Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sourcing FSC for LEED

Understanding how FSC and LEED work together can be complicated, and trying to source FSC can be downright frustrating.

Here are some sources and tips to make the most of your FSC-sourcing experience for a LEED project. The first places to start are the Designing and Building with FSC Guide and FSC's LEED webpage.

1. Confirm which LEED program your client is trying to achieve
Each LEED program has different requirements for obtaining points through wood materials. While most have similar criteria relating to FSC, a few are a little different.

Below is a simplified view of the FSC "certified wood" credits within LEED. See specific program guides for detailed information.
The USGBC has recently updated some of the standards overall, so make sure you are working from the most recent version.
  • All programs require that tropical hardwoods must be FSC-certified (no points are rewarded), while other FSC-related credits are voluntary and qualify for additional points.
  • LEED-Homes recognizes different building components separately and requires that a component be made of 90% FSC-certified material to get the FSC "certified wood" credit. This 90% is calculated by weight or volume.
  • LEED-Healthcare is currently under construction and will most likely have its own set of FSC-related standards.
Understanding the basics of LEED will be also be a valuable asset on future projects. Some contractors are even becoming LEED Accredited Professionals to enhance understanding and get an edge in the market. Click here for some tips on taking the LEED-AP exam.
2. Identify your FSC Chain-of-Custody number.
Your chain-of-custody number is necessary to prove your product's FSC authenticity on the LEED submittal.

Does your product even need FSC Chain-of-Custody certification? To sell a product as FSC, your company must hold CoC certificates for FSC wood products that your company has changed in any way from the time it became your inventory. This sometimes includes distributors and retailers, but not always. Go to FSC's FAQ regarding the LEED certified wood credit page for certification requirements.

Are you looking to become FSC certified? Visit FSC's "Getting Certified" webpage for more information, or go directly to the list of FSC Certifiers to set up an audit. One tip: get multiple quotes from different certifiers as prices can differ between auditing companies and per location. The FSC Chain-of-Custody Fact Sheet can also answer any and all questions about the auditing process.

Are you a small business owner? Chain-of-custody group certification can be a way to lessen the initial and annual costs of FSC certification, and link you to other FSC-certified companies.

Can you use the FSC logo on your product, website, or marketing materials? Read FSC's Clarification and Guidance to Trademark Use to find out. Proper logo placement is very important. If you are unsure, contact your FSC auditor.

Still want to learn more about FSC? Changes to FSC criteria just happened recently. Read more on documents related to FSC, the complete FSC certification standards and policies, or any of Dovetail Partners' Reports on FSC-certification.
3. Research what FSC materials are available in your area
FSC-certified high-character birch from Aitkin County, Minnesota;
created by Custom Creations

To maximize financial benefits and provide high-quality FSC-certified materials, first find out what is available in your region, and then use that material.

Designers often specify FSC-certified clear-grade wood without realizing that it may not be readily available - yet. Sometimes in sustainably-managed forests smaller diameter trees are harvested first to encourage forest diversity and allow medium-sized trees to grow larger. This can give the impression that FSC has to cost a lot more or that there is no FSC available, when character-grade material might be readily available locally at a fraction of the cost. Shopping according to what is available increases your chances of securing an FSC product, and buying locally supports your local economy, reduces costs, achieves LEED points and decreases environmental impacts from transportation.
This FSC-certified basswood ceiling and birch staircase from Aikin County, MN demonstrate how
character-grade material creates a beautiful impact
Here are a few resources for finding FSC-certified wood*:

FSC search engine
Forest Certification Resource Center (Metafore)
Smartguide to Sourcing Green Building Products
Sustainable Woods Network
Healthy Forests Healthy Communities
Upper Mississippi Certified Forests Products Group

(*Please note: these databases may only search manufacturers and distributors, not retailers. To find products carried by your local retailer, contact them directly. Remember that a product made from FSC-wood that was purchased from a retailer without chain-of-custody certificate may not be called an FSC product [even if your company is has its own CoC] because it breaks the chain)

Image courtesy of Dovetail Partners, Inc.
Finding local FSC is not easy for everyone. Forest ownership patterns in the US have influenced the concentration of FSC forests. For example, areas with a large number of family forests or Federal Forests may not have a lot of FSC. Small group certification can help small businesses and family forest landowners increase the amount of FSC-managed forests and create a centralized hub of FSC wood product supply. Currently there is no comprehensive list of group certificates, but you can find out more about group certification and see some examples at the Family Forest Alliance.

