What is LEED, and How You Can Qualify

Many United States homeowners would like to upgrade their homes. Almost as many would like to get “green” certification for their efforts, if it weren’t for a complex and maddening set of rules called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design). Unfortunately, this category of confused and disheartened includes some very fine architects and builders. As a result, LEED certification has resulted in fewer buildings that meet green best practice standards.

Of course, LEED isn’t the only building paradigm. The International Green Construction Code (IGCC) can stand alone or complement LEED. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) stands alongside LEED as the U.S. Defense Department ramps up its already deep green profile. And, of course, there’s ENERGYSTAR, a joint venture between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

In the last decade, the U.S. construction landscape has come alive with ever more effective yet simpler methods of building or retrofitting homes and offices with energy and resource conservation devices or measures that increase building sustainability quotients, sometimes to near-zero or zero.

And it is this small energy footprint – coupled with low-flow faucets, composting toilets (and kitchen bins), rain barrels and greywater  –  that suggest the consumer’s biggest bang for the energy and resource conservation buck may be fairly inexpensive as well as relatively easy to achieve.

But why bother if you can’t get a few kudos that give you bragging rights. Right? I hope that by demystifying LEED to some extent I can encourage more homeowners to investigate the possibility. I think the program would work well with DIY-minded individuals, not all of whom are guys. These are the mechanical right-brainers who discovered that a water-filled plastic quart milk bottle displaced just enough water from the toilet tank to bring down their water bills. (And while we’re on the subject, why are toilets using the same quality of water that we drink?)

If you can’t afford an architect or energy conservation specialist, but you want to aim for LEED certification, there is a program called LEED for Home Scoring Tool that walks you through the process. You can’t use it to self-score a LEED certification, but you can use it to evaluate your home’s footprint and get a fairly good idea of where your home falls on a graph of best to worst, or what else is needed to achieve certification.

In the interests of accurate reporting, I visited the site (www.leedforhomes,org) and signed up for a user account. Once there, you can sign in with a project name (like Smith’s house) and a location. For new construction, you can identify you dream house by block and lot number. For an existing home just use your actual address.

I’m calling my project Green Home. I will use my actual address. The first thing I discover is that nothing less than gutting and remodeling will satisfy the LEED for Homes scoring process. Instead I’m shunted off to the REGREEN program, a residential remodeling program that offers case studies plus an interactive tool that I can use to explore green project options.

I chose Home Performance, and selected the Energy and Atmosphere upgrade from a list of six paradigms LEED uses for its rating program. These are, besides the above, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovative Design Process, Materials and Resources, Sustainable Sites and Water Efficiency. I chose Building Envelope because I’m interested in upgrading my home’s insulation.

That prompted REGREEN to offer me a list of appropriate measures to take. They are:

  •       Optimize energy performance
  •       Install attic insulation
  •       Consider radiant barrier in attic
  •       Conduct blower door test (before and after)
  •       Conduct room-to-room pressurization testing
  •       Conduct infrared imaging (before and after)
  •       Complete thermal bypass inspection and resolution
  •       Air Seal and insulate rim joists
  •       Upgrade existing windows
  •       Upgrade existing exterior door
  •       Weatherstrip doors and windows

There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? But because I’m relatively inexperienced, I plan to start small, with weatherstripping and attic insulation. The last project will be to upgrade my single-hung double paned windows, but I’m curious now what that entails.

Clicking on the Upgrade Existing Windows option takes me to another page describing the process. And so on. I won’t say it’s easy, because I haven’t done anything yet, but the REGREEN tutorial makes it look achievable.  And if I keep moving forward, I expect someday to win some kind of recognition for my efforts. I’m sure you will, too.

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