No building is as important to you as your own home. If you’re planning on building a new house, why not seek LEED certification?
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) sponsors LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) to promote sustainable building and provide the tools and guidelines to achieve it.
Building professionals must pass rigorous tests become LEED green associates.
Living in a LEED-certified house has a number of advantages over a less energy efficient and healthy conventionally built house.
Obtaining LEED certification
Like any LEED project, a LEED-certified house must satisfy certain requirements in different credit categories, for which it is awarded points: at least 40 for basic certification, at least 50 for silver, at least 60 for gold, and at least 80 for platinum.
- It must be built using sustainable materials and methods that reduce waste.
- It must use non-toxic building materials to achieve healthy indoor air quality.
- It must be designed to use water and energy efficiently.
- It must be on a site selected so the project will have minimal impact on the area’s water resources and ecosystems.
- It must be in a relatively dense area, close to diverse activities and transportation options.
In other words, that cheap tract of land out in the boondocks being developed from farmland will probably not qualify for LEED certification.
The house itself may earn points for numerous features, but the necessity of driving a mile or more to get to anything besides other houses forfeits a lot of points. It would be very difficult to earn enough points to make up for the energy wasted in transportation.
Sustainable and healthy building materials
LEED homes use fewer materials, and especially fewer non-renewable materials. Therefore, they send less waste to the landfill and use less water in construction. They also use locally sourced materials as much as possible, which reduces transportation costs to get them to your lot.
It’s healthier to live in a LEED home. The builder will not use paints, primers, or adhesives with dangerous volatile organic compounds. The ventilation will be designed to bring in fresh air from outside without driving up energy costs. It will also minimize the chance of combustion gases getting inside and reduce the risk of mold by regulating indoor moisture.
LEED guidelines even provide for installation of mats near outside doors and other measures to minimize tracking in contaminants on people’s shoes.
Energy and water efficiency
Proper placement of windows and doors, along with shading from landscaping and awnings, provides passive regulation of temperature, and therefore requires less help from the furnace and air conditioner.
Along with the windows, skylights let natural light into the house. You don’t need to use electric lights as much.
LEED guidelines ensure the proper insulation not only of walls and ceilings, but also heating ducts, plumbing pipes, and seams.
With low-flow toilets, faucets, and shower heads you use less water indoors. A water-efficient irrigation system for your lawn and garden reduce water use outdoors.
Systems for reusing “gray water” mean you won’t have to use potable water to flush the toilet or water the garden. They are more difficult to design and build, and make conform to local building codes, but they will earn more points and possibly a higher level of certification.
Your LEED home, therefore, will cost less to live in. You will pay less for both utilities and medical expenses.
Location, location, location
LEED homes are built on land that has no sensitive natural habitats. They do not displace wildlife, damage wetlands, or contribute to stream erosion.
Because they are built in denser areas, they provide easy access to public transportation and are located within walking or biking distance of shopping, schools, and other community services. Therefore, you will use less gas and get better exercise without special effort or sacrifice.
You get more points for building a smaller than average house on a smaller than average lot.
The smaller lot means less yard to care for.
You don’t give up anything from the smaller house size if you and the architect carefully plan the most flexible and efficient use of space.
When it comes time to sell your LEED home, you can use signage and other advertising approved by the USGBC to make it stand out from others on the market in your area.
Buyers will know that it is healthier and less expensive to live in. LEED certification both increases the value of your home and makes it more attractive to buyers, especially in a down market.
This post assumes that you are planning to build a new home with some level of LEED certification. It is also possible to upgrade your existing home to LEED standards, but that will likely require gutting the entire house to replace the plumbing and ventilation systems and eliminating sources of mold or toxic fumes.
It can be more expensive, and certainly more inconvenient, than building a new house, but if you are willing to live through the mess, you will reap the same advantages of living in a cleaner, more energy efficient home.
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