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LEED points? Fooey!
by Katy Purviance on 02/04/10 @ 03:23:05 pm
Categories: Articles | 624 words | 3316 views

Whenever I come across an article about the LEED rating system, I roll my eyes.

Same with SAT scores, GPA’s, and class rank lists.

When the pursuit of points trumps pursuit of knowledge, you can bet that someone’s priorities are out of order.

I’m a firm believer in learning and applying the principles behind “green” or “sustainable” design, but I’m pretty suspicious of a fill-in-the-blanks approach to sustainability, especially when the list of “acceptable” point items magically changes every few years. The principles behind true green design are as old as the hills, and don’t change according to committee consensus.

And I certainly don’t need a certificate to show off to visitors.

Here’s the article:

I first heard about LEED certification years ago from my husband, John, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and sends lots of environmental information my way. Most Natural Home readers know that LEED certification was developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Levels of certification reflect the number of points earned for building a home using methods and materials that increase its energy efficiency and decrease its use of natural resources and toxic materials. The guidelines describe many ways homebuilders can earn points, such as careful planning and management of construction, using environmentally preferable products and protecting indoor environmental quality. The total number earned determines if a home is LEED certified (45-49), Silver (60-74), Gold (75-89), or Platinum (90-136).

When John and I started talking about building a home, we knew we would aim for the highest LEED level. We wanted to co-create our home with our architect and builder, united by the LEED checklist as we made decisions about the house’s structure, building process and materials. That way we’d know we are doing the best we can to minimize our impact within our budget and square footage parameters. We’d have third party verification and documentation that the construction process is optimal for our health, and the health of our organic farm, as we build a durable and efficient house.

We encountered challenges such as local zoning regulations that do not allow use of graywater recycling or composting toilets. We discovered that Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood is not available locally and would have to be shipped from the Northwest (so we’re not using it). We have a creative team that is aiming high with us and expertly completing the extra documentation and work that is required for LEED certification.

I was surprised by the thickness of the LEED guidebook members of our team brought to the table, and by some discussions, such as the reasons concrete siding is valued over local quarried stone (we’re using some of both). Our rural farmhouse is not on a previously developed site and won’t be accessible to mass transit, so we can’t earn those points.

Visitors won’t see the wider spacing of wall studs that reduce the amount of wood use for framing, or the spray-foam insulation that is super-effective. They might not notice quiet and efficient Panasonic Green Whisper light/fans in the bathrooms. They won’t know that materials from construction are recycled (at no extra cost to our builders) or that Jason, our project manager, posted signs to educate workers about our geothermal system, rainwater harvesting and passive solar floor. They will see very efficient mats to clean their shoes at the doorways and places to store them inside entryways to protect interior air quality.

Our Independent Green Rater Carl Seville recently conducted the pre-drywall inspection, scrutinizing the insulation, joints in geothermal ducts and places where wires and hoses penetrate the shell of the house. He confirmed that we are on track for LEED Platinum certification.

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