Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Hey big talker

    I've been doing some reading about home LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. (Link is here — scroll down to "LEED for homes pilot version 1.11a and download the .pdf if you've got the stamina for 184 pages.)

    Quick recap: LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a qualification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to encourage energy-efficient, responsible development. Requirements for the certification run through everything from site selection for your project (is it near transit? is it near a grocery store?) to energy star heating systems to climate-appropriate landscaping to grey water recycling, and so on. For our dear Utah readers, the majority of LEED projects — if not all — in the state have been commercial, governmental or multi-family dwellings. Single-family LEED homes in Utah seem to be rare, if not entirely nonexistent.

    From what I can tell, the USGBC has made no provisions for individual home owners/builders to obtain their own LEED certification. Their requirements seem to point to a system of builders in a few states and regions who have jumped through USGBC hoops in order to qualify as LEED builders. I saw no opportunity in their documents for people like us (lowly potential owner-builders) to take ourselves through the LEED process. This is how they put it: "Currently, the pilot LEED for Homes initiative is open to participation by builders in locations served by our 12 pilot LEED for Homes Providers. Home builders outside of these 12 service areas may contact their nearest LEED for Homes Provider to discuss participation in LEED for Homes. In the short-term, not every home builder will have local access to a Provider. However, in the coming year, USGBC plans to establish 10-20 new Providers in new markets."

    That's a crying shame.

    Innovation generally comes from a few individuals who decide to do something different. If the USGBC is truly concerned about spreading LEED certification (and it seems the council is – one of the components for becoming LEED certified is education about the process) then it needs to open up the process drastically. Why would the council allow only certain builders in certain areas to apply for LEED certification? Additionally, why would this system discriminate against owners-builders (cough, cough: us, *we hope*) who aren't going to look to an established builder for help with a home. We hope to use a family member as our general contractor, not Ivory Homes (shudder) or like ilk.

    I like just about everything else I read about LEED home certification. But really, USGBC, really?!? I'm disappointed in you, and this is my disappointed face:


    Todd said...

    what benefit does one get for LEED home certification? admittedly i didn't look around very much on the link you provided. but can't you just use the guidelines to make your home green? why actually get a piece of paper that says it's gold?

    i'm suspicious of the LEED point system. however well intentioned, they give the same number of points for a small bicycle rack outside a skyscraper as they do for installing a multi-million dollar air filtration system. it can also cost tens of thousands of dollars to apply for certification (for large corporate buildings). what point does it really serve? is it just a badge?

    this is not a criticism. you're right that it should be easier to apply for and obtain direction and certification for individual homeowners. i guess i just wonder why use a broken system anyway?

    Tai said...

    I think you're exactly right todd. In looking through the leed requirements, we have talked about doing most of them. I think the LEED certification is largely a marketing tool and a way for local municipalities to require certain green standards in their public buildings. Where we are planning on building a home for ourselves to live in for several years, not a spec home, I can't see any reason to apply for LEED certification if it costs us an extra $5,000 or so. Not having the certification won't mean that the house is not "green".

    That One Guy said...

    Tai's right... it's marketing... They market it to builders and developers right after they pump the hell out of it in the press...

    Makes a builder feel like if you AREN'T doing this, you're ruining the earth for the rest of us, jerk!

    Best results: identify those items you can do within your own project's budget, and make your life green from other perspectives as well. LEED cert doesn't have to be there to be "green".

    And then there are the product manufacturers who are trying to get their systems "LEED certified"...

    Follow the money to the truth. In this, as with MOST things...


    doug said...

    OK, OK, obviously I have to come in and try my best to do a little PR here.

    No, seriously, not PR. Just some explaining. LEED for Homes is literally brand-new. It just barely launched in late November. Before that, it was in pilot form. Development of LEED rating systems is a long, involved process, with lots of consensus-building among the USGBC membership, a lengthy public comment period, another lengthy balloting period, not to mention constant revisions and new versions. It's all an attempt to make sure all the "green" elements LEED considers are truly green, realistic and applicable to the type of building being considered, etc. etc.

    A key part of developing the rating systems is a pilot period, which involves guinea-pig projects sorting through the process to bring to the surface any unforeseen issues (and there are always lots). With the Homes system, especially, that required third-party certification from experts who could focus on some carefully selected projects (to represent single-family homes, affordable housing, big-city high-rises, etc. etc.). It just takes time to do some quality control.

    And people are right. If you're building your own home and just want to make it green for the sake of doing the right thing, there is no concrete reason to get it certified, unless you want bragging rights. LEED for Homes is mostly useful for commercial endeavors (i.e., an apartment building that wants to advertise its rooms as green, or a spec builder who wants to draw attention to a new development). It's also useful in jurisdictions that offer tax incentives or other inducements for LEED-certified building.

    But LEED for Homes is definitely growing - booming, actually - and there are now something like 15,000 homes registered in the LEED process. So new providers in more geographically diverse areas will be showing up.

    And regarding that one guy's comment about manufacturers wanting to get their systems LEED certified, LEED actually doesn't certify products of any type, nor does it endorse or recommend any. Only buildings can get any kind of stamp of approval from USGBC, so it's really not a money issue. I promise. If it was, I'd tell you. :)