On August 25th the New York Times featured a beautifully designed Wisconsin dwelling in the article A Box of Fresh Air. The newly-constructed home is one of two LEED platinum homes in Wisconsin. I got the impression the homeowners had few financial constraints and were able to pay significant amounts for energy-reducing upgrades and make expensive site decisions. It made me wonder: as the owner of an existing home, is LEED applicable? Is it necessary? I checked-in with a LEED Accredited Professional to find out this and more.
Re-Nest: What is LEED for Homes certification? Is this only for new construction?
Amy Patel: LEED Homes is an initiative designed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to transform home building procedures towards a more sustainable practice. Stand-alone single-family homes, duplexes and townhouses, suburban and urban apartments, condominiums and lofts are all eligible for LEED Homes certification. An existing project can participate as long as it's a "substantial gut rehab." This would involve replacing most of the systems and components in order to qualify. For existing buildings, there are additional inspections required, such as thermal inspection on the exterior wall.
Re-Nest: When you hear of LEED projects in the media, it's usually concerning large, commercial properties. How popular is LEED for Homes certification?
Amy Patel: LEED for Homes has been around for a few years, but as environmental awareness becomes more of a priority and as it becomes more affordable, people all across the country will be looking for ways to make their life a little greener. Most people are coming to the realization that, in the long run, green homes are better for the environment as well as their bank accounts.
Re-Nest: Are there different levels of certification for LEED for Homes?
Amy Patel: There are four tiers that indicate level of performance according to the number of points earned when qualifying: Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum. This rating system guarantees minimum levels of sustainable practices through pre-requisites and eight credit categories.
Re-Nest: What are the easiest changes homeowners can make?
Amy Patel: One of the most effective things a homeowner can do is to properly seal and insulate the exterior of their home. This can result in considerable savings in heating and cooling costs. And, it can make your home more comfortable. If you don't have the means to hire a skilled contractor, there are a few things you can do that won't cost much money, such as using compact fluorescent light bulbs, unplugging electronics from outlets when not in use, and using water sparingly.
Re-Nest: In the New York Times article, the homeowners went to great lengths to upgrade many of their systems, including spending $100,000 for the installation of four geothermal wells for their home's heating and cooling systems. These upgrades are ideal, in theory, but what can the average homeowner learn from this article?
Amy Patel: This homeowner has recognized how important their connection to the natural world is. From creating spaces that are both inside/outside to actively engaging the environment to using local materials, products, as well as professionals, they recognize there are many things a homeowner can do to ensure a sustainable project. Proper use of the site is very important. This home is positioned to take advantage of passive cooling via breezes from the lake. This simple act of recognizing and leveraging nature can greatly improve your home.
Re-Nest: What, if any, costs exist for going through the certification process?
Amy Patel: The USGBC charges fees for registration and certification of your project based on the type of project and membership status. On-site inspections prior to certification are also required. The rates and fees for these are based on market prices and may differ depending on your location.
Re-Nest: What are the best ways for homeowners to seek out LEED AP architects and contractors?
Amy Patel: The USGBC website provides a list of LEED for Homes providers who team with builders and developers. Most architects advertise LEED services on their websites as well.
Re-Nest: What does being a LEED AP do for your career?
Amy Patel: It's made me more aware of how much of an impact I can have on the environment and people's lives with my designs. From process to product, I have been challenged to meet demands for new and renovated facilities that are accessible, secure, healthy, and productive while minimizing their impact on the environment.
Re-Nest: In closing, what advice do you have about LEED for Homes certification for Re-Nest readers?
Amy Patel: It's up to the individual as to whether they want to register their building with the USGBC. It can be a great marketing point, but ultimately what's important is for your home to take advantage of its site, be energy efficient, and have the least possible impact on its environment.
Additional questions for Amy? Let us know by dropping a comment below. More information: LEED Certification.
About Amy: Amy Patel, M.Arch, LEED AP, is a project architect at a leading architecture firm in San Francisco. She has worked on numerous large and small-scale projects which have incorporated sustainable design elements and achieved LEED Certification.