The amount of federal forestland in your state may also reflect a limited supply of FSC (National Forests currently cannot be FSC-certified). This is understandably a very controversial debate. If you would like to see National Forests in your area become FSC certified, talk to the National Forest Service and also to FSC-US. For an example of a drafted letter concerning this topic, go here.

If there is still no FSC in your region, there may be products from other sustainable forestry programs in your area, such as SFI, PEFC, CSA, and ATFS. While LEED does not recognize any other sustainable forestry standards besides FSC at this time, the other certification systems may still fit your sustainability criteria. You may also be able to obtain points through the "regional materials" credit by using one of these alternatives if they are local. To see detailed reports on the different certification systems and their own specific criteria, go here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Greenbush Update - The Waiting Game

Before, we were waiting for the final drawings to be done (our architects pushed it through remarkably fast, so thank you!), and now we're playing the waiting game again.

Rendering for Greenbush, MN project, via Vivus Arhictecture + Design

This will hopefully meet the LEED-H criteria once it is built, use local materials, and also teach the local community and contractors about green building.

As I posted earlier, we are currently waiting for construction bids to come back. It is hunting season in Minnesota so we're expecting the first bids to come in by December 1st.

We are also exploring options for financing the construction loan. We have had one amazing person offer a personal donation but we will only use that if we cannot obtain the construction loan through the bank. The housing market has changed so drastically in the last 18 months and it is not as easy to get a fully-covered construction loan as it used to be, even for a green, energy-efficient house. We still need to sell the house eventually and the market isn't as promising as we'd like. The hope is to pre-sell the home first to someone working at the Central Boiler plant, since their expansion was what initially prompted the need for housing in that area.

In the meantime, I am going over the LEED-H criteria in anticipation of questions, questions, and questions!

Stay tuned for more updates!

Call for LEED Providers

USGBC announces a call for new LEED for Homes Certification Providers.

The attached Request for Qualifications (RFQ) includes background information on the LEED for Homes Program, the submittal instructions for organizations interested in applying to be selected as LEED for Homes Certification Providers, and a six-page submittal form.

USGBC plans to establish contractual relationships with approximately 20 new LEED for Homes Certification Providers. These Providers will be the primary verification and certification agents for the LEED for Homes program, with USGBC providing quality assurance oversight. Each Provider organization will be responsible for the selection, training, scheduling, and quality assurance of a team of in-field inspectors and/or green raters.

Submittals are due to USGBC by 5 PM EDT on Wednesday, November 28, 2007. Submittals that are not complete will be disqualified.

If you have questions, please send them to homes@committees.usgbc.org

In the LEED-Homes pilot program there were initially only 12 providers to be "responsible for selecting appropriate pilot projects and verifying that the homes were built to meet the requirements of the rating system". The provider for the Greenbush LEED-H project has done very well to accommodate our needs, but I have heard that for other projects it can be a challenge, both in terms of scheduling and location.

This is an interesting issue that green building programs face; to truly be a third-party certification system, certifiers should not technically be from either side of the camp (the agency that creates the certification standards nor the builder of the project), and yet they should be knowledgeable enough of both sides to certify a project. Ensuring there are enough qualified certifying bodies can be a demanding goal to achieve.

Now that the USGBC is launching LEED for Homes, they are calling for more providers. This will hopefully make the program accessible to more people in more regions.

By the way, if you are a USGBC member, voting for LEED-EB (Existing Buildings) and LEED-H is now open. Voting ends Monday, November 26, 2007 at 5:00 PM EST.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Greenbush Update

Last week on November 1st, the team met with local builders, contractors, and community members about the Greenbush project. Complete sets of blueprints as well as criteria and information about LEED for Homes was provided.

It is about to be hunting season, so the contractors will have one month to put together their bids.

Our initial thought was to have an open bidding process, but because of the turnout and loyalty from people since the beginning, only interested parties will have the opportunity to bid.

We have hired NWCAA to act as the supervisor on the project. We are still looking for a general contractor, which caused some initial confusion as to who was available to bid. We are encouraging each submitting general contractor needs to seek proposals from each subcontractor/contractor that has been involved so far, not just the ones they are used to working with. Once the proposals come in, we may go over everything and change subcontractors or even add more to make sure the project gets the most economic development impact. This is not a normal route for building construction, and makes some GCs wary, understandably so. However, this is why we hired Tim from NWCAA to supervise the GC.

