yard. 

drive_ribbon_2 (2)

The key question that I’m discussing with our Home Provider is the driveway ribbons.  We specifically designed this drive for permeability purposes.  The current question is whether the space between the ribbons is sufficient to support the amount of runoff from the ribbons…our Landscape Designer is working on the calculations.

Awareness & Education (LEED AE Category)

The final category of the LEED for Homes program is the Awareness & Education category.  This section is fairly short and straightforward.  Some of the sections assume that the home is being built by a Builder to be sold, not by a homeowner to be lived in. 

The first section deals with educating the homeowner.  Our Builder is required to provide us with the LEED documentation and checklists as well as all of the operating manuals for the appliances, HVAC, etc that are installed in the home.  In our case, I’ve been the one driving the green aspects of the house, so I might be putting together my own education packet!

We also get a one-hour walk through of the house including how to operate all of the equipment.  We’re opting out of requiring our Builder to provide “enchanced training”….we don’t think they would be willing to create a CD for our one house.  I can see it being a standard perk for a bulk builder, but not for our boutique builder.

We will be getting our one point for Public Awareness.  We’ve overdone this point, and we might apply for extra credit for our Education efforts:

  • This website and blog, updated typically at least weekly.
  • We’re hoping to get a tour arranged through our Green Consultant attended by our local chapter of the USGBC.
  • We’ve presented our Green House to the staff the Dallas Chapter of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.
  • We expect to have a tour of 40 students on 12/6 from the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture.
  • We have a (really good-looking) LEED for Homes sign in front of the house (shown in the picture above).
  • We’ve generated mentions on a few blogs, such as Dallas Dirt and About Green Living.
  • And we’re hoping for inclusion in the 2009 Dallas AIA Home Tour.

Awareness & Education expected points:  1 out of a possible 3.

Indoor Environmental Quality (LEED EQ Category)

The EQ Category is probably the most complicated LEED for Homes category – at least to me anyway!  It deals with HVAC, contamination control, moisture control, etc.  These are all things I’m no way near an expert on.  And as you probably guessed, there’s a separate checklist that can apply to this category, too.  Here’s the deal:

There are two, somewhat alternative paths in this category.  You can choose to follow the Energy Star Indoor Air Package (IAP) path or you can attempt to get your points by complying with multiple individual LEED subcategories.  The reality is that both of the paths share a lot of requirements – the IAP path is a bit more stringent…and of course that’s the one we’ve chosen to follow.

The Energy Star Indoor Air Package (IAP) is a detailed list of requirements that addresses the following indoor environment concerns:

  • Moisture Control – foundation, walls, roofs, plumbing systems,
  • Radon Control – wasn’t an issue in our area (North Texas)
  • Pest Barriers – minimizing pathways, termite prevention
  • HVAC Systems – equipment, ductwork, ventilation, air filtration

The IAP is a yes/no point-getter.  While there are a few optional requirements in the IAP, you either comply or not with the standard as a whole…no partial credit!  We were told by our Home Provider that few builders actually get the points for complying with the IAP.  We believe we will be compliant, although it took a lot of advanced planning and attention to detail.  I couldn’t have worked through this section without our builder’s and our HVAC guy’s help.  If you need a good HVAC specialist, call Greg Gannon at Tempo Mechanical Services.

So, we expect to have the points for the IAP (a whooping 13 points!). 

We are also eligible for a few more points in this category.  Two points that we’re hoping to get are awarded for an advanced whole-house ventilation system.  Our core HVAC came with a ventilation system (basically, whenever the blower runs a motorized damper opens and pulls in fresh air).  However, the system can be upgraded and made more efficient by installing a heat exchange system.  The system works basically the same except that the air coming in from the outside runs through a heat exchange before mixing with the indoor return air.  That way when it’s 104 degrees outside and 75 degrees inside, the 104 degree air gets cooled in a very efficient way BEFORE mixing with the 75 degree air in the return air mechanism.  The upgrade costs us $1600, but we have an issue…the HVAC guy wasn’t told to install it when he was installing the HVAC system and we need to add it back in.  I’m waiting to see if that’s going to be possible.  Yes, it was a mistake!

