Demystifying the LEED for Homes Process
By Bryan Youngblood | July 2009 - Lately in Chattanooga, LEED has dominated headlines—coverage has spanned everything from exciting new LEED certified developments many months away to the latest building certifications. But for homeowners, the question remains, “so what is LEED and what does it have to do with me?” We thought our LEED AP Project Manager Bryan Youngblood could break it down and give some insight into the LEED process. He is an expert in green building, and serves as Collier Construction’s (not so) secret weapon.
At Collier Construction, we know that the future of homebuilding is sustainable construction, intelligent use of resources, local materials, and energy efficiency. We have worked to stay on top of the green building revolution by pursuing LEED accreditation and building LEED certified projects. Among them are the Madison Street Homes, green|spaces, and the Habitat House in Jefferson Heights. The LEED process forces us to be creative with materials and resources, try new applications, and to think differently about construction.
Among the six LEED certification programs, LEED for Homes helps owners and builders attain the ambitious goal of “green building” by providing a template and point system that clarifies the green building and design process. LEED for Homes is tailored to single and multi-family residential construction and differs from LEED for Commercial (LEED for NC), which has a more stringent accreditation process with more involvement from 3rd party consultants and energy raters.
Still, LEED for Homes is time consuming, and for most of us, the process is confusing. So here’s a way we can all understand it.
First things first. Where traditional homebuilding employs a single contractor to oversee the entire process, a successful LEED project begins with a team of professionals who start the design process together. These professionals have a multitude of specialties in a range of areas including architecture, design, sustainable construction, and landscape architecture—to name a few. Once you have a team, the design process begins.
To earn LEED certification, the design is tailored around green-conscious criteria that the team will implement during construction. The design of a LEED home includes a list of items that are specific to every component of a home including the project site, construction practices, materials and equipment. This list of design criteria is a preliminary part of the LEED process. It helps influence and shape the applicable LEED credits and is submitted to a green rater who will ultimately help verify that the home meets the LEED rating system requirements.
The Green Rater
The green rater is a 3rd party individual appointed by a LEED provider to review design and construction, verify that the home meets LEED standards and submits application for certification. The green rater is involved throughout the project to carry out inspections (LEED inspections do NOT replace local code enforcement inspections) and assist with the certification process. After effectively implementing the design and passing inspections, a home owner can confidently know that their home is sustainable.
The green rater assesses your design and assigns the project a preliminary HERS rating. HERS (Home Energy Rating System) is a rating based on the project’s design criteria being implemented properly. From the outset, the design criteria and HERS rating should form a comprehensive plan and specific goals for the project as well as suggest the obtainable certification level (platinum, gold, silver or certified). After construction is complete and LEED testing is done the green rater will recalculate the HERS rating based on performance tests and actual construction methods.
Points & Credits
Because LEED is a points-based system, each design criteria specified in the beginning, if implemented correctly and verified, counts toward certification. This requires pre-planning, great attention to detail and much diligence from all team members. And each design criteria accomplished successfully is one part of a ‘whole systems approach’ to green building. This means that each LEED credit is a piece of a much larger ‘whole system’ puzzle and is necessary to bring the LEED project to fruition.
To effectively manage the LEED process, many tasks must be completed during construction. Design criteria such as properly sealing all of the ductwork and air gaps as well as managing storm water runoff and using native drought tolerant landscaping must be visually verified by the builder and green rater. Any paperwork or documentation for equipment and materials is filed for later use, and mandatory inspections must take place during and after construction. If all of the design criteria are followed, the last part of the process should be a breeze. All of the paperwork and verification must be pulled together in the LEED format and submitted for certification.
So Why LEED?
While a LEED certification may seem unnecessary to most homeowners, the rigorous process guarantees that a home is built to high standards and with many parties overseeing the entire process. For some customers, it is all about the peace of mind that comes along with LEED certification. And LEED is a great ways to advertise your home’s sustainability and add to its value. And the value of LEED certification remains constant throughout the lifetime of the home – no matter how many times the home changes ownership and no matter how many years pass, the home will always be LEED certified.