This project is not "normal" and is attempting a different structure in order to reach the greatest amount of people. Aitkin was the same way - lots of questions and concerns and changes - and in the end, it worked out great.

One other concern expressed was the amount of work involved in documenting for LEED. After we choose all contractors, we will be holding a meeting with our LEED provider, who can hopefully answer some of their questions and spell the benefit for them. They have no problem understanding why energy-efficiency and "green" is good, but the documentation process seems like a bit much, so far.

Overall, the reception of the blueprints was positive, and the group seems anxious to get started!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Minnesota Climate Change Initiatives

Taking steps for climate change has reached the local level in a big way. Mayors and cities councils in Minnesota (and across the world) have declared their intentions of working with a number of programs, which are going to have some impacts on how buildings are built in Minnesota.

Below is the list of Minnesota cities and counties that have formally declared their intent through the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the Sierra Club's Cool Counties or Cool Cities, and/or Cities for Climate Protection in an effort to lessen their local contribution to global climate change:

Apple Valley
Eden Prairie
Hennepin County
International Falls
Lake City
Mountain Iron
Ramsey County
Red Wing
Sauk Rapids
St. Paul
Sunfish Lake
Turtle River
White Bear Lake

In addition, Minnesota also recently became the seventh state to pass the “Next Generation Energy Act of 2007” into policy, which sets a state goal of certifying 100 commercial buildings to the Green Globes or U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standard by December 31, 2010. The bill also mandates utilities to include in their conservation improvement plans programs that facilitate professional engineering verification to qualify a building as Green Globes-certified, Energy Star-labeled or LEED-certified.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more great Minnesota initiatives, and if you can, attend the Mayors' Forum on Green Initiatives on November 27, 2007, 3:45 - 6:00 p.m. at the University of Minnesota to see more on what is happening in the Twin Cities regarding green initiatives. Click here for more information.

Do you know of any local climate change initiatives not mentioned here? Let me know!

And great job, Minnesota!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Building Materials and LEED

I wanted to pass this great information along; it is not new information but sometimes it helps to see it all in one place.

Salvaged Wood from Minnesota

Inhabitat has a great comprehensive working list of what one should look for when choosing building materials. Be sure to check out Part One for specifics on LEED-Homes and material selection.

Green Building 101: Materials and Resources Part One
Green Building 101: Materials and Resources Part Two

And don't forget about the option of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). While definitely not the most simple way to choose materials, it is the most complete way to ensure that your structure will use the least amount of embodied energy via materials.

And if all else fails and everything seems too complicated, remember that choosing something locally is always a good choice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back to the drawing board...literally

Learning lessons every day...

One difference in building in a rural community versus an urban one is that building codes and other mandatory regulations may not be as strictly enforced (if enforced at all). And although the Greenbush project will be employing only licensed contractors, the general consensus was that architectural blueprints were absolutely unnecessary to obtaining bids and permits, and that the floor plans, elevations, and architectural specifications about LEED should be more than sufficient to obtain some construction bids. I was skeptical, but we are trying to build a project that local people could do in exactly the same way. So if they say they don't need blueprints...

Two months into the bidding process, and the project still had no solid bids. Contractors want to bid on the project but are skeptical on giving hard numbers without actual blueprints. I definitely understand and am now kicking myself; some of the green building techniques are different from the norm and the specs, especially about LEED, can be confusing. So right now we're bidding out drafters to draft the blueprints, and the project start date has been put on hold.

We're looking at Spring 2008 to break ground, instead of Fall 2007.
While this will sadden the Greenbush community (and saddened me as well), I am confident that this will end up working out better for everyone. The extra time will allow more education on LEED, Energy Star, and green building techniques to not only the building contractors, but to the general community as well. It will give Greenbush more time in the media spotlight. And it will ensure that the project is done correctly, instead of just pushing forward.