Indoor Environmental Quality expected points:  20 out of a possible 21.

Materials & Resources (LEED MR Category)

This category addresses those areas of Green Construction that most people are familiar with.  Bamboo flooring, low VOC paints, locally-source materials:  these are the mainstays of environmentally friendly building materials.  The MR category addresses the materials that make up a huge portion of your house, and the vast majority of the finish-out materials. 

To determine the number of points we were eligible for in this category, we reviwed 21 groupings of materials to determine if the materials we are using are:

  1. recycled or reused
  2. had low emissions (low VOCs), and/or
  3. were locally produced

Points are potentially awarded for all three of these characteristics – so if you used wood flooring that you salvaged from a barn less than 500 miles away you get points in both the ‘recycled’ component and the ‘locally produced’ component.  We believe we’ll end up with the maximum number of points for this portion of the MR category.  We’re using materials such as 30% fly ash concrete, bamboo floors, FSC certified woods in our millwork, recycled oak hardwood floors (from the house we deconstructed), locally produced windows and window frames, locally produced cabinetry, low VOC everything, and we have 100% hard surface flooring (meaning no carpet in the entire house).  I’m going to highlight several of these materials in my later posts because we’ve done some really fun things with these products.  The LEED Environmentally Preferable Products chart on Page 80 of the LEED for Home Rating System document is very informative – although it looks scary when you first see it.  Take time to study it and ask me any questions you have. 

The MR LEED for Homes category also addresses the planning that goes into the framing of the house.  Obviously, the framing makes up the vast majority of the wood portion of the house, so LEED cares about whether you’ve planned appropriately and didn’t order too much wood or wasted too much wood in the building of your house.  As a prerequisite, you have to order no more than 10% in excess of what it will take to construct the house.  If you over-ordered more than 10% you’ve missed the prerequisite.  Extra points are received for having detailed framing documents (which we did thanks to the engineer and architect we hired), and for having a detailed cut list (which we had).

Framing efficiencies can get you 3 points.  There’s a chart on page 78 of the LEED for Homes Rating System that outlines 13 types of efficiencies that you can earn points for.  We are following these, some of which are often collectively called “advanced framing techniques”.

  • Stud spacing great then 16″ on center (we don’t have every single stud spaced greater than 16″, but the majority are)
  • Floor joist spacing greater than 16″ on center
  • Roof rafter spacing greater than 16″ on center
  • Size headers for actual loads
  • Use 2-stud corners (also known as California corners)

Why do we care about having greater than 16″ on center studs, joists and rafters?  As LEED puts it, “Reduced framing can reduce the number and size of thermal breaks and increase the amount of insulation installed, leading to better energy performance”.  And it clearly allows you to use less materials.

Waste Management is also addressed in this category.  You must have a construction waste management plan, and you can get extra points for limiting the waste.  I’ll again refer you to a table showing the amount of points you get (page 84 of the Rating System), but the idea is to send to the landfill or incinerator as little as possible.  Our wood waste is minimal because as you read in my post on the deconstruction of our old house, we are having our bare wood shredded to be used as mulch in our new landscape…so ZERO of it ends up in a landfill!

Materials & Resources expected points:  16 out of a possible 16.

Energy & Atmosphere (LEED EA Category)

The Energy & Atmosphere category can be a little confusing.  USGBC has created alternate paths to earning points for Energy & Atmophere.  Our Home Provider only supports the path that requires a rating using the HERS Index.  According to the government’s Energy Star website, a HERS Index is

a scoring system established by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) in which a home built to the specifications of the HERS Reference Home (based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code) scores a HERS Index of 100, while a net zero energy home scores a HERS Index of 0. The lower a home’s HERS Index, the more energy efficient it is in comparison to the HERS Reference Home.

