Taking the "LEED" on green home building

Consumer Reports News: November 09, 2007 11:35 AM

The U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable construction, recently launched a new green-home certification program for residential housing.

Known as LEED for Homes, the voluntary program is one of several green-building rating systems the USGBC has developed for commercial, government, and residential buildings. Under the LEED program, the USGBC has certified more than 1,000 buildings and some 300 pilot-phase homes worldwide, and more than 16,000 new projects are under way. Well-known LEED-certified commercial buildings, such as New York City's 7 World Trade Center and the new Hearst Tower, have helped to build buzz around the program.

LEED—leadership in energy and environmental design—is a set of USGBC-verified green-building standards in eight categories: innovation and design; location and linkages to the larger community; sustainable sites; water conservation; energy efficiency; materials and resources; indoor air quality; and consumer education.

For a home to earn LEED certification, it must be newly built or substantially gutted and renovated and meet a minimum number of criteria. Depending on how many criteria are met, a home is awarded a certified, silver, gold, or platinum rating. (The house shown is a 2,250-square-foot LEED-silver home in Freeport, Maine.) While more than 70 other local or regional green home building programs exist in the U.S., not all require documentation and independent verification.

At a minimum, for example, a LEED-certified home must be 15 to 20 percent more energy-efficient than a conventional one, lowering energy costs by the same amount. Not surprisingly, such benefits, along with a home's rating, are touted as selling points.

Factoring in the savings from lower energy and water bills, the overall cost of owning a LEED home is comparable to owning a conventional one, claims the USGBC.

While the rating is ultimately determined for the house as a whole, specific elements can help a home earn points toward certification. The USGBC doesn't endorse individual product brands, but if a product meets or exceeds the green-building criteria in the LEED standards, that product can be used. Consider LEED's standard for windows, which specifies that they meet or exceed Energy Star requirements in order to earn points for windows. The Energy Star-qualified Andersen and Pella windows in our October 2007 window report fit that bill. (CR Quick Recommendations and Ratings are available to subscribers.)

If you're interested in buying or building a LEED home, contact a LEED for Homes provider in your area. To learn more about LEED and other green-building programs, visit the LEED for Homes Web site and GreenerChoices.org, our free environmental Web site.—Kristi Wiedemann, Science and Policy Analyst, GreenerChoices.org

Essential information: See the USGBC's Green Home Guide to learn more about building an energy-efficient abode.

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