Archive for the 'LEED for Homes Category' Category
LEED Categories

I’m going to start giving some insight to the LEED for Homes point categories.  Some of it may be dry, but it’s the type of information that I would have wanted to read when I was first starting to learn this stuff.  I’ll explain the category, talk about how we reacted to it, and tell you what points we expect to get in that category.  I’ll probably intersperse the category discussions with other posts, but I intend to get through all the categories….

Is this going to be helpful to you?

Our Certification

House SignIn the prior post I talked about the LEED for Homes program as a whole, so let me talk about how we got our specific project started.

When we first started we had no clue what level of certification we thought we could achieve.  I assumed that to get to Platinum I’d be spending a fortune…and that’s partially true!  But what surprised me is that getting to Certified or Silver can be done with minimal or no cost.  A lot of practices are alternative practices, not upgrades.

The LEED for Homes Rating System is represented in a 114 page document that at first is a bit daunting.  You’ll quickly become familiar with it.  It tells you exactly what you need to do to gain points.  But before you get into how to score the points, you need to know what points you’re going for.   There are a total of 136 points available.  The baseline number of points required by certification level are:

  • Certified – 45 points
  • Silver – 60 points
  • Gold – 75 points
  • Platinum – 90 points

To determine the threshold level specific to your project, you must calculate a “Home Size Adjustment”, which “compensates for the overarching effect of home size on resource consumption by adjusting the award level point thresholds….based on home size.”  The adjustment is based the square footage of the house and the number of bedrooms.  Our calculation added 3 points to all of the thresholds, so to obtain Platinum we need 93 points (we believe we’re currently at 97).  In LEED-speak, smaller homes and more bedrooms are better.  You can still achieve a Platinum with a larger home, but it just takes more points.

One more thing about getting started:  you need to be ready to document pretty much everything.  We have print-outs of maps of the property (showing how far we are from green space and public transportation), documentation of the fate of the old house’s pieces and parts (we recycled 90+% of that), technical specifications of our appliances to prove they’re Energy Star rated, etc, etc, etc.  It seems overwhelming at first, but as I learned very quickly, if you take it one requirement at a time it starts making sense and starts feeling very doable.

The image attached to this post is a 3’X3′ sign we have in front of the house (some of you may have gotten to this blog via our home’s website that’s listed on the sign).  That sign and this website/blog contribute to one of our points.

Learning about LEED

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a program administered by the United States Green Building Council.  According to the USGBC website:

“LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.”

I was introduced to the LEED program by my employer, JPMorgan Chase, who has announced plans to take several of it’s buildings LEED Platinum.  There are currently 9 USGBC LEED programs, and when we first looked at LEED for Homes it was in it’s pilot phase, only becoming an officlal program in January 2008.  As of this post, there are no homes in Dallas that have been LEED-certified since the official program started.

Basically, the LEED for Homes program works like this – USGBC has a system that awards points in various categories, and depending on how many points you get you’re awarded nothing or you’re given a Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum LEED for Homes Certification.  The point categories cover pretty much everything about your house (with the exception of demolitioning the old one – but we’ll get to that in a later post).  The point categories are:

  • Innovation and Design Process
  • Location and Linkages
  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Awareness and Education

Something that we didn’t quite understand in the beginning is that you’re required to work with a Home Provider – basically a Green consultant who walks you through the LEED process, and provides good, valuable information.  We chose GWS from Oklahoma City, mostly because they are the closest to Dallas, but also we had heard better things about them than we had heard about other Home Providers.  We were pretty up-to-speed on the program, mostly due to Sean Garman our own Green consultant, so we used our Home Provider to bounce ideas off of and to provide insight to some of the subtleties of the LEED for Homes Checklist.  They also perform required analysis, like the HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating.

Some of our Green choices resulted in higher cost than an alterate, non-Green choice (but we’ll get to those choices in later posts) and we’ll try to be as honest and up-front as possible about them.  However, the program itself has a cost as well.  So far we’ve paid around $1500, and we anticipate we’ll do one more round of HERS rating.  Several of these expenses are variable, so use this listing only as a guide:

  • $250 to register with USGBC (it’s less if you are a USGBC member, more if you’re building a multifamily dwelling).
  • $630 for the Plan Analysis (they review your entire building plan to estimate the LEED points you’ll get and provide valuable input about alternatives – this amount is based on the amount of square footage you’re building).
  • $90 for the Modeling/Tax Credit Analysis.
  • $450 for GWS’s fee, which includes the required inspections.
  • Then you pay an hourly fee each time you want your HERS rating redone as you learn more and make choices ($45/hour), and there are additional fees if you need GWS to travel to provide consultation or when they do inspections (we don’t anticipate needing that).

I often get asked what I get for obtaining a LEED certification.  No, there is no monetary award (although many of the things you can do to earn points might also quality for utility, city, state or federal tax credits or rebates).   However, almost everything you do to get points will end up saving you money…either in your water bill, your gas bill, your electric bill….or because the house is so well-built it won’t need to be repaired or replaced anytime soon.