Each 1-point decrease in the HERS Index corresponds to a 1% reduction in energy consumption compared to the HERS Reference Home. Thus a home with a HERS Index of 85 is 15% more energy efficient than the HERS Reference Home and a home with a HERS Index of 80 is 20% more energy efficient.

Our preliminary HERS Rating is a 69.  Our rating could have been lower if it wasn’t for the number of windows and lights in our home.  When performing the preliminary rating (which is based off of plans and a conversation about design and use of the home), our Home Provider also gave us a list of things we could do to get a better rating.  We have agreed to incorporate better insulation in a few areas and to upgrade our windows in the front window tower.  But upgrading the tankless hot water systems would cost significantly more so we chose not to do that, neither did we choose to reduce the window-to-wall ratio.  We have a ratio of 30% now, and to get a six-point decrease in our HERS Rating we’d have to reduce it down to 22% – given the fantastic design of the house, that just wasn’t feasible (although we did go through the exercise to see if it was possible).

One more point to make about the HERS Rating:  they take into account not only how the house is being built (windows, doors, insulation type, HVAC type, construction methods, etc), they take into account the heat gain of the items in the house.  So every appliance or component that emits heat is measured – refrigerator, stereo, computers, etc. – because the heat that they generate has to be countered with cool air, which requires electricity, which is energy, which is what we’re trying to use less of.

While the EA Category for us focused primarily on the HERS Rating, there are a few other areas where we could gain points.  We obtained points for our hot water distribution system.  While we didn’t upgrade to the super-duper tankless heaters, we are using tankless throughout the house.  And we got points not only for the tankless heaters themselves, but for the fact that the heaters are located close to the faucets they serve (no more than ~30 linear feet).  The idea being that when you turn the hot water on in the shower, you don’t waste water or energy waiting for hot water to travel the pipes to the shower head.  We also get a point for insulating all hot water pipes 90 degree bends…apparently that’s where hot water pipes lose most of the heat of the water.  We also got points for refrigerant management.

To get a good sense of the practices that you will end up using regardless of whether you use a HERS Rating or not, look at the alternate path in LEED.  The following categories are addressed, and we could have gotten a good number of the points in that path.  Let me know if you have any questions about these categories:

  • Insulation
  • Air Infiltration
  • Windows (we struggled with windows and I’ll blog about them separately)
  • Duct Tightness
  • Space Heating & Cooling
  • Domestic Hot Water
  • Lighting
  • Appliances
  • Renewable Energy 

Pointwise, the EA category is our weakest, again mostly due to the amount of windows and lights in the house.  We may earn a few more points if we get a better final HERS Rating, but the category will still be our weakest.

Energy & Atmosphere expected points:  18 out of a possible 38.

Water Efficiency (LEED WE Category)

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Water Efficiency is a LEED category.  The Water Efficiency category addresses both indoor and outdoor water usage.  A portion of our outdoor water story will be addressed in a separate post – we’re utilizing a rainwater harvesting system that direct 100% of the rainwater that hits our roof to cisterns.  Look for that post in a few days.

I’ll address our outdoor water usage first.  The irrigation portion of our outdoor water story is simple.  We’re installing a high-end, very efficient irrigation system that will have about 10-14 zones.  We are directing water exactly where we need it and not watering where we don’t.  There are several requirements to achieve points for your irrigation system, some of which are fairly typical installation methods, but some are not.  A sample follows – (there are 11 and you get a point for each that you use up to a maximum of 3 points):

  • Install an irrigation system designed by an EPA Water Sense certified professional.
  • Install a central shut-off valve.
  • Use drip irrigation for at least 50% of the landscape planting beds to minimize evaporation
  • Check valves in heads.

However, we’re not going for points based on the irrigation system itself.   Fortunately for us, our Landscape Architect is installing a drought-friendly front and back yard that reduces our irrigation demand by 66%.  Yes, 66%.  The calculation that appears on page 50 of the LEED for Homes Rating System is daunting (fortunately, our Landscape guy did the calculation for us, and I’m attaching it here–>irrigationcalculationwe23).  We will be getting the full 4 points in the WE2 category!  NOTE:  a reduction in irrigation demand makes you eligible for points in the Sustainable Sites category which I addressed in a prior post).

