When I recently listed a LEED-certified home in NorthWest Crossing, I received a crash course in sustainable building. Although I was already familiar with the concept of green building, I hadn’t previously worked with clients actively involved in what is shaping up to be a significant segment of the new-construction business, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
Luckily for me, my client, architect ML Vidas, designed this house, and it’s about as green as they get. Every aspect of the home — from site selection, floor plan design and interior/exterior construction to ventilation system, lighting and finishing details –- was approached with the intention of selecting materials and processes that were the most environmentally friendly, most energy-efficient and healthiest options available. Throughout the house, Vidas and her husband, Allan Staley (along with their builder, SolAire Homebuilders), incorporated local resources and chose state-of-the-art systems and materials that dramatically reduce energy use, improve air quality and minimize waste.
When ML, Allan and I first toured their home together, I was overwhelmed by the amount of thought that went into even the smallest detail of the house. I was also overwhelmed with the amount of information there was to learn about their home –- and the green-building community as a whole.
For starters, green building has its own distinct language, which is riddled with unfamiliar terms and acronyms, like ERV, VOC, PV, FSC, HERS and MERV. Also, to the uninitiated, the list of cutting-edge sustainable resources and products can seem rather intimidating (not to mention, impressively long). With that thought in mind, I decided to write a series of green-building-related blog posts that help explain the key aspects of sustainable design.
The first thing that tripped me up involved the numerous certifications that often accompany a green-built home. What do they mean? And are they all the same? (By the way, if you’re considering buying a green-built home, the MLS description will no doubt include a mention of any green-related certification that the home has received.)
Here in Oregon, there are three main designations often attached to a green-built home: LEED-certified, Earth Advantage and Energy Star (Vidas’ home attained all three).
Below is a description of each program.
LEED for Homes
There are more than 70 green-home building programs in the United States; however, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) offers the only national home-rating system, which clearly defines and establishes uniform benchmarks to assure that so-called “green” homes are designed and built to be energy- and resource-efficient as well as healthy for their occupants.
As the global standard-bearer in sustainable-building certification programs, LEED for Homes promotes high-performance green building by instituting rigorous guidelines for rating the design and construction of a home based on how it scores in eight categories (design, site placement, overall environmental impact, water conservation, energy efficiency, reduction of material waste, indoor air quality and education).
Developed and implemented by the U.S Green Building Council, the LEED for Homes rating system offers four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. LEED points are awarded on a 136-point scale (with Platinum status receiving the most points), and credits are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts.
All projects pursuing LEED for Homes certification must have a LEED for Homes Green Rater perform the required on-site verification. Green Raters verify that the home is designed and built to the requirements of the LEED for Homes Rating System; they are involved with the project from the design phase throughout the construction process.
A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Star was introduced in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The goal of the Energy Star program is to reduce homeowners’ utility bills and protect our environment by encouraging the use of energy-efficient products and practices. The Energy Star label (which is government backed) can now be found within 60 product categories, and includes major appliances, office equipment, lighting and home electronics (computers and monitors were the first labeled products). The EPA has also extended the label to cover new homes and commercial and industrial buildings.
An Energy Star-qualified home is at least 15 percent more energy-efficient than a home built to the 2004 International Residential Code. Typically, an Energy Star-qualified home includes additional energy-saving features that lower energy demand, reduce air pollution and contribute to improved comfort, making the home 20 to 30 percent more efficient than the standard home. (Another benefit: Energy Star homes qualify for a number of tax credits.)
Energy Star-qualified homes must be independently reviewed and verified by an EPA-approved Home Energy Rater (such as Earth Advantage Institute).
The Earth Advantage Institute is a Portland-based non-profit organization that partners with the region’s building industry to help implement sustainable-building practices. The organization also offers educational opportunities, research services and technical aid for industry professionals.
In addition to partnering with other certification programs (including LEED and Energy Star), Earth Advantage offers its own certification program for new homes (it’s also developing a green-remodeling program). While the Energy Star program focuses primarily on reducing the amount of energy usage in a home, to achieve Earth Advantage certification, a home must meet certain standards set in five different categories and must achieve a minimum number of points in each of those — Energy (15), Health (10), Land (10), Materials (15), Water (10) — for a total of 60 points. (The points system was modified in January of this year.) There are also a number of prerequisites that must be met. The standards are then verified through third-party inspections and performance testing.
Here’s Part Two of my series on green building, where we look at the language of the sustainability community (for example, what exactly does “green-built” mean?).
1. Green-Building Basics: A Glossery of Sustainable-Design Terms
2. Rare Gem on the Market: LEED Platinum Home in NorthWest Crossing
Are you searching for a sustainably designed home in Central Oregon? If you’d like help navigating this up-and-coming specialty market, email me for more information or contact me directly at 541-480-0987.
About the Author:
Lisa Broadwater, GRI, CDPE is a Central Oregon-based real estate professional who specializes in listing and selling homes, especially in Sisters, Tumalo, Bend and Redmond.