Today while driving over the IOP connector, after a morning walk on Sullivan's - I couldn't resist lowering the passenger window and taking this image as the traffic slowed down. There's something wonderfully expansive about the coastal marshes here that reminds me of fields that stretch for miles in central michigan where I lived during graduate school. Open spaces like this make me want to stop for awhile - and contemplate how far I might actually be able to see if I stood on my toes.
There was an interesting article in the NYTimes today, The New Trophy Home, Small and Ecological (NYTimes, Felicity Barrows, 22 June 2008), that discussed the increasing interest in building LEED homes across the US. Of course this article caught my eye, since as I type this, three different builders have my architherapist's plans for my 1,600 sq ft home that we plan to take through the LEED certification process - they are scheduled to get quotes to us by the end of June. If I remember correctly, one of the builders has had experience building LEED (at home at the Silver level) and the other two much less so, although they are enthused about gaining experience in the LEED arena. This means that they are enthused about minimizing, separating and recycling construction debris, even weighing it, and having a LEED inspector look over their shoulder from time-to-time at different stages of the building process.
I started this whole process by meeting with two architects - which ended up in my working with Architect No. 2 (aka my architherapist) - who I met for the first time in March 2007. Granted, the past year has been a bit tumultuous and at times overwhelming, but slowly we moved forward: plans were drawn up and obsessed over and then redrawn, we've pondered geothermal, solar hot water, found enough salvaged longleaf pine for a few rooms, talked icynene, invasive species, windows and roofs - we drew up a landscape plan, have had geotechnical and critical line surveys - and input from both a structural engineer and an HVAC guy. We haven't really formerly sat down with our LEED certifier and counted out LEED points that we should qualify for - but we hope to go for Platinum LEED certification. We'd like to do that - but I'm guessing that the builders and their quotes/bids are going to help define what we can and cannot do. I didn't realize how rare a Platinum LEED home still was, until I read the passage from the NYTimes article below:
More than 1,500 commercial buildings and 684 homes have been certified but just 48 homes have received the platinum ranking, among them a four-bedroom home in Freeport, Me., as well as homes in Minneapolis; Callaway, Fla.; Dexter, Mich.; and Paterson, N.J. The checklist for certification can be more daunting than a private-school application, which prompts many to abandon the quest.
There have been moments when I've thought why go through this - why not just go and build a house and anyway, who says that you can't build to LEED standards, but without the extra cost of certification and consultants, and all of the paperwork? I guess that I have just felt all along that LEED makes sense. When you study it up-close, much of what it is about is durability of construction, energy efficiency - and you definitely get more points for building a smaller home (which could get me off on a rant of how large some homes are, begging the obvious question 'WHY????' and perhaps in some small way LEED can encourage a trend to build smaller homes (which does seem to be occurring out there, whether or not LEED is partially responsible for that trend I don't know.)
The USGBC Board of Directors has voted unanimously to open for public comment LEED 2009, a new version of the rating system that delivers against key environmental and human health impacts, and puts in place a transparent framework for weighting credits accordingly, based on the best available science. It is the product of thousands of hours of volunteer time and deep expertise generously given by representatives from every corner of the building industry.
You can read about the commenting process here.
My thoughts? I think that LEED for homes has seemed to emphasize building communities of homes, and is a bit more challenging for the individual homeowner. To the best of my knowledge, a person getting a small neighborhood LEED certified is charged a similar certification fee as I do, for just building one home. There also are not many LEED certified professionals yet in our area - definitely one, maybe two - and I'm guessing with all of the LEED projects popping up in Charleston County right now, that they are pretty overloaded. I've also thought that while housing density is a criteria (so you can gain 'neighborhood' points by living closer to schools, churches, public transportation, etc) - folks that are living outside of the city shouldn't be penalized for wanting to build a LEED certified home - so I can't help but think that their 'site evaluation' could be tiered in someway to encourage those not just building in high density areas to build LEED.
So talk to me in about a month, after the bids are in, after I've sat down for the first 'formal' LEED inspection of the house design - and after I've written that first LEED check. I'm sure that I'll have more to say then.