With some interesting timing, the first drafts of the new LEED for Homes rating system and the DOE’s Residential Retrofit Guidelines were both released for review and public comment in the same week. I suppose it’s a coincidence, but it sure seems like someone up there wants everyone involved in residential green building and renovation to drop what they are doing and spend their entire holiday season reviewing the obscure minutiae in these documents. Since I work more with LEED than weatherization, I spent more time with the new rating system, although I hope to take some time to review all the DOE documents soon. I will have to set aside even more time for that project, as the two documents together total over 600 pages!
In case you haven’t noticed…
For anyone new to my blog, I have dedicated a significant portion of my posts on this site to complaining about the LEED for Homes program, among other things. Although I usually like to start out complaining, I will take a different route today and begin with what I like. (But first, because he asked for it, a shout-out to my friend Tom Flanagan at the USGBC, who emailed me the rating system documents that I had trouble downloading from their website.) I may be misinterpreting some of the intent in this draft, and I hope that the USGBC will join in this discussion to correct any misunderstandings.
First, what’s right
Based on my initial review of the new rating system, it appears to me that the USGBC has been listening to me, and others, who have been voicing opinions on the existing program. It does appear to me that they will be eliminating the practically pointless (and required) “Letter to Vendors” stating a preference for FSC-certified wood. Good move, guys. Even more important, the project-specific, extremely subjective “Durability Inspection Checklist,” always a burden for project teams to assemble, has been replaced with the ENERGY STAR Water Management System Builder Checklist, part of the new set of inspection reports for ENERGY STAR version 3. Again, good move. New credits are available for universal design features and flexible construction methods that allow for easier modification and disassembly of buildings.
While I have minor complaints about some of these last items, overall they are a positive move. There is now an easy-to-understand backdraft potential test for fireplaces and woodstoves, replacing the practically indecipherable formula in the current version. Thanks again, folks. Finally, the USGBC has added a credit for proximity to a job center. If the project is within 10 miles of a job center (yet to be defined), it gets points; if it is within 3 miles, it gets more points. To me, this is a very simple, straightforward, and appropriate connectivity concept that makes sense. (Maybe they’ll take it out now!)
Next, what I think is wrong
Just in case any of you thought I wasn’t going to complain—plenty of things in this draft make me a little crazy, and I’m not shy about letting the USGBC know. To start, the program still uses Air Changes per Hour @ 50 Pascals (ACH50) to determine credits for air infiltration. This particular measure, while one of several standards, tends to penalize small homes. I believe LEED should switch to the Envelope Leakage Ratio (ELR) that uses the amount of air leakage per square foot of the building envelope, which more accurately balances small and large homes.
Credits are available for installing ERVs and HRVs, which, in my opinion, don’t always provide an energy benefit, particularly in moderate climates. I would like to see this credit limited to extreme climates. Points are now available for heat-pump water heaters, currently the child star of the green building industry—but again, in my opinion, somewhat overrated. They are most effective when installed in unconditioned space in hot climates, and actually add to the heating load when installed inside a house. I think this one deserves a closer look. Under the high-efficiency appliances category, points are available for installing ENERGY STAR ceiling fans. Now, I can’t tell you how many times I see ceiling fans running in rooms (and on front porches) with no one sitting below them. This credit should be removed, or at least require occupancy sensor or timer-operated switches to eliminate wasted energy from fans being left on.
Other minor concerns include credit under the Design for Adaptability section for putting ducts in the attic. This works if you insulate the roofline, but overall it’s just not a great design idea. There are also credits for installing zoned HVAC systems, something that again seems to favor larger homes, which almost always have them, while compact homes often don’t need zoning. I would like to see some of these issues that penalize smaller homes be reconsidered and changed to instead favor them.
Finally, things I just don’t understand
Probably just because most of us are now fully comfortable and familiar with the various credit categories, the USGBC has decided to change the names of some of them and add new ones. Innovation and Design (ID) is now Integrated Process (IP). Locations and Linkages (LL) is now Location and Transportation (LT). Energy and Atmosphere (EA) is now Performance (PF). New categories include Innovation (IN) and Regional Priority (RP), which are supposed to have details listed on the USGBC website, but I cannot find anything there yet.
Another curious change is the credit for having a LEED AP Homes credentialed member on the project team. Previously, if a team member (excluding the rater) had this designation, the team got this point. Now, in addition to the AP, the team must have two additional designees, although they can be other LEED specialties or Green Associates. To me, this looks like nothing more than a ploy by the USGBC to build their revenue stream from individual designations. Come on, folks, give it a rest. You have enough money already.
Overall, I am reasonably satisfied with the changes proposed thus far. I am smart enough to realize that I will never be fully satisfied with this program, but I do get the feeling that the USGBC has been listening, at least a little. Hopefully they will continue to do so, and we will see a much better program roll out in 2012—although my ADD-addled mind can’t understand why it can’t be sooner.
Get on the stick, everyone. Download the files, read them, and make your comments on the first draft before the end of the year.