LEEDing Ideas

What do we have to do to get LEED certified? I had given up on LEED soon after our Design Charrette, but Energy Logic and Carissa Sawyer stayed with me and encouraged me to continue. So far we have tried to follow LEED guidelines wherever we could. We are definitely at a pause between the push to replace the floor and the next steps. So where are we in the LEED process?

Besides an ongoing conversation about whether “gut remodel” means that all the drywall has to be wasted to uncover the studs, or whether “open up” means just opening the stud cavities to install a new “thermal barrier”. We still hope to qualify as a LEED gut remodel by packing the walls and cathedral ceilings with dense pack cellulose that both seals and insulates the stud spaces.

There are several ideas that the current version of LEED fosters and gives points to homes for if they are implemented. Even if we eventually don’t qualify for a gut remodel, we will be doing well to implement each of these areas. A new LEED version (4) is set to take effect in the fall but our project will remain under the current requirements.

The LEED for Homes categories are, Innovation in Design, Location and Linkages, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Awareness and Education. Each category has a minimum standard that must be met and in addition there are several areas that allow points to be added to a score upon which the level of LEED certification is based.

There is a self scoring tool that also helps remind the project owner where measures should be taken to provide for a well designed and executed energy efficient home. I recently reviewed this site and scored our work so far as well as scoring our plans to be sure we have every step covered as we continue on this project. UPDATE: The scoring tool that I used has been removed from the site.

I tried conscientiously to complete the first category: Innovation and Design. The two prerequisites are a preliminary rating and a durability plan with a management plan to be sure the durability designs are met. This was part of securing a certified LEED provider, who will eventually conduct the final rating and all the third party evaluations for the home and who becomes the “owner” of the project for LEED purposes.

For us, that is Energy Logic as described previously and I am sure they are one of the best LEED providers anywhere. They helped us conduct a preliminary rating, prepared the LEED spreadsheet for our project, and helped create the durability plan. Points are gained in ID for putting together an integrated project team, including a separate LEED AP professional, and holding a design charrette. One point is earned if the solar orientation is within 15 degrees of due south, and we hope to also have some innovation points for our use of waffle mat and for excess points from over reaching in some other categories such as Materials and Resources. We earned 6 points in ID and hope to earn about 4 more for innovation.

Location and Linkages provides extra points if your project is part of a LEED neighborhood development, which would be nice but we are not. But we can prove we are not on prime agricultural land, park land, flood plain, unique habitat, or wetlands. We are in a location that is over 75% filled in and is already developed. We have existing water and sewer lines although we are not hooked up to them, and have close access to open space. We do not, however have a transit stop within 1/2 mile of our house. The city has bus transportation but the closest stops are 1.7 miles away. But we earned 7 points in LL.

These are the two categories that we have basically finished but there are several more that we need to pay attention to as the project progresses. So we might be about 1/5 there!

In Sustainable Sites the prerequisites are to institute erosion control and introduce no invasive plants. We have very little site disturbance so no erosion and we also get a point just because the remodel leaves more than 40% of the lot area undisturbed, but we are also ineligible for any points for high-density development. Our landscape plan includes no conventional turf, incorporates over 90% drought tolerant plants and will shade the driveway which is our only impermeable hardscape, more than 50%. We plan to have native plant cover, which will provide erosion control throughout the lot, and have a system to control 100% of the water runoff from the roof.

We are in an area of only slight risk from termites for which we have a solid concrete top to the poured foundation walls. But we have wood within 12″ of the ground and wood to concrete contact so we can only gain one point by having all plantings 24″ from the building and sealing all potential pest entry points. That should give us a total of 13 points in SS.

Water Efficiency is next. We would like to be able to harvest rainwater, and utilize grey water but both are illegal in Colorado at the present time. Some people with wells can use rainwater but they must not be able to hook up to city water and we can for a rather large fee. It seems there could be a challenge to that law based on ability to pay the fee but it won’t be from us. We may be able to hook up a pump to our washing machine to use the water outside as long as it never goes above ground. So that is a maybe. That would not be a difficult system to install and we would gain one point. And we could utilize roof rainwater if we had a green roof that would reduce the amount of runoff without capturing the water illegally. The second area of WE is the landscape irrigation plan that was developed for us by our landscape design firm, Conservation Seeding and Restoration. That irrigation plan is a part of the project that our third party rater will evaluate for the points we hope to gain in this area. And finally the most water efficient fixtures and faucets will be installed to save as much water as possible with modern technology. This is probably a no-brainer in this day and age. We have calculated a probable 16 points in WE.