Indoor water use is the second key component of the WE category.  It’s pretty obvious that the lower flow your plumbing fixtures, the higher the points.  So we’ve installed 3 really groovy dual-flush toilets in all the baths except the studio bath (but that’s a low flow, too).  And we’re trying going with very high efficiency faucets in the baths as well (defined as <1.5gpm).

I will say this about low flow plumbing fixtures:  it’s hard to get very high efficiency fixtures in very modern and stylish designs.  As an example, here’s our choice for our bath faucets (flow rate of 2.2gpm), but to get them down to “very high efficiency” (<1.5gpm), we have to add in low-flow aerators – they just don’t make the faucets “very high efficiency” without the use of an aerator.  AND it took us a bit of an effort for Kohler to give us information about the aerator’s impact on the flow rates.

I will confess an eco-sin here:  I love showers, and I couldn’t bring myself to use a high efficency/low flow shower head in my master bath.  I love the water too much!  We gave up a point because of this, and I hope I don’t live to regret it!

Our plumbing fixture budget wasn’t enough to cover our choices, but that’s because we went a little higher end than originally anticipated, not because we had any Green choices that upped the cost.

Expected Water Efficiency points:  9 out of a possible 15.

Sustainable Sites (LEED SS Category)

As I mentioned before, our lot is what sold the original house – we love it.  It’s about .4 acres and very deep (about 250 feet deep).  LEED awards points for taking care of the land and preparing it to be water-wise and safe.  Here’s how the points worked for us:

We’re required to do basic erosion control during construction.  We investigated using burlap and shredded wood, but were told that the City of Dallas inspectors didn’t like that method, so we went with traditional plastic with wooden stakes.  We weren’t thrilled, but given the fits the inspectors had already given us during the foundation phase of the project we decided not to tempt fate further.

There are several points for basic landscaping design and techniques.  We have a landscape architect, Jim Martinez, engaged in the project who has a ton of experience with drought-friendly yards.   He was able to design the yard using native and adapted plants.  The LEED calculation lead us to expect a 66% reduction in irrigation demand, and that gave us a whopping 6 points.  That’s a lot in LEED-speak!  We left one point on the table – a point that would have required us to remove a large privet hedge.  I know some folks would pay money to get rid of their privets, but these had been on this property for more than 50 years.  They house the breeding site for our lightening bugs, provide cover for birds and other wildlife, and provide a year-round noise cushion between us, the neighbor’s pool, and Love Field traffic.  We just couldn’t bring ourselves to rip them out. 

French Drain installation

Other points can be earned by managing surface water.  Here are some of the design features we used to avoid as much stormwater runoff as possible:

  • Rainwater falling on 100% of our roof will be directed into two 2500 gallon cisterns to be used for irrigation and clothes washing.  I’ll talk more about this feature in a later post…we’re very excited about it!
  • Swales (or berms) in the back and front yard to create rainwater gardens that will capture and hold rainwater while it soaks into the ground.
  • French drains (being installed in the photo above) to direct water from the uphill side of the property around the structures and into the swales.  
  • Driveway runners versus a full concrete driveway – we’re creating concrete ribbons for our front yard drive with grass growing in between.  These look a bit old-fashioned, but they create a space for more rainwater percolation versus the rainwater running into the street.
  • Permiable driveway in the back of the house – it will be gravel so rainwater will soak directly into the ground versus running off of a concrete drive.
  • Patios made of poured concrete pads with space between them (versus solid slabs) to allow rainwater to run between them and soak into the ground
  • A lot of trees and bushes being added into the landscape to hold the dirt and reduce natural erosion

Other points we’re getting are for using non-toxic pest controls – things like making sure you don’t plant new plants within 24″ of the structures (we actually have a 24-36″ band of gravel around the structures, so no plants will be planted close to the house or garage) and sealing all openings with calk or wire mesh. 

