As I reported last month, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes certification program recently reached a notable milestone: nationwide, 20,000 homes of all shapes and sizes have been granted with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design stamp of approval, a designation that’s widely considered to be the gold standard for green residential building.


However, in an area where you might think there’d be a healthy abundance of LEED-certified residences, Westchester County, N.Y., there’s actually a dearth of them. Across New York State, there are a total of 1,262 LEED-certified homes with only two of them being in the immediate northern suburbs of New York City: a LEED Platinum-certified two-family market-rate condo in Hastings-on-Hudson and a 22-unit assisted living complex in Yonkers. By comparison, Cold Springs, a village north of Westchester in Putnam Country, boasts over 100 housing units of all varieties (market-rate, affordable, single-family, multi-family) that have earned LEED certification. And on Long Island, there are numerous LEED projects although a majority appear to be civic or commercial buildings.


So why the near-absence of LEED-certified homes in Westchester? As the New York Times discovers in a recent article, it’s a complicated matter that pretty much boils down to two things: costs and aesthetics.


Michael J. Murphy, of Mamaroneck-based Murphy Brothers Contracting, calls Westchester “seriously behind the times” while offering an explanation for the paltry number of LEED-certified residential projects in the county: “Because land and construction costs are already so high in the county, homeowners who are building a new house or renovating an existing one often pick and choose which green elements to include and which to eliminate. We’re just not there yet when it comes to going green all the way.”


Adds co-owner Sean Murphy: “... contractors and architects are reluctant to approach clients — even Wall Streeters — with the whole package, and instead suggest energy-efficient windows, foam insulation and sometimes geothermal heating and cooling systems, which offer a faster payback on their investment. Especially with the real estate market the way it is these days, many clients in Westchester don’t believe LEED certification will add to their home’s resale value."


So while many buyers in Westchester may be interested in some energy-saving and eco-friendly features, the whole, LEED-qualifying shebang appears to be anything but a top priority. Elaborates Rex Gedney of Rye-based Gedney Crozier Architects: “It’s not that they’re against LEED or energy conservation in general, but they’re choosing to build their house with materials that suit their particular tastes.”


And when it comes to particular aesthetic tastes, solar panels usually don’t make the cut. In Westchester, the prevailing attitude towards rooftop photovoltaics is that they’re “expensive and ugly,” explains Doug Hertz of Sunrise Solar Solutions in Briarcliff. Additionally, the ornate roof styles — think turrets and intersecting gables — found on many Westchester residences makes installing solar panels cumbersome as does the fact that homes in older neighborhoods have large trees on their southern sides.  


So will Westchester ever catch up with the rest of New York State — and the entire country — when it comes to LEED certification? From the sounds of it, the prognosis is rather grim. Any Westchester residents care to weigh in? Have you built or remodeled green, but opted out of LEED certification?


Via [The New York Times]


Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Green homes: Not big in the NYC 'burbs
As LEED for Homes surpasses a significant milestone, the New York Times singles out one area where there's a near-absence of USGBC-approved residences: Westches