Building a LEED Home: Green Life Smart Life

Thu, 2009-09-24 00:50

Kimberly Lancaster is building a LEED Home, and we asked her about her experiences building the home. It’s always great to hear about first-hand LEED implementation experiences.

1 – What motivated you to build a green home?

There are lots of shades of green, and I guess you might say my shade has deepened over the past few years as evidenced by my commitment to build a green home for my family. If I had to list them in order, I would say the biggest influences in deciding to build a green home were:

1. My children

2. My concern for the environment

3. My disappointment in our government

4. Our growing energy bills

5. And because I wanted to see if it really could be done (and would I survive it!)

2 – Why did you choose LEED to signify your green home as compared to the other rating systems out there?

When we started the process in 2008, we reviewed all of the programs: ENERGY STAR, Earth Advantage, NAHB Green, and LEED. LEED for Homes had just moved out of the pilot program but was showing some very promising standards in terms of reframing the building process. I liked the way they aggregated the data and managed the thresholds for rating a project. NAHB Green was interesting but had two issues in my view: (1) There were not enough people who had used the rating system and (2) If you fell short in one area of NAHB Green, your project could rate no higher than your lowest category. So even if you maxed out on points in 8 categories and got Emerald scores, if you only ranked Silver in one category the highest your project could rank was Silver. I thought that was a negative.

3 – What is the most remarkable/wackiest/coolest thing you’ve learned during the building process?

Most remarkable - You can use a local craftsman to build cabinets from locally managed FSC forests. They can build them and finish them using zero VOC paints and finishes, and you can get 1.5 points: .5 for FSC wood for cabinetry; .5 for local (less than 500 miles); .5 for zero VOC finishes. It costs you less than the garbage you’d buy at your local mass building outlet, and you get a unique, custom piece made for you.

Wackiest: I am not buying into this “more people on less land deal.” In our neighborhood, we are in a pre-existing land development. We have 55 homes on approximately 70 acres. Under LEED Homes, we get no points because our one home on one acre of land is considered wasteful/not good for the environment. They applaud you, however, for seven houses per acre, give you a standing ovation for ten houses per acre, and give you the key to the city if you build 20 houses per acre of land. Do you have any idea what impact that would have on this community? 1,100 homes on the same land? How that would impact the environment? The watershed? The animal habitat? The municipal water supply? The sewers? What about police? Fire? School systems? I don’t think there’s a perfect answer, and I understand that LEED Homes may want us all to live in the city, but the suburbs already exist too. We can’t just rule them out.

Coolest thing: We’re working on it. But the quick rundown, to save energy, you can load shed high-energy consuming devices. We are programming our electrical outlets to shut down for certain periods daily. For example, our refrigerator will shut down from 1-4 a.m. every day. So if you have fridge that uses 200 Watts running and runs 6 hours a day (25% duty cycle), you’d calculate the following: 200X x .25 x 24 hr day x 365 day yr x 1kW/1000W = 438 KWhr/yr

Under our model, you are saving 12.5% of that energy load.

We’re applying this model throughout the home for areas with computers, TVs, charging stations (for cameras, cell phones, etc.). We’re also installing exterior sensors that control lights and occupancy sensors for lighting, temperature, and our environmental recovery systems (EVRS), which are the fans that exchange fresh air in the home.

When it came to wiring the house, we saved more than 50% of our wire by planning our wiring schematic to shorten runs and maximize efficiency. 

All told, right now we estimate our energy consumption to be half that of a similar sized home just based on planning. This is cool.

4 – How did your HERS Rater work out for you? Did you join him/her on their inspections?

So far, our HERS Rater, Rob Sherwood of Conservation Services Group, has been helpful. He has been doing ENERGY STAR for years and now plays the role of Green Rater on LEED Homes projects. We’re not finished, so I do not know the end result. Yes, I have done the first three inspections so far, which was great. It helped me learn more information but also make sure what information they have is accurate.

5 – How did your contractors and HERS Rater get along?

So far, so good. As the project manager, I’ve been the go-between on a lot of things. Because we are custom building and are essentially acting as the GC on the project, my primary role has been educator, information gatherer, and green translator.

6 – How did your LEED AP work out for you?

I’d say this has been ok. I don’t know if I just was expecting more, but so far I am not sure exactly what they do other than answer questions I have -- questions I could mostly answer myself from the reference book. I guess I am used to people giving opinions, and their neutrality is a little disconcerting sometimes. I thought they were there not just to rate your home but also help your home get the best rating possible. I was wrong. I think there is a person missing in the puzzle of building a green home, and that is the Green Project Manager. This is the person who can answer all of the questions but is on the project from the start. Maybe it will be the builder or the architect if you hire someone who is a LEED AP. Our project started before LEED Homes existed outside of the pilot program, so that wasn’t the path we went. 

7 – How did your LEED AP and Architect get along?

They have had little to no interaction.

8 – What are your thoughts about working with the USGBC?

So far we have not dealt a lot with the USGBC, just our Raters. I like their online application. I find their processes easy to follow and do not mind the level of detail we have to provide. There is a lot of paperwork and documentation, but I enjoy that stuff.

9 – Did you really get an Innovation and Design point for a high efficiency washing machine?

We haven’t submitted our application, but this may be one of our LEED ID points. We have some creative items we are doing, and we may not go this path, which is pretty straightforward. You can receive a point under Energy & Atmosphere EA 9.2 for a Water-Efficient Clothes Washer if you install a washing machine with a modified energy factor of >2.0 and water factor of < 5.5 and if your washer is ENERGY STAR labeled.

The way it works is the point is credited to LEED EA 9.1 and 9.2 in the prescriptive path, but if you are taking the performance path, as we are, you are forced to skip EA 9.1 and 9.2.

Because our house is going through the ENERGY STAR rating and the washing machine input does not affect the energy model in the performance path, it becomes an optional ID point we can take under LEED Innovation & Design Point 1.2.

Hence, a LEED ID point for a washing machine.