Originally Published: October 25, 2012 9:54 p.m.
Question: I would like to go beyond just energy efficiency and consider the health and environmental aspect of building my home. How do I go about this?
Answer: If you wish to go beyond just energy conservation and into home and yard environmental management, health and comfort, the U.S. Green Building Council Leading Energy and Environment Design (LEED) For Homes program for fills that bill.
LEED for Homes is the nation's most established green building program and is the most difficult certification to achieve. It is a rating system that promotes the design and construction of high-performance green homes. For homebuyers, LEED is a scorecard that gives a clear, concise picture of all the ways energy-efficient and environmentally responsible homes perform. A LEED home will save you energy, water and money, and will provide a healthy environment for you and your family. LEED is the seal of quality.
The LEED for Homes rating system uses Energy Star's Home Energy Rating System (HERS) as its energy segment, but brings a new environmental management dimension to the process and a higher level of complexity. LEED is concerned with building location and community resources, site stewardship, and landscaping and water management both inside and outside the home. It includes storing rainwater, gray water systems and limiting the use of water through low-usage plumbing and appliances. It also focuses on limiting landscape water use through hardscape design and drought-tolerant vegetation.
LEED also focuses on environmentally preferable materials and minimal volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure, indoor air and moisture contamination and waste management during construction. Each one of these subjects has a number of parts, and the various building trades have to confirm conformance to the specifications.
As with Energy Star, LEED requires an initial checklist outline and target certification level. This is a list of expected actions that will be taken during construction. The final inspection and certification confirms that these actions have been implemented correctly.
The overall cost difference when building energy-efficient homes is minimal because most of the products used are comparable in cost to standard materials. It's knowing what to select based on the Energy Star and LEED specifications.
My home achieved a LEED Gold certification without a renewable energy source. The primary focus was a highly insulated and airtight envelope, removing the need for energy use. Instead of using standard framing that can be very leaky, integrated concrete forms (ICFs) were selected for the basement and crawlspace walls, and structurally integrated panels (ISPs) for the main walls. My house was also built with sealed footings and crawlspace floor as well as a fully insulated roof. The actual low-energy upgrade cost was between 10 and 12 percent above a conventional stick frame envelope, and 2 to 3 percent of the home's total cost. As construction costs are primarily based on square footage, they are scalable to the size of your home.
The result is a very comfortable home. The inside temperature is very stable; there are no drafts, and the heating and cooling system operates infrequently. Our energy costs are around 30 percent of the average home our size, and are in line with the HERS simulation performed before we started building.
Building to a checklist and standards that are independently verified and tested keeps everyone involved committed to a quality level that otherwise would be questionable and at the discretion of the builder. The LEED certificate signifies a very high level of quality and performance that you can trust.
Paul Scrivens operates Prescott-based Green Home Energy Advisors. Contact him through www.greenhomeenergyadvisors.com.