LEED for Homes 2012, the new version planned for release at the end of this year, is in the third and final comment period before it is voted on and officially adopted. Comments are open only through March 20, so if you work with this program, it behooves you to check it out and make your comments soon.
I spet several hours recently reviewing the current draft and this post will include my opinion on where it is better than the current one and where it could still use some improvement.
Anyone who has been reading my posts for awhile is probably aware that I have some problems with LEED for Homes. A quick review showed almost 20 posts on the subject, most addressing my complaints and suggestions for improvements. Regardless of any past and future comments I make about about the program, I understand that assembling an effective and manageable certification program is an enormous amount of work. The people involved in the original development, and current version of LEED for Homes should congratulate themselves for the feats they have accomplished.
They shouldn’t think, however, that anything they do will keep me from bringing up concerns I have with their work. My sincere hope is that my poking at LEED for Homes has led, and will continue to lead, to some positive changes.
Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Turn and Face the Strain)
The most visible, and possibly least critical, change in the rating system is the renaming of several categories: Integrated Design (ID) is now Integrated Process (IP), while Locations and Linkages (LL), is now Location and Transportation (LT). There are two new categories for Innovation (IN) and Regional Priority (RP).
It is the individual credits within each of these categories where the major changes happen. Starting with the most positive changes I saw, I like the new scoring for Preferred Locations – it provides up to 2 points for suburban and urban development and only ½ for rural areas – a good way to incentivize increased density.
To get credit for any Community Resources, there must be a retail food store selling fresh foods within ½ mile from the project – another good incentive to locate homes in the right areas.
Under Water Efficiency, points for reducing exterior water use do not provide credit for wells, streams, and other natural water sources – good call, team. Under Efficient Hot Water Distribution, the requirement that clothes washers get fast hot water has been eliminated – another good call, as this often caused otherwise efficient plumbing systems to lose points for distant laundry rooms.
Environmentally Preferred Products is dramatically simplified, and some of the criteria have been distributed among several categories – an excellent decision that should save lots of brain cells. The existing section is absurdly dense and complicated, making this a very welcome improvement.
Kitchen range hoods over 400 cfm now require makeup air – a good call, as the lack of makeup air is often a big problem in tight homes where those huge hoods can suck the pets off the floor (well, not exactly).
One item of note, Innovation Credits now allow up to 6 points from the current 4 – rewarding good behavior in design and construction.
What may be the best improvement is the elimination of the project-specific Durability Checklist, replaced by the Energy Star Version 3.0 Water Management Checklist (a big Hallelujah from this atheist). Finally, in a bow to existing buildings, many prerequisites or credits now exempt existing buildings – another good decision that encourages renovation certification.
Don’t worry, I still have some complaints
I’m certainly not going to pass up any opportunity to complain about something, but in general, my problems with the new version are fairly minor.
There are still several credits that require complex calculations, specifically Heat Island Reduction and Rainwater Management. There must be a way to simplify these while not compromising their value.
Under the prescriptive path in Energy and Atmosphere (EA), both prerequisites and credits are based on improvements over the 2009 IECC – why don’t they start with the 2012 version? Specifically, a building gets 1 point for exceeding insulation values by 10% and 2 points for 20%. Why not start at a 25% improvement and more points for higher performance levels?
Energy Star water heaters get a point – this includes most heat-pump water heaters, and although they are quite the darling of the industry, I am not a big fan.
Probably my biggest pet peeve hasn’t changed from the current version – installing timers or motion sensors on bath exhaust fans gets 1 point, and having the entire HVAC system tested and balanced also gets 1 point. The first one is easy and inexpensive, the other complicated and expensive. This inequity of the effort/reward ratio could use some reconsideration.
Also in the HVAC balancing section, there is 1 point available for having multiple zones or systems in homes over 1,200 sq. ft. This seems to me to encourage installing two systems in a two-story house (often including one in the attic) over other, more efficient options such as installing a single system with zone control inside conditioned space.
One last credit that I think deserves some review is High Density development. Single-family and low-rise projects get equal points for less density than mid-rise projects. Specifically a low-rise project with a density of 20 units per acre gets 3 points, as does a mid-rise project with 80 units per acre. Why doesn’t more density get more points?
The big question
All in all, the 2012 version of the rating system seems to have addressed many of the concerns that those of us involved have had with it. (I guess they were listening!) But as I discussed in my post Green Building Programs: Time for a Do-Over?, I believe, deep down, that there is a better model for green building out there somewhere. It will take a big paradigm shift away from checklists and complex calculations to get us there, and we may not, in fact, be capable of making that change.
In the meantime, the improvements in LEED for Homes are a small step towards a better system for all of us in the industry. I urge everyone to spend some time with the new rating system and make comments before March 20th.
It’s time to speak up and make a difference.