Tuesday, April 29, 2008

LEED for Homes Certification

We have decided to pursue the LEED for Homes certification for this project. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. We always intended to build a very sustainable home, but it was only recently that we decided to check into the possibility of getting LEED Certified. For anyone who is not familiar with the LEED process or the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) , you can read all about it at the website: www.usbgc.org. In essence, the USGBC (a non-profit organization) created what is now a nationally recognized rating system that measures the level of sustainability (or 'greenness') of a project. It is a point-based system with four levels of achievement: Certified, Silver, Gold & Platinum. Anyone building a residential project who wishes to pursue certification must work through what is called a LEED for Homes "Provider". In PA, the provider is the ECA (Energy Coordinating Agency). A lot of acronyms, I know!

We (along with our contractor) met with the ECA recently to discuss the project. Before we met, we had downloaded all the information on the rating system, including the point checklist, in order to familiarize ourselves with the LEED for Homes rating system (which is slightly different than the rating system set up for commercial work - which I do have some experience with). We went through the entire checklist and compared it against what we were already intending on doing in the project. At that time, it appeared that we might be able to achieve a Gold rating. After meeting with the ECA and walking them through our project, they seemed very enthusiastic about the project and our chances of getting a good rating. Needless to say, this was extremely encouraging. In the end, of course, it doesn't matter too much what rating level we achieve. We would be happy with any of them. For us, it's mostly about designing a home that is beautiful and sustainable along with efficient and economical. The LEED rating system has received much criticism for the fact that it doesn't take "design" into account. But, from what I can see, the LEED for Homes system is very appropriate and does not appear to compromise good design. I think it comes down to the fact that there should be no difference between "sustainable design" and just "good design".

One of the best things we discovered about LEED for Homes was how beneficial it is to simply be building a project in the city. It makes a lot of sense, since one of the most sustainable things people can do is live in dense populations that have been previously developed and where all of the infrastructure is already in place. One of the best ways to achieve almost all of the points in the "Sustainable Sites" category is to simply do a project similar to ours. In fact, they even encourage 'building small' and offer what is called an "adjustment factor" that is based on the number of bedrooms you have relative to the square footage you have. For instance, we have 3 bedrooms in 1,600 SF. Due to the fact that this is a fairly efficient ratio, we were able to achieve an adjustment factor of -5. This means that however many points we need to achieve a certain rating, we can subtract 5 from that, which makes it easier. It also works the other way. If you intend on building 3 bedrooms in 3,000 SF, you will be adding close to 10 points to the total needed, thus making it more difficult. USGBC provides a chart that shows all the incremental factors.

Another reason we decided to pursue a LEED rating was for marketing purposes. As an investment property for our green development company (Southern Liberties, LLC) we are indeed doing this to make a profit. There are thousands of residential projects registered for LEED right now but, I believe, there are only about 500 homes Certified nationwide and only one Certified home in the city of Philadelphia: the Berks Hewson Twins (by Onion Flats) up in Fishtown (NE Philly). As far as I know, ours would be the first LEED Certified home in all of Center City and South Philly. Of course, this statistic may change by the time we actually complete the process...but it's a good start. We see this as a highly marketable aspect of the project. There is a cost involved in getting the home Certified but we feel these costs will easily be made up in the sale price of the home, especially if we can achieve a Gold rating.

We are very excited about all the possibilities related to the LEED Certification process. I will try to keep the blog updated with all the progress and hopefully it will be helpful (and encouraging) to anyone else who might be interested in designing and building a LEED Home someday.

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