Green building has been making a lot of headlines lately — it seems as if you can’t turn on the TV, read a magazine or attend a conference without hearing about it. You have probably heard buzz about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and wondered how this green certification system applies to you.
The LEED Green Building Rating System is a voluntary certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to define high-performance green buildings, which are more environmentally responsible, healthier and profitable structures and to establish a common system of measurement for green building.
The LEED system is becoming integrated into the building marketplace every day. Today, there is more than 3.6 billion sq. ft. of construction space involved with LEED in every state and in 69 countries. Various LEED government initiatives including legislation, executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies and incentives are found in 90 cities, 29 counties, 20 towns, 30 states, 12 federal agencies or departments, 15 public school jurisdictions and 37 institutions of higher education across the United States.
LEED addresses every building type and phase of a building’s lifecycle through a variety of individualized rating systems, including New Construction, Existing Building: Operations & Maintenance, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, LEED for Schools and LEED for Homes. Additionally, LEED for Neighborhood Development, LEED for Healthcare and LEED for Retail are all currently being pilot tested.
People spend 90 percent of their time indoors, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that our homes, schools, hospitals and offices have a dramatic impact on our health, safety and well-being. LEED provides owners, builders, designers and facility managers with a powerful tool for creating healthy environments to live, work and play. It also provides verifiable benchmarks and facilitates the integrated design process, bringing together the entire project team from the outset of the design process. And LEED buildings aren’t just healthy spaces for the people who occupy them; they are also energy efficient, use less water and are integrated into the fabric of their communities.
The LEED for Homes certification system, which launched in December 2007, is already making its way into the residential market. In a time of economic downturn in the housing industry, consumers are realizing that the cost of home ownership is just as important as the cost of buying a home. With more than 734 LEED-certified homes and another 12,464 in the pipeline, LEED for Homes is redefining the green homes market.
A green home is more than just energy efficient. LEED for Homes also gives points to homes based on their locations, the sustainability of their locations, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, selection of building materials and conservation of those materials. LEED also offers guidelines on avoiding toxic or harmful products, landscaping in ways that conserve water, orienting buildings to maximize interior natural daylight and a host of other smart-home building ideas. Within these areas of environmental performance, projects earn points, and depending on the number of points a project earns determines the level of certification the home will be awarded. The four progressive levels of certification are Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
REGREEN, the nation’s first residential remodeling guidelines, is also available for homeowners to make greener choices for their home. REGREEN is a set of best practices guidelines and provides building and interior design professionals with performance-based objectives and detailed strategies. The guidelines provide integrated predesign considerations, a discussion of project scope and strategies and case studies for 10 specific project types, including kitchens, bathrooms, gut rehabs, deep energy retrofits and finished basements.
With more homeowners insisting that green features be integrated into their homes, surface fabricators can become increasingly involved in greening today’s residential spaces. Installing and fabricating countertops can play an important role within green home building and the LEED for Homes certification system. Many traditional countertop materials that are frequently used in homes can be harmful to the environment for a variety of reasons. For example, exotic granite is often quarried in far away locations, and the transportation energy and environmental burdens of bringing in stone from foreign countries is high. Buying local materials both supports the local economy and reduces the harmful impacts of long-distance transport. Fabricators should choose products that have been extracted, processed and manufactured within 500 miles of the home.