Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What is LEED for Homes?

LEED for Homes is the U.S. Green Building Council's rating system for building or renovating houses. (Actually, it's quite skewed to new construction, but more on that later.) It was introduced in 2008 and functions much like other LEED rating systems. You get points for site selection, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water efficiency and using responsible materials. Like a recording artist, you're awarded a variety of metal depending on your level of achievement. The lowest is Certified; the highest is Platinum.

There are other rating systems for houses, but Dan and I chose LEED because it's the most stringent and the most recognized. We're going for certification primarily because we believe in environmental stewardship. But we're spending a lot of money on this project, some of it specifically to register our project with USGBC and to perform the type of renovations required. So we also want the certification to have value when we go to sell the house. We feel a LEED award will be the best way to ensure this.

The problem is that LEED for Homes is heavily biased toward new construction. You can tell this just from what's included in the credits. For example, there's a credit for advanced framing (using less wood than normal in framing the structure of a house). There are credits for managing erosion on construction sites. But there are no credits at all for reusing an existing structure -- one of the greenest things you can do. We may get an innovation point for this, but it's not built into the rating structure.

To use LEED for a house renovation project, the USGBC requires that you do a "gut rehab," where the exterior walls are exposed to install new insulation. Obviously, this is a big undertaking and not something that most people can or want to perform on their homes. It's only really possible for people like us, doing a rehab before they move in.

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