Make It Right's Affordable LEED Platinum Tips

GreenBuild

If anyone knows how to do LEED affordably, it's Make It Right — Brad Pitts' foundation to build safe, sustainable and affordable homes for the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Three Make It Right team members were at last week's GreenBuild and gave an insightful presentation on how to build LEED Platinum homes for less than traditional houses. Check out their tips, after the jump!

Value Engineering
It's a term no one likes, but few projects can avoid. In general, Make It Right has a very straight forward list of principals that guide the design of the bones of every house. The items are simple ways to not only cut down on construction costs, but also reduce waste:

  • Design on a 4-foot module for the building width, a 2-foot module for the length (finished)
  • Anticipate dropped ceilings for mechanicals and plumbing. Integrate this into the design rather than tacking it on later.
  • Design shared plumbing (also known as 'wet') walls, and locate water heater as close to plumbing fixtures as possible &mdash for a compact and efficient plumbing layout.
  • Use windows and doors that are a maximum of 36-inches wide, not mulled together, not within 4-feet of a corner and aim to locate on a module — these points are particularly important when designing for windy conditions.
  • Design kitchens to have not more than one corner, and design the cabinetry in 3-inch increments (standard stock sizes).
  • Always include manufacturers diagrams, instructions and specifications in the construction documents rather than leaving it up to the contractor to track them down.
  • Consider creating a standard contractor's illustrated manual to be used for every project.
  • Don't waste resources by over shooting LEED points — design for the points you realistically intend to get from the very beginning.

Advanced Framing
Using advanced framing techniques saves material and labor resources, creats 30% less waste, reduces thermal bridging, and provides more space for insulation than standard 16-inch on-center framing.

  • 24-inch spacing is better than 19.2-inch spacing
  • Must stack and align all rafters, studs and joists for a stronger, direct load path.
  • Double top plate is needed for random layout used for 16-inch spacing, but this can be eliminated for advanced framing.
  • Advanced framing uses less lumber, which means less trees are lost and and overall reduced framing cost.

Project Administration & General Design Techniques
Throughout the each of the Make It Right projects, various tweaks have been implemented that make it more eco-friendly, more efficient and in some cases less expensive than the typical home — the homes are in general $10k less and have a much lower (better) HERS rating. Some of the items are tailored to the hurricane-prone area, but most can be applied to homes across the US.

  • Use closed cell spray foam insulation, use caution with adjacent finishes
  • Use hurricane fabric instead of shutters
  • HVAC is a high-velocity heating and cooling system. Include MERV 11 filter and fresh air intake.
  • For roof ties use liquid nails instead of standard Simpson Strong Ties.
  • Instead of standard shingles, use a metal roof — there is a higher upfront cost, but a longer lifespan and higher quality material.
  • Use mold resistant drywall.
  • All homes are wired using Verve Living System wireless and programmable electrical system.
  • Paint is Benjamin Moore zero-VOC
  • Countertops are Eco by Cosentino; they also recommend laminate for inexpensive countertop and cabinets.
  • James Hardie cement fiberboard siding is used in lieu of vinyl.
  • Each Make It Right house is equipped with a system that generates 2.7 to 3.0 KW of energy. Rather than contracting the installation out to other companies, Make It Right has trained each of it's contractors to be certified solar installers, which greatly reduces the cost of solar panels.
  • Apply for grants to help pay for LEED certification

Related: Make It Right: First Brad Pitt Homes Completed in New Orleans

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(Image: Make It Right)

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