Translating LEED: Apply environmental design principles to your house
This translation applying LEED practices to your existing home has something for most everyone. Whether you're looking for insight to green your home remodel, preparing to clean out your basement, or changing a few light bulbs.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - 14:43
Photo: Todd W Carpenter/Flickr
In the world of environmental design, there is one clear cut leader of certifiable sustainable achievement in building design, construction and maintenance; that standard is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. The LEED green building certification program is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.
Unless you're a developer, architect or engineer, this certification might not do much for you aside from putting some gusto in your step. However, the practices that earn a green building a LEED certification also can help make your home more sustainable.
Let's start simple.
Your light bulbs. Everyone knows a compact fluorescent is better than an incandescent. A new wave is upon us, too: the impressive LED light bulb. You can install a LED light bulb when your child is born and not have to replace it until the child graduates from high school! These bulbs last up to 17 years and contain zero mercury, so you can be assured to maintain a healthy indoor environmental quality for a long time.
Your indoor environmental quality. A mercury-free light bulb selection is the tip of the iceberg in achieving a healthy indoor environmental quality. The three most important letters to remember for maintaining a healthy indoor environmental quality are VOC. Reducing the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in your home can be achieved over time. If you're new to the idea of VOCs, you most likely have quite a few in your home. They are commonly found in adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, flooring systems and composite wood and agrifiber products.
To drastically reduce the VOCs in your home, you can start by replacing the most superficial of these. Repaint your interior, re-carpet or re-seal your floors, swap out your cleaning chemicals with cleaning solutions labeled "Low VOC" or "No VOC." Or better yet, opt for chemical-free cleaning solutions.
Your roof. There are many benefits to installing a metal roof. Here in Colorado, we get snow early and often. The metal roof is naturally better at shedding snow — it's simple physics. The heat from both the home and the sun, coupled with the sheen surface of a metal roof, usher snow out quickly. This alleviates weight from your rooftop. Environmentally, the metal rooftop can do much more.
In the greater Denver area — Colorado's most populated metro — installing a metal rooftop can benefit the city as a whole. Traditionally, 30-year tar shingles are the top choice in roofing material. But, did you know that black tar rooftops can increase a city center's temperature by 10 degrees in the summer by absorbing the sun's heat? Keeping a high solar reflectance index (SRI) is the key to combatting this. To put it simply, the lighter the color, the better the reflectance. And please, if you have the means, install a vegetated rooftop. This is the best method for combatting the heat island effect. (And the best method for being the envy of all MNN readers and all of your friends!)
Your water use. Low-flow water fixtures aren't the duds they once were. Installing these is key to water conservation, but there's more you can do. Previously, it was illegal in Colorado to harvest the rainwater that landed on your rooftop. This is because Colorado is a total watershed state, meaning because of the elevation, 100 percent of the precipitation that falls on Colorado eventually fills the rivers that flow into our border states. But last summer, steps were made to make it legal for our watershed state to harvest the rainwater that falls on our rooftops. You can also collect graywater with a graywater collection system, or simply a shower bucket, from your home and use it to water your garden, flowers, or in some cases, your lawn (though it's not recommended to have a lawn in a climate that can't naturally support grass!). Before harvesting graywater from outside your home, please check the current regulations in your community.
Your energy consumption. Did you know you can buy renewable energy from Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest energy supplier? You can also opt for photovoltaic solar panels from one of Colorado's many solar installations companies. It's great living here. There's plenty of southern sun to make use of. During the encroaching summer, take advantage of the climate. Open your house up at night to let cool air in, and close it down during daylight to lock that air inside. Use a ceiling fan — a move this simple can drastically reduce the feel of a room.
You can also go the extra mile and schedule a visit with a local Home Energy Rating System rater. The rates range from $200 to $400. While going the extra mile, you might consider a TED in-home electricity monitor to closely watch your consumption.
Your materials. Use recycled! Post-consumer is better than pre-consumer content because post-consumer materials have run the gauntlet. They've fulfilled their purpose and have been recycled to meet your needs. Better yet, you can buy or scavenge used goods and materials. When you buy lumber, look for Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber (and paper!). The FSC manages forests. They don't over-cut, they don't raze.
If you're going to benefit from recycled goods, you ought to contribute to the cause as well. You already recycle your cans, bottles and papers. Now it's time to do it on a larger level. Recycle your old televisions, computers and appliances. Colorado remains one of the more progressive states for sustainable practices. We should take advantage of the systems set out before us and recycle everything in sight. Today in Colorado, there is a service to recycle almost anything.
Many Mother Nature Network readers already do a lot to better their homes. Hopefully, something in this list will strike you as something you can do to improve how you live. Of course, doing any or all of these things will not achieve your home a LEED certification, but it might achieve your family some peace of mind knowing your home is a more sustainable and healthy living space than most. If you do seek a LEED certified home, see LEED for Homes.
If you're interested in LEED building and maintenance standards, consult the website. Its content is vast and somewhat complex, but most of it is limited, but free to access. Consult the terms and conditions for questions on those issues.