Green Retrofitting & LEED Certification: An Introduction

There’s a lot to consider when planning a sustainable constr uction project, whether for a residential or a commercial property. Here are some approaches to consider.

Green Retrofitting Tips

If you’re interested in retrofitting your existing home to make it more sustainable and energy efficient—as close to zero energy use as possible—there are a few steps that are commonly recommended: the first piece of advice is to find a certified energy auditor, energy assessor, or energy consultant who can advise you as to what specifically needs to be done to your particular house. For example, they can identify air leaks, rate the quality and efficiency of windows, doors, and lighting, and assess the general insulation levels of the house. The Zero Energy Project has a number of tips to help ensure a maximum level of affordability for sustainable retrofitting and home renovations.

If you’re looking for a year-round option for storing food, the ideal temperature is 32-40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to slow decomposition. One option you may not have considered is an underground cellar about ten feet below ground, which will keep food temperatures relatively stable without ample refrigeration or equipment. In addition to a cellar, it’s possible to construct an underground greenhouse, or “walipini,” generally dug six to eight feet beneath the ground.

Mother Earth News reports that “Indoors, air can be two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors.” I have to admit that I was surprised to read that—at least in terms of more urban city centers. However, a great number of germs and toxins can apparently build up inside, which is why air quality is key. An energy recovery ventilator (ERV) and heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) systems are of vital importance, since they cycle air in and out of a house. Here’s a bit more about energy efficient HVAC systems.

Another component of energy efficient building includes passive building design, which maximizes the use of daylight and minimizes heat gain and loss, throughout the year, and also implements natural ventilation—rather than air conditioning—whenever possible. An example of passive building design would include the installation of strategically placed windows that let in the most amount of natural light possible, as well as the implementation of skylights. A combination of passive building design and installation of LED lighting would ideally maximize the energy that is used and reduce the overall energy consumption.

And before you write off solar panel retrofitting, consider the fact that there are grants and loans available to qualified households and organizations. Here’s a PDF elucidating a few examples of low-income solar installations, in action. Moreover, on another cost-related note, Green Home Guide provides a list of links to resources that can help you find financial incentives to retrofitting your home to meet environmentally-friendly standards, such as rebates and tax breaks.

LEED Certification

If you’re considering LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, certification, the LEED v4 Rating System is the newest version of LEED certification. The new rating system “allocates points to incentivize building project teams to comply with requirements that best address the social, environmental, and economic outcomes identified by USGBC.” It also lists six key areas, known as credit categories, as criteria for certification qualification: location and transport, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

So, why should you care? Making your property LEED-certified can add a significant amount of resale value to your home, as well as making it less expensive to live in and operate, since they’re more energy efficient. There are tax rebates and utility programs available, and LEED-certified buildings are better for occupants’ health and comfort, since the air quality is better. Although LEED certification isn’t the only certification system in the U.S., it is the most prominent: it’s internationally recognized and implemented, so there’s more continuity and global recognition. Incidentally, it’s easier for a property to achieve LEED certification if it is smaller in size.

According to the USCGBC, “LEED projects are responsible for diverting over 80 million tons of waste from landfills. Compared to the average commercial building, LEED Gold buildings in the General Services Administration’s portfolio consume a quarter less energy and generate 34% lower greenhouse gas emissions.” LEED certification requires registration application, submission, review, and subsequent certification. Furthermore, there are different criteria for residential homes versus commercial development.

Some larger, more extensive buildings demonstrate the possibilities of LEED certification, on a more complex scale. Take, for example, the Swaner EcoCenter in Park City, Utah, which achieved a LEED Platinum status for its highly energy-efficient lighting consisting of lamps, ballasts, and lighting controls, as well as a solar photovoltaic array with rooftop modules that generate a great deal of energy, each year. Here are ten more public buildings, for your reference, that are also LEED certified: they include the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which was actually designed as a multipurpose community space with a auditorium-style performance space suitable for concerts or lectures, along with a coffee shop, a conference space, and a green roof.

The Natural Resource Defense Council makes the argument that building efficiency and sustainable building materials and energy sources aren’t enough to do the least amount of harm possible. For example, will foliage and wildlife need to be displaced or disrupted in order to allow for construction of the new building in question? Because of these considerations, NRDC joined forces with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the U.S. Green Building Council, in 2010, to form LEED for Neighborhood Development, or LEED-ND. In the same vein, it perhaps makes more sense to improve existing structures, from a sustainability standpoint, than it does to construct a new tiny house.

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I hope you come away from this article feeling better-informed about a few different ways to retrofit or construct the most sustainable home possible, using all the tools at your disposal. As we come to the end of 2016, we can be sure that our options for sustainable living and energy use are only bound to expand, the closer we come to 2020. According to Renewable Energy World and the Energy Information Agency, renewable energy provided 16.9 percent of electricity generation through the first half of 2016, compared to in 2015, when it came to 13.7 percent—a significant change. Let’s help that percentage keep growing.

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