I also have to remind myself that this program is not about just building a "green" house; it's about green building education and utilizing local materials as an economic development stimulus; sometimes we're creating new paths than what people are used to, and it takes a little bit more time. I also remember that the Aitkin project started off just as slowly as this one seems to be, but that in the end, it was a huge success. So thank you to all of the Greenbush people that have continued to support the project. We couldn't get it done with your insight, help, and support. It's going to be a great project, just hang in there!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Credits WE 3.1 & WE 3.2, Indoor Water Use

One challenge I've heard voiced about LEED is that regional needs are not weighted fairly enough. For example, water consumption reduction is vastly more crucial in the dry Southwestern part of the US than in the lush Pacific Northwest, but currently LEED gives the same points for all areas across the US and has no prerequisites to follow on water consumption for dryer areas. LEED does require that at least 3 points are achieved through the Water Efficiency (WE) category.

Here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes we don't have large issues with water consumption, but that doesn't mean that we won't some day or that it's not important.

This specific category has a maximum of 6 points. We are trying for 4 of the 6.

As you can see, we're choosing two from the WE 3.1 credit, and one from the WE 3.2 credit. This is the wording used in our construction specifications concerning water fixtures:

All indoor water-using structures must meet the following requirements:

  • Lavatory faucets average flow rate must be less than or equal to 2.0 GPM
  • Showerhead average flow rates must be less than or equal to 2.0 GPM
  • Toilets, including dual flush toilets, must have an average flow rate that is less than or equal to 1.1 GPF
Note: We have not signed up for WE 1.1, which is a rainwater harvesting system, but we may include a rain barrel or look into this further later.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Just a quick note, I will be on vacation from August 9-23! If you need to, please contact Don Heise at dheise@archwoodspecialties.com. Thanks, and see you soon!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Credit SS 2.2, Basic Landscaping Design

This credit is worth 2 points, essentially 1 point for the backyard and 1 point for the front yard. If only the front yard will be landscaped, only 1 point will be awarded for this credit.*

The Greenbush project is going for 2 points. I have included this verbiage into the architectural specs:

Turf (grass) will be drought-resistant turf only and will not be planted in shaded areas or areas with a slope of greater than 25%. Mulch and soil will be added when needed to help reduce erosion and maintain soil temperature. The landscaping itself should minimize water use and synthetic chemicals.

It is the duty of the landscape architect to sign off on this credit; this project so far does not have a landscape architect as we are trying to replicate what a typical person in a rural community would do. I imagine an architect or the builder would be sufficient to sign off.

The main idea for the landscaping so far is to clear as little trees and damage the site minimally during construction as possible. Hopefully this will keep the need for additional planting to a minimum. Not only will this help with stormwater management, but it will cut down on costs as well. The planting we will do will probably include native spreading plants such as wild ginger.

*It is important to note that if only one yard is landscaped that a plan must be in place for the rest of the site to be landscaped in the future. The soil must be stable enough to handle erosion runoff until it is landscaped.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

How to source local materials

For me, the most important thing to do when being sustainable, is to take advantage of local products and vendors. Using local materials not only reduces your ecologic footprint by minimizing transportation, it also stimulates the local economy.

Wood from Todd County, Minnesota

Here are some strategies for finding local building materials:

· Start by talking to people in the area, and ask a lot of questions. "Joe" from down the street might actually have a passion for making his own countertops from rocks in his cornfield, for example. Chances are that Joe probably knows someone too. Get the word out, and let people know what you're looking for.

· Talk to the local county economic developer to hone in on what local businesses and materials are available.

· Contact your local DNR and see what foresters are in the area (they might have wood on their own land to sell or can hook you up with local foresters). http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/contact/locator.html

· What were the old buildings made out of? Chances are whatever it is, it was probably local. Also, are there any buildings that need to come down that materials could be salvaged from? Does the local junkyard have any items that could be reused?

· Open the local phone book and look at the businesses. Are there local artisans that would be interest making something out of local materials? Buy something from a locally-manufactured plant instead of from a big box store. For example, there is a solar panel plant in Starbuck, MN, a high-efficiency boiler plant in Greenbush, MN, and Marvin Windows is also made in Minnesota. Also remember that just because a distributor is local it doesn’t mean the product is made locally.

· Check out sustainable materials, such as wood from sustainable forests. Minnesota has a lot of sustainably-managed forests. You can see if there is anyone local to your area by going here: http://www.certifiedwoodsearch.org/overview.aspx

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The miracle floor plan

I am calling this the miracle floor plan because of all of the amazing things packed into it at a miraculous 1,306 square feet (well below the asking median for LEED-H 3-bedroom criteria!). It meets everything the community is asking for, including "universal design" principles (design elements that can sustain many different ages and needs). Now... what will the price be to construct it?