However, some of Collier’s customers choose to go green without pursuing certification. And because Collier uses its whole systems approach with proven results, our customers receive the green benefits with no paperwork or additional administrative needs. These customers know their home is green because of their utilities bills and because they were expertly advised every step of the way. At Collier we believe that by building better quality with a more intelligent use of resources your home is automatically green.
Featured Project: New Style Construction for an Old Town Home
When Carter and Beth Newbold moved back to Signal Mountain from Boston a few years ago, they didn’t have too hard a time finding a home – considering they both grew up in the same neighborhood as the 90 year old home they’ve come to call their own.
Of course, at that time they only knew it as the Jones's house – one of a handful of families to have inhabited the 1918 Arts and Crafts-influenced home in Signal Mountain’s Old Town community. But in only a few short months of relocating, the Newbolds took to transforming the house into a highly functional dwelling perfectly suited for a family of five.
And from the very start, they had a lot of work to do. That is, finding a way to transform the home without compromising its historic and stylistic integrity. Well that is where the Newbolds were able to explore a new style of construction in which architect, builder and subcontractors collaboratively design, plan and build custom projects.
Upon moving back to Signal Mountain, the Newbold’s first venture was to remodel some of the existing home to make it more fluid and more functional. But even after a successful remodel, many needs remained. Like more family space, kid space, storage space, garage space as well as defined and usable outdoor space. Space to spread out and grow as a family.
At that time, Beth’s home office was the kitchen table. And with three children (ages 6, 9 and 11) in school and exploring various sports, hobbies and interests, the Newbolds also wanted a space that would help separate the stuff of work and play from the stuff of friends and family.
So their next venture was to tackle a home addition – one that could accommodate their needs while remaining true to the architectural heritage of the existing home. But it wasn’t going to work apart from a new style of construction where the architect, builder, subs and the homeowners all collaborate to solve problems and accomplish goals.
“Integrated project delivery,” explains architect Trey Wheeler of TWH Architects. The Integrated Project Delivery, or IPD method is a term used for describing a collaborative approach to ensure a better construction process and product.
Trey was introduced to the Newbold’s project after initial struggles to develop a successful set of plans. “They (the Newbolds) explained to me what they needed as well as some of the challenges they were coming up against. What I wanted to do was bring a team approach to the project and ensure that the addition would blend seamlessly into the existing home.”
And beyond overcoming lot limitations and set-backs, drainage issues and a substandard mother-in-law suite, Trey set out to design an addition that would cleverly integrate a new family room and two-car garage with the “existing geometry of the home without blocking windows or detracting from its aesthetic character.” He explains, “I have lived in Old Town and I understood the architecture. That experience helped shape my approach to the design.”
Having served as lead architect on large commercial projects such several of Erlanger’s clinical suites, Battle Academy Elementary, and others, Trey was familiar with complex projects. “Having input from all sides is what helps a lot of difficult projects succeed,” he explains. So Trey recommended that Collier come on board from the start. “Having a residential contractor involved from the beginning is paramount,” he explains. “The team approach just works better.”
The IPD method worked. The family room addition and accompanying new two car garage function as a logical progression from the rest of the home. The new family room flows from the original structure through a modest corridor that prevents the addition from blocking existing windows. A home-office and entryway mudroom were built off each side of the corridor which also serves as a connector space that naturally leads into a charming family room with a double-sided wood burning fireplace.
“We were able to define the outdoor living space as well,” explains Trey. The outside fireplace, for instance, is the focal point of a patio seating area on one side of the addition. The other side features a sizeable driveway perfect for recreational use. And the garage includes an upstairs playroom that could someday be altered into an office. Either way, Carter and Beth’s kids have space to be kids – both inside and outside. And the Newbold family has space to do all the different things families do. Like entertain, relax and play.
all about mold & why it’s important to you + 5 ways to eliminate mold growth in your home
In case you’ve grown suspicious of all this fear-mongering-talk of mold problems, don’t worry because there’s nothing you can do to eliminate all mold and mold spores inside your home. Sorry! What’s worse, mold can cause health issues – primarily allergy related – and in some cases, potentially toxic substances. But the good news is you can definitely do things that will help you prevent mold growth and exposure so that it doesn’t grow out of control.