Meeting Energy Star for Homes 2.0 is a prerequisite for Energy and Atmosphere. But in this category there are two paths, prescriptive and performance. We are not sure which we will qualify for. I would like to meet all the Energy Star 3.0 guidelines and perhaps the prescriptive would gain us the most points, but we need to maintain solar gain with our south facing windows so perhaps the best system for us will be a good HERS rating. For this category, the options are to have a well installed insulation system meeting or exceeding the 2004 standards for the region, sealing the building against air infiltration, and install highly efficient heating and hot water systems.

We thought we had an efficient water distribution system for 2 points but our loop is longer than 40 ft. plus 2 x the ceiling height for the upper level. I think we have about an 130 ft. loop and that disqualifies our system from the LEED points. (It appears our system design would qualify under version 4 though!) We insulated the hot water pipes to at least R-4 (R-7) and will install energy star appliances and lighting, with a low water use washing machine.

But the most points are gained in this category from installing energy PRODUCING system, such as photovoltaic and or wind generators. We would LIKE to install a wind generator depending on the level of average wind. We also would like to install solar panels and have been reading for years about these systems so this is our chance to finally put some in. However the cost of each of these systems within our remodel time frame may eliminate them from our project. But our goal over time will still be a zero energy use home, or as close as we can come to that ideal. That would mean keeping all our energy use low so that we can provide over 30% of our energy through site installed renewable means. But without points for providing our own power we would have 24 points in EA.

I would like to really shine in the category of Materials and Resources since we are reusing and purchasing used as much of the home remodel materials as possible. We are looking for local products for all of the interior finishing. Plus we are recycling as much of the waste as we can. By reusing our framing lumber, we meet the prerequisite to not order extra lumber. But still to use the existing lumber as efficiently as possible we will have a detailed framing document that will outline how long the pieces must be to fit and how many are needed for each wall. But for framing efficiencies we hope we can gain all the points for the installation of ceiling, roof and floor structures that we are changing, and for using studs at greater than 16″ on center and earn the entire 16 points.

Indoor Environmental Quality is another category that provides a prescriptive path through the EPA Indoor airPLUS program. The first requirement of airPLUS is to meet Energy Star 3.0 and then other requirements very similar to the performance on individual measures in this LEED EQ category. The EQ prerequisites are to vent all combustion appliances and install carbon monoxide detectors as well as to provide basic exhaust in kitchens and bathrooms. Radon mitigation is also required in high risk areas, like Colorado and reducing pollution from an attached garage by not including any heat or air ducts in the space. Enhanced exhaust controls such as humidistats earn an extra point.

Room by room heat and cooling load calculation are necessary for proper sizing of heating and cooling equipment. Other ideas are to provide a zoned heating system with flow control on any radiators and an energy recovery ventilation system with a high MERV air filtration system and humidity control where necessary. Reducing exposure to outdoor air contaminants include controlling contaminants during construction and conducting a pre-occupancy air flush. Additional ongoing air quality measures are to provide for entry shoe storage, a central vacuum system that vents to the outdoors, and sealing the garage well from the living areas as well as installing an exhaust fan. With third party testing of the ventilation and exhaust systems we hope to gain 19 points in EQ.

Finally Awareness and Education requires a 1 hour energy walk through for the new homeowners. Since I have taken training in the LEED system, we will qualify for Enhanced training as well as basic. I will be creating a home-owner’s building manager’s manual with all the manuals for installed equipment and other information about getting the most out of the energy efficient features of the house, and this website, as well as any published articles, presentations or open houses we have that feature LEED characteristics will qualify for the minimum of three such events in public education and awareness for a total of 3 points in AE.

These LEED ideas, when incorporated into this remodel would total 104 points with 18 more possible points for innovation, renewable energy, etc. For a 3 bedroom house of 2213 square feet, we would need 94 points for a Platinum rating according to the project spreadsheet. But there are a lot of hurdles yet to overcome to get there.

Our House Leed Platium Certificate

Our Target–maybe 2014?



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