Here are the features of the LEED-H home in Greenbush:

  • 3 bedrooms, 2 baths
  • 1,306 sq.ft.
  • One level open floor plan (universal design)
  • Front porch that faces the corner of Minnesota St. and Silver Spruce Ct.
  • Sealed front entryway to minimize energy loss
  • In-floor radiant heat system
  • Central Boiler fireplace (local company)
  • Passive solar site orientation
  • Sun room on the south side to maximize passive solar heating, with door toward yard or optional deck area
  • Large overhangs on the south side for passive cooling in the summer
  • Marvin windows in each room for daylighting
  • Solartube in the interior bathroom
  • Cross-ventilation
  • 36” doors (universal design)
  • Recycling storage
  • Mudroom for extra storage, and to keep particles from entering the house
  • Detached garage to keep chemicals from entering the house
  • Garage-connecting breezeway connecting located west of the home
  • Fresh air intake system
  • On-demand water heaters
  • Advanced framing techniques, ie. the house is designed in 4’ increments to match plywood sheet sizes
  • His and hers closets in the master bedroom
  • Built-in desks in some bedrooms (built by a local contractor)
  • Built-in computer desk in the main living space for the family to share
  • Local materials as much as possible, FSC-certified wood when possible
  • LEED-Home certification
  • Energy Star Home certification
This list doesn't include half of the criteria that is included for LEED-H, but is more an advertising tool for the house. Don't forget, we have to sell it after it's built!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Credit ID 2.4, Third party durability inspection

The LEED provider has given me a durability inspection checklist to complete prior to construction.

The builder will complete the durability inspection checklist, which the provider will use to verify durable construction implementation.

The LEED-H Provider is going to go over this durability checklist with me shortly. At first glance, it seems a little bit confusing but he assures me that once we've gone through it, it's a piece of cake. I think this is a great attribute to the LEED program in general, because what good is going green if it is not a durable product in the end?

When we go through the checklist, I'll repost. Until then, I've included it as part of the architectural specs as a mandatory requirement and attached the durability pages (pages 36-39 in the LEED-H manual) for further reference.

Credit ID 2.3, prerequisite, Quality management plan

Prior to construction, the builder will have a quality management program in place to address durability issues.

This quality management program will address any issues we find with the durability evaluation. I have added this quality management program into the architectural specs. I'll repost once the program is actually completed.

Credit ID 2.2, prerequisite, Indoor moisture control

Incorporate the following for indoor moisture control for all wet rooms.

Indoor moisture control specifications for this credit have been integrated into the construction plans through the following language:
  • Use non-paper faced backer board on walls of shower, bathtub, and spa areas
  • Use water resistant flooring in all bathrooms, kitchens, and spa areas, and within 3 feet of exterior doors; no carpet in these areas.
  • For any water heater installed, install a drain and a drain pan. Tankless water heaters exempt.
  • For any washer installed, install a drain and a drain pan or an accessible, single-throw supply valve.
Because of the open floor plan, hardwood floors usually continue from the living/dining area into the kitchen. I confirmed with our LEED Provider that treated hardwood fulfills this "water resistant" criteria. This credit is mainly to keep carpet out of these moisture-prone places.

Credit ID 2.1, prerequisite, Durability planning-Preconstruction.

Complete durability evaluation to identify moderate to high risk durability issues, determine strategies to these challenges, incorporate these strategies into project documentation and implementation.

I've included this as part of the pre-construction requirements in the architectural specs.

Credit ID 1.3, Design Charrette

Conduct a full day design meeting, preferably in the preliminary design phase, with project team members, with a goal to optimize green performance of the building as a whole, drawing upon the expertise of the whole project team.

I anticipate this to be both one of the most difficult and most fun parts of the LEED-H process. Sometimes people love it because their opinions are never asked, and they feel valued and incorporated instead of being just another link of the chain. Sometimes people feel insulted when asked to change the way they currently do something, but the team can work together . The first time someone attends a design "charrette", they may think it's weird, but generally people really warm up to the idea.

This credit is not mandatory, but it is important as part of the integrated design process, so I am including it in the language for the project specs. It's also worth one LEED point. I copied the language from above and pasted it into the project specifications to make it a pre-construction requirement.

Credit ID 1.2, Integrated design team

Assemble a design team to perform integrated functions.