But the question is, “why is mold all of a sudden a big deal?”
There are two really good reasons – 1) building materials have changed, and 2) building code has mandated the use of insulation. Basically, if we didn’t care about comfortable homes made with stronger materials, we wouldn’t have much of a mold problem at all.
So what is mold, and why does it grow inside walls, attics, crawl spaces and underneath wall paper, paint, and carpet?
Mold is actually an important part of our natural environment. In nature, mold helps stuff rot. Little mold spores float around until they find wet surfaces where they can feed off of cellulose – which is the carbon form of sugar that is found in green plants. And it is used to make a whole lot of commercial products from cardboard to adhesives.
The problem is that homes often promote moisture and condensation on materials that are made from dead plants—like engineered lumber, plywood, OSB etc (see Joseph W. Lstiburek’s article “The Material View of Mold”).
Where our former building materials consisted of simple and unprocessed timbers and large boards that mold could not burrow through to get the glucose polymer (sugar), today’s building materials are heavily processed with all the dead-plant insides and outsides mixed together for mold to burrow through, feast off of and grow on.
So what’s moisture got to do with it?
So now that we’ve given mold a lot of good food to eat, it only needs moisture to find it. Moisture in homes is caused by two primary sources – relative humidity and temperature differentiation. So preventing mold has a lot to do with how a home is constructed to account for condensation caused by outdoor air infiltration and humidity caused by indoor activities.
For instance, relative humidity is raised when you take a shower, run the dishwasher, water house plants, fill up the whirlpool and cook dinner (for more, see Peter Yost’s article, “Moisture Sources, relative humidity and mold” at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com). These activities cause water vapors that can be trapped inside walls and settle on building materials.
To make matters worse, homes are both air conditioned and better insulated today than they were in the past. And what is the point of conditioned and insulated space? Temperature differential. Most of the time, you want the temperature inside your home to be different than the temperature outside your home. And what does temperature differential promote? Condensation. And where does this condensation take place? Inside walls, in attics and in crawl spaces. Why? Because when air’s temperature goes up, it can absorb more moisture (humidity), and when it goes down, it sheds moisture (condensation). So when hot humid air meets cool 72 degree lumber, it condenses—causing mold, mildew, rot and mites where you’ll likely never see it.
So here's what you can do about it?
Now that we see how our lifestyle, building materials and construction methods promote mold growth, it’s time we talk about how you can keep it from becoming a problem. The truth is that we’re simply not going to stop producing humidity inside our homes. Hot tubs, fireplaces, dishwashers, and natural humidity are all apart of our modern-day high standard of living. And we can work around these issues using a few simple innovations.
So here are 5 effective ways to prevent mold growth in your home.
1. hygrometer – get one. It will tell you the relative humidity inside your home. You can know when RH reaches 70% or more and the go turn on your dehumidifier. Plus, they’re really cheap.
2. dehumidifier – get one and turn it on. Especially when your hygrometer tells you that the RH is nearing 70%.
3. Ventilation – you cook, you shower, you wash clothes and dishes. These activities contribute to a higher RH. That’s why it’s important to have a ventilation system that pulls the warm humid air out from your home.
4. Air sealing –when building new, adding on or remodeling you have the opportunity to significantly reduce (if not eliminate) mold growth within your walls. Air sealing is when the home’s sheathing is glued to its framing. This stops airflow. We also use spray-in open cell insulation around all wiring and ductwork to prevent any and all cracks. This prevents warm humid air interacting with cool air and building materials.
5. Rain screen – a completely sealed, high-density, vapor-permeable and water resistant wrap around the entire home between its sheathing and framing will prevent moisture from penetrating the home but allow water vapor to escape without causing damage. Furring strips (vertical strips of wood) between the wrap and siding also create an open space that allows for natural cooling and drying.
From a sustainability standpoint, mold is a symptom of a much larger problem – the lack of durability and energy efficiency of a home. And if we don’t build houses that promote moisture control and eliminate condensation inside of walls—well, we haven’t built homes worth living in. To learn about what else makes homes green, download (re)source.
