How to Cheat* at LEED for Homes
The road to green certification is paved with low-hanging fruit. This cheat sheet with 22 shortcuts will get you to LEED certification without a lot of trouble.
The subject of many of my talks, as well as a chapter in the upcoming green building textbook I am co-authoring is the concept of “Green From the Start.”
I realize this isn’t all that original, but it is critically important and is always worth repeating, at least until everyone understands and actually does it – then I suppose we can all shut up and go home.
Getting green certification begins with looking at the checklist and planning a design strategy. Sure, you can go the hard route and aim for full credits on every item on the checklist, but for those just trying to dip their toe in the green building pool, this isn’t practical.
Instead, pick up as many points as you can by doing the easy stuff. While this isn’t technically cheating, it will feel like it because many of these things are things that quality builders do already.
In (roughly) the order that they appear on the LEED checklist, here are 22 simple things you can do to get up to 70 points on your project.
1. Build a smaller home/call everything a bedroom. Keeping your house below the neutral score for homes of 1900 SF with three bedrooms will lower the total number of points you need. If your house is big, make sure you have lots of rooms that can be classified as bedrooms to offset the point penalty for larger homes. A bedroom is classified as any room that can be used for sleeping that meets fire and building code requirements. Who needs hallways when you can have more bedrooms?
2. Build near transit, stores, schools, etc. Considering that transportation energy is almost always more than site energy, this one gets some real-world results. Points for infill projects, homes built on previously developed land, built near existing water and sewer service and near open space all gain points. Up to 10 points are available for location credits.
3. Use less wood. Building with advanced framing techniques is not hard, saves money, makes buildings more efficient, and provides points. Just do it and grab up to 3 points.
4. Build a duplex. High density development is tough to do for custom single family homes, but easy for multifamily projects. Build on a 1/7 acre (or smaller) lot and get 2 points. Twenty or more units per acre gets you 4 points.
5. Model your building. Get your rater to do an energy model (HERSIndex or scoring system for energy efficiency established by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) that compares a given home to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Reference Home based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code. A home matching the reference home has a HERS Index of 100. The lower a home’s HERS Index, the more energy efficient it is. A typical existing home has a HERS Index of 130; a net zero energy home has a HERS Index of 0. Older versions of the HERS index were based on a scale that was largely just the opposite in structure--a HERS rating of 100 represented a net zero energy home, while the reference home had a score of 80. There are issues that complicate converting old to new or new to old scores, but the basic formula is: New HERS index = (100 - Old HERS score) * 5. Rating) on your project early in the process and play around with different options to make it more efficient. You may find that putting a little more insulation and a smaller HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building. system is cheaper and will get you more points. While it’s tough to approach the 0 HERS score that gets you 34 points, a HERS 70 is not that tough and gets you either 9.5 or 13 points, depending on your climate zone.
6. Leave out the fireplace — get 2 points. No one really needs one anyway, do they?
7. Leave the garage out back. Build a detached garage, add a breezeway if your clients are afraid of getting wet, and get 3 points.
8. Get your LEED AP Homes designation, or have someone on your team get their LEED AP Homes designation (regular AP designations don't qualify) and pick up one easy point.
9. Use your Green Rater. You have to put together the durability management checklist anyway, and if you have your rater independently verify it you get 3 points. This may take a little extra work coordinating schedules and providing some photo-documentation, but it gets you a lot of points for the effort.
10. Don’t poison bugs. Design and build to keep those pesky termites at bay without poisoning your clients, get up to 2 points.
11. Be stingy with outside water use. If you’re putting in irrigation, you get up to 3 points for including some simple water efficiency measures.
12. Be stingy with interior water use. Install one efficient showerhead (just one!) per stall, high efficiency toilets and lavatories (all of them) and get 6 points. Doh!
13. Insulate the hot water pipes — get a point.
14. Use green products and materials. Tracking Environmentally Preferred Products is kind of an administrative nightmare, but you can pick up as many as 8 points for things like finger-jointed studs, fly ashFine particulates consisting primarily of silica, alumina, and iron that are collected from flue gases during coal combustion. Flyash is employed as a substitute for some of the portland cement used in the making of concrete, producing a denser, stronger, and slower-setting material while eliminating a portion of the energy-intensive cement required. More info in concrete, PEXCross-linked polyethylene. Specialized type of polyethylene plastic that is strengthened by chemical bonds formed in addition to the usual bonds in the polymerization process. PEX is used primarily as tubing for hot- and cold-water distribution and radiant-floor heating. pipe, locally sourced products (within 500 miles), no carpet, and low-VOCVolatile organic compound. An organic compound that evaporates readily into the atmosphere; as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are organic compounds that volatize and then become involved in photochemical smog production. paints.
15. Recycle. If there are companies that recycle construction waste in your area, hire them. You’ll probably save money and pick up as many as 3 points.
16. Three words: Automatic Bath Fans. Install timers, motion sensors, or buy fans with auto off or humidistat controls for your bathrooms and pick up a point.
17. Upgrade the HVAC filters. You have to put in a minimum of MERV 8 HVAC filters, so why not upgrade to a 10 or 13 and pick up 1 or 2 more points for not much cost or effort.
18. Take off your shoes. Install a bench and shelves for shoe storage at the main entry, add one point.
19. Make vacuuming easy. Install a central vacuum system, get another point.
20. Air out the house for at least 48 hours before occupancy. It’s a good idea and an easy point.
21. Vent the soil gasses . If you’re not in a radonColorless, odorless, short-lived radioactive gas that can seep into homes and result in lung cancer risk. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles. risk zone, it’s still a good idea to put in a soil gas vent system and you get to take a point for not much effort.
22. Brag about your green-ness. Put up a LEED for Homes sign, stick a few pages on your website about LEED, get an article published, hold four open houses. Pick three and you get a point. These are all good marketing practices and will help you get more business.
OK, class, I think I’ve given you enough for you to digest for today. Your assignment is, based on what you just learned, to look at a recent project you either certified, or thought about certifying, and note where you missed some easy points. Now you know how to pick up those points on the next project. Next time we will discuss the really tough credits to get, the secret credits, prerequisites, and how to handle your documentation.
*No, that title wasn’t my idea. It was my damned editor’s. But I got paid, and you read the article, right?
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