Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

LEED for Homes: Worth it!

While many home builders use a LEED rating as a selling point, Habitat for Humanity doesn't sell their homes on the conventional market. Their choice to go through with the LEED rating process - requiring time, cost, and diligence - is a choice to do the right thing for its own sake

LEED for Homes: Worth it!

A LEED rating requires more than just buying efficient windows! Notice how carefully insulation has been stapled to the studs?  Notice the caulk at the bottom?  All these often-neglected construction details will prevent drafts from getting inside your home.
A LEED rating requires more than just buying efficient windows! Notice how carefully insulation has been stapled to the studs? Notice the caulk at the bottom? All these often-neglected construction details will prevent drafts from getting inside your home.

A heavily tabbed binder nearly bursting out of its three rings: this is the unpretentious foundation of a LEED for Homes rating.  We just placed the one labeled “822 Cherry Street” on our shelf for completed projects, having awarded Habitat for Humanity Montgomery County their first LEED certification. 

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED, stated simply, is a long checklist for building a green home.  The more “credits,” or points, received, the higher the rating. 

The construction industry leaves a tremendous carbon footprint.  It was ECA's job, as the third-party rater, to provide technical assistance as well as verification for all the steps Habitat took to make the rehab and occupancy of 822 Cherry St. as resource-unintensive as possible. 

Highlighted excerpts from emails in the binder read, for example, “SS2. What is the total area of the lot minus the footprint of the house?  You should provide a list of plants.”  That “SS” stands for “Sustainable Sites”; it's one of seven categories of credits required to achieve a rating.  Here, LEED awards you for being stingy with asphalt.  The more unpaved area in your lot, the easier it is for rainwater to infiltrate the earth, rather than overwhelm the sewer system. 

Points are also awarded for local and draught-resistant plants.  And just like filing taxes, all must be documented!

Flip to the “Energy and Atmosphere” category's tab, and the first page will make any non-engineer glaze over.  “Form J1, Abridged Version of Manual J,” is a complex spreadsheet (though far less complex than the non-abridged version, used for commercial buildings) which asks the user to input all the materials which create the building shell.  Not only must you know the number and size of the windows, but their insulation rating and the direction they face; not only the type of insulation, but the spacing of framing and the type of interior and exterior wall finishes.

Manual J, a tool developed by the HVAC industry, will then calculate the “heat load” of the house.  This important number allows the new heater to be sized just right -- whereas old rules of thumb, still used too frequently, would often result in the installation of a heater which over-consumed for the house's size and insulation level.  822 Cherry Street comes in at about 34,000 BTUs per hour – that's ¼ gallon of heating oil, and less than one-half the consumption of the one it replaced.

Rehabs are tough!  Getting a hundred-year-old house up to current energy-efficient standards takes a tremendous amount of problem solving, custom carpentry, and patience.  That's why developers often bulldoze whole blocks of derelict properties and replace them with uglier modern housing.  It appears cheaper to build from the ground up on the developer's balance sheets, but that's only because the costs are externalized onto the rest of us: landfill space for the wreckage of an entire house, pollution from mining, manufacture, and transport of new materials, and lost employment when heavy machinery is substituted for workmanship.

We applaud Habitat for Humanity for restoring an old rowhouse to energy and quality standards that surpass much of what's built today.  And while many home builders use a LEED rating as a selling point, Habitat doesn't sell their homes on the conventional market.  Their choice to go through with the LEED rating process – requiring time, cost, and diligence – is a choice to do the right thing for its own sake. 

We hope that in a decade or two, the entire construction market will have shifted so that green building is no longer the option, but the default.

Send in your energy questions or comments for ECA, the Energy Coordinating Agency, at energy@phillynews.com

About this blog
Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

The experts at Philadelphia's Energy Coordinating Agency answer your energy questions in our regular feature Stay Warm, Stay Green. Send in your question or questions to energy@phillynews.com.


Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.


Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.


Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.


Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.


Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...


Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.


Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.


Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.


In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man





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