For more, check out our sources:
- Sustainable Building: Green Building Advisor
- EPA – Mold Resources
- EPA – Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings
- EPA – A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home (PDF)
And if you have any questions about mold growth in your home, give us a call and we’ll do our best to help you out.
a lot of news including a heads up on a seminar for real estate agents, green lunch going public and the recently launched Building Performance Consulting
- We're Moving
We're moving, but we can't say where just yet. However, we're very excited about moving into a space that will better accommodate our business model and our vision for a smaller environmental footprint. As soon as we can, we'll let you know where we're moving and how to find us in case you want to drop by and check it out.
- Seminar on the Value of Green Residential Properties
Collier is teaming up with a number of green building pioneers to host a seminar on the value of green residential properties. The seminar is open to all, but it is geared toward real estate professionals who will be able to earn CEU's for attending. Official announcements with details will be coming shortly, so make sure to keep your eyes out for more info.
- Green Lunch Going Public
Every Monday at Collier, we get together during lunch to talk about sustainable building practices. We discuss new studies and innovations in green construction, and we put our heads together to solve problems and answer each others' questions.
We call it Green Lunch, and a number of folks have asked us about opening it to the public. Well, we think that is a fine idea, so here's our plan.
Beginning in September, the first Monday of every month we'll host a green lunch that you can attend. Each time, we'll invite a handful of subcontractors, friends and others to talk about better ways to build homes so that we can all improve not only the way we build, but also the way we live. Oh yeah, and lunch is on us!
So how does September 7th sound to you? Let us know on our facebook page, and we'll put you on the list. But space is limited so let us know soon. You'll hear back from us if we have seats available. And if not, we'll make sure you get an opportunity to attend sooner than later.
- Building Performance Consulting
Buying an old building? Building a new home? Aiming for low utilities costs? Pursuing LEED Certification?
Well, last month, Ethan teamed up with architect Taylor Bowers to launch Building Performance Consulting, a firm providing services to area homeowners and companies seeking to reduce utilities costs and gain a fundamental understanding of building science.
With ultimate aim of providing smart strategies for optimizing efficiency and durability, the company conducts a series of systems tests and durability assessments in order to provide a holistic evaluation of a building's exterior envelope and interior environment.
For more, visit the website: chattabpc.blogspot.com.
- Using Social Media to Develop Better Communication
At Collier, an essential part of our philosophy is building better relationships with the community - whether those relationships are developed in person or on the web. So we have become involved in a number of social media platforms where we can keep up and stay in touch.
Facebook Page: We love our city, and we love sharing relevant information and news about our neighborhoods, communities and the businesses that make them stronger—basically, getting the word out on what matters.
We also want to offer ourselves as a resource on sustainability and the built environment because we are invested in the economic health and the well being of homeowners, the community and our shared environment.
You can help us get the word out by joining our facebook page and sharing it with others.
Twitter: Whether you’re a skeptic or a full-blown tweeter, little snippets of info can help point us toward important websites, resources and news. And we can also give you important bits of info on home building and sustainability. Check us out at twitter.com/collierbuild.
GreenerChattanooga.com: A Chattanooga-based social networking community that is free to join and a great opportunity for dialog as our city continues to embrace sustainability. From Joe Jacobi to Rock/Creek, Greener Chattanooga includes a lot of good stuff from a lot of good people. Check it out here.
- Wheeler Project
We're beginning to wrap up one of our most important projects to date. The Wheeler Project was designed by architect/homeowner Trey Wheeler of TWH Architects and is nearing completion.
The project utilizes traditional building materials integrated with a Whole Systems Approach to sustainable building in order to maximize energy efficiency and longevity. We're aiming for energy bills in the neighborhood of $50/month. And we'll also be releasing a series of case studies on the home's design and construction. So be sure to check back for more.
- Greening Habitat
Last winter, Collier was privileged to be involved with building a LEED Certified Habitat House, and as part of the project, a number of folks got together and launched GreeningHabitat.org - a website devoted to raising support for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga so that they can build more green homes.
As part of the website initiative, you can purchase "More Than a Home" - the documentary film produced by Mind Flow Media. They have also produced a video called "How to Build a Green Home." Check it out at GreeningHabitat.org.