We didn’t earn points for “Compact Development”.  The denser the population the less impact on Mother Nature, so LEED provides credit for denser developments.  Because we live in an area with lot sizes from .25 to 1.25 acres we were just out of luck.  To be eligible for points, you’re required to have a maximum lot size equivalent of 1/7 of an acre (and the smaller the better)….oh well!

Expected Sustainable Sites points:  16 out of a possible 22.

Location & Linkages (LEED LL Category)

Location & Linkages addresses the home’s access to things like already-existing utility services, public transporation, and neighborhood services (like grocery stores, dry-cleaners, churches, etc).  The less you’re having to bring in brand new water or electric lines to the area, the less energy and materials your house construction will use – and the smaller the negative impact to the environment.  The closer you are to neighborhood services and public transporation, the less likely you’ll be using your car to drive long distances to reach them.  So therefore, it’s easier to build green in existing neighborhoods than in brand new ones (although there are points for developers who are building new neighborhoods that are LEED compliant).

Honestly, we lucked into our LL category points because we chose the house and location long before we ever heard of LEED.   We in all likelihood wouldn’t have sold this house and moved elsewhere just to gain a few more LEED points.  We love our neighborhood – although we could use a few less McMansions (so two words to sellers and real estate brokers and developers:  Stop it!).

Because our neighborhood, Shorecrest Estates (which is bordered by Lovers Lane, Lemmon Avenue, NW Hiway, and Midway Road – – we’re on the cheaper, west side of Midway!), was established in the 1950’s, we obviously are building on a previously developed site, and we already have all utility services available.   And while the Retail developments at both Midway & NW Hiway and Lemmon & NW Hiway are over 1/4 of a mile from us, we do have multiple DART bus stops up and down Lemmon and Midway that allow us to get the maximum 3 points for “Outstanding Community Resources/Transit”. 

One question we never got resolved – but doesn’t matter to us because we qualified for the maximum points in this category already – was whether you’re supposed to measure distance as you would walk it, or as the crow flies.  Our bus stops qualified measuring as you would walk the distance, but our community resources didn’t.  It seems that these distances should be measured as you would walk since the idea is that the services need to be close enough to make you want to walk versus drive.

Proximity to established green spaces counts, and we’re very lucky to be located about 1/4 mile away from both the Bachman Creek Greenbelt and Field-Frazier Park.  These are both very basic but very nice green spaces.

Expected Location & Linkages points:  10 out of a possible 10.

Innovation & Design Process (LEED ID Category)

This LEED category addresses the planning and design of the home.  You must do a preliminary rating – which we did along with an extended Design Charrette (basically a long discussion about the home’s design, features and limitations) with our Home Provider.  We had done a great deal of studying the LEED Rating System, so our initial meetings were pretty easy.  We have a Project Team (which I call our Green Team) consisting of:

  • Our Architect – Kelly Mitchell of Mitchell | Garman Design Collaborative
  • Our Builder – Artex Development (GC is Ross Boorhem)
  • Our Landscape Architect – Jim Martinez
  • A Green Consultant – LEED-Accredited Professional Sean Garman
  • The Owners – Us

We have yet to complete our Durability Planning & Management documentation (that’s scheduled for August), but we’re on track to get it done.  We also need to get a third party to do a durability management verification (for 3 points) – and our Home Provider will perform that function.

A point we’re not going to get is the “Building Orientation for Solar Design” point.  A home must be oriented to take advantage of the sun for solar panels and/or solar hot water heating.  Because we’re using the existing foundation of our house, we’re limited as to the orientation of the house.  Our house faces almost due Northeast….which is out of whack with what is required by LEED.  There are ways to make solar energy work, but our house direction is not optimal.

The Innovation portion of this category will be addressed in another post.  We have a couple of innovative ideas that we’ll be attempting to get “extra credit” for under this category.

Expected Innovation & Design Process points:  8 out of a possible 11.