My Home’s Recent LEED Silver Certification
I’m so conflicted right now. I’m like George Clooney in the movie Up in The Air, after they tell him, midflight, that he has flown his ten millionth mile, making him part of a very, very exclusive club.
I, too, am part of a very exclusive club. Last week I got official word that the Greenspiration Home (my home) has earned LEED® Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This makes my home the first single-family home in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina to become LEED certified and one of just a handful of homes in the entire state.
For over 3 years this has been my goal. And it’s a HUGE accomplishment. But like Clooney’s character in the movie, I find myself in a state of total ambivalence.
What is LEED, anyway?
This may earn me a bit of heat from LEED advocates, but as Randy Jackson of American Idol fame would say, “Hey – I’m just trying to keep it real.”
I better start by explaining what LEED is, because unless you are in the construction industry, you probably don’t know what I am talking about. (That, of course, is part of the problem.)
The LEED green building program is a voluntary, consensus-based global rating system for buildings, homes and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. LEED addresses all building types emphasizing state-of-the-art strategies in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, locations & linkages, awareness & education, indoor environmental quality, innovation & education and regional priorities. (And yes, I copied that directly from the USGBC site). Here’s a mere snapshot of what some of that means in terms of LEED for homes:
|Sustainable Site Development||Did you take prescribe measures to protect topsoil, native trees and plantings, etc.?|
|Water Savings||Did you use low flow fixtures?|
|Energy Efficiency||Did you use an upgraded insulation, high efficiency HVAC, solar panels, etc?|
|Materials and Resource Selection||Did you use wood products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?|
|Locations & Linkages||Did you build in an area within walking distance to parks, schools, grocery stores, public transportation, etc.?|
|Awareness & Education||Did you create a website for your project?|
|Indoor Environmental Quality||Did you avoid products that contain Volatile Organic Compounds?|
|Regional Priorities||Did you use products that were made and extracted from resources all from within 500 miles?|
Oh – and you can’t just say you did all this – you have to prove it via documentation. And there is a hierarchy of entities to make sure you prove it and prove it well. There are worksheets, spreadsheets, scorecards, signed documents, scanned documents, verifications, etc. So, if you were wondering why it took me over 3 years to get this house certified, given work, kids, and everything else, well, now you know.
Where I’m Coming From
My own perspective on LEED has evolved over the last decade. As a writer for the commercial HVAC industry, I’ve been writing about LEED projects since buildings first started becoming certified. LEED is commonplace now in governmental, institutional, and even commercial facilities. I’m still writing about them. I have also witnessed the fact that this rating system has heightened awareness of sustainable/energy efficient building practices like nothing the U.S. has ever seen. It has truly transformed an industry in a remarkably short period of time.
In the residential industry, not so much. In that world square footage and granite countertops still rule. Many builders like it that way, most real estate agents like it that way, and homeowners are none-the-wiser. After all, who are they getting their information from?
Awareness of LEED has been eclipsed by newer, arguably less-stringent home rating systems that followed in it’s footsteps. But even these rating systems enjoy little overall awareness or appreciation from consumers or the real estate market in general. There are exceptions to this, of course, but I’m speaking generally.
So if you decide to build a home and get it LEED certified, don’t expect anyone to throw a parade in your honor. If you tell your friends, they’ll no doubt smile and say things like, “How wonderful!” yet not have a clue what you are speaking about. And at the end of the process, as you are recycling a enough LEED related paperwork to confetti Times Square, you may start to wonder….. “Was it worth it?”
Me? (Pause.) Personally, yes, it was worth it. Rarely do we go through anything that challenges us this much and not come out with a feeling of pride and accomplishment. I’ve got that. But beyond a certain personal satisfaction, I’m just not sure. I sort of feel like a marathon runner at the end of a one-woman race – with few people waiting at the finish line to congratulate me or offer me a beer. I simply limp back to my car and drive myself home.
Like is said, folks, I’m just keeping it real.
This is a big topic. Too big for one blog, as I have much to share about what I learned from this process. Stay tuned as I try to give a relevant, realistic, and honest homeowner’s perspective on LEED.
Trish Holder is the creator of Greenspiration Home, a homeowner-to-homeowner resource for green building and renovation.
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