I have incorporated this credit into the construction specifics by using the following language:

I. Meet with team members that fulfill at least three of the following expertise:

  • -architectural/residential design
  • -landscape design, civil engineering, habitat restoration, land planning
  • -green building/sustainable design
  • -mechanical or energy engineering
  • -building science or performance testing

II. Actively involve members mentioned above in at least three of the following:

  • -Conceptual/schematic design
  • -LEED planning
  • -Preliminary design
  • -Energy/envelope design or analysis
  • -Design development
  • -Final design, working drawings or specifications
  • -Construction

III. Conduct monthly meetings with team members on project updates, challenges, solutions, and next steps.

Our project team will have no problem meeting the criteria and the design development portions, but the monthly meetings will most likely be via teleconference due to distance. I really like this idea - so high-tech, but also so green!

Author's note:
(This is a pilot and a great deal of flexibility has been given. This is not business as usual and the limitations cannot be anticipated when the program fully launches in a couple of months. LEED expects to add more people to cover a larger portion of the US in the future. I applaud LEED for giving us this flexibility in the project, thank you!)

Credit ID 1.1, prerequisite, Preliminary rating

Prior to construction, have a preliminary design meeting to discuss LEED ratings.

This meeting is important, and mandatory. It has been included into the project specifications as a requirement prior to construction, as follows:

A meeting will be conducted comprised of the entire design team, including LEED provider, energy rater, and LEED rater. Due to distance some may attend via phone.* The meeting will discuss what LEED rating the project is attempting to achieve (Silver, as of now), which credits will be achieved, and who is responsible for documentation of each credit. This meeting will also cover the rating system overview (pages 18-20 of LEED-H guidelines), builder participation roadmap (page 11), LEED-H project checklist, project specifications, and the home size adjuster (pages 22-24).

We are planning this meeting for sometime very shortly!

*(This is a pilot and a great deal of flexibility has been given. This is not business as usual and will be not be the norm when the program launches completely in a couple of months. LEED expects to add more people to cover a larger portion of the country sometime in the future.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Credit SS 2.1, prerequisite, Invasive plants

No invasive plant species shall be integrated into the landscape.

An invasive plant is a non-native species that was introduced into a habitat, usually by humans, and causes ecological or economic problems. Not all exotic or non-native species are harmful; some can even be beneficial, but it is important to not place something into an area that might potentially harm it later. Personally, I prefer local species anyway because they last longer in their own habitat and require less maintenance.

If you are a landscape architect, you might already have a list of local invasive species on-hand. But, I’m trying to do this like an everyday person, so as part of this LEED credit, I need to create my own invasive species list to add to the construction specifications.

LEED recommends contacting the Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service to find a list of invasive species. While this might work well for other regions, I came up with very little helpful information for Minnesota by using this suggestion. For Minnesota, this deals with specifically agricultural invasive species only and does not address the multilayer natural habitat of our lakes and rivers, forests, and prairies. Thankfully, we do have other great resources elsewhere.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes great anotated information on invasive species, for both terrestrial and aquatic species, and they have a huge comprehensive invasive species list that covers agriculture, woodlands, and water. They even have an invasive species program, which not only deals with plants, but also wildlife and insect invasive species. I was surprised to find Queen Anne's Lace on the invasive species list; I see it grow in the wild so often I had assumed it was local. Now I understand why there are so many.

Did you know that it is against the law to introduce certain plants into the wild? For Minnesota, the following plants are prohibited:

African oxygen weed (Lagarosiphon major)
aquarium watermoss or giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta)
Australian stone crop (Crassula helmsii)
curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus)
Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)
European frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)
flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus)
hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata)
Indian swampweed (Hygrophila polysperma)
purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria, Lythrum virgatum, or any variety, hybrid, or cultivar thereof)
water aloe or water soldiers (Stratiotes aloides)
water chestnut (Trapa natans)

The following are legal and regulated; they can be purchased, carried, and transported, but not introduced into any habitat in Minnesota:

Carolina fanwort or fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana)
nonnative waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.)
parrot's feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)
yellow iris or yellow flag (Iris pseudacoris)

The Greenbush project specifications for landscaping have not yet been completely written out but the invasive species list has now been written, assuring that our project is taking another step in the right direction toward having a small impact on the site. When choosing our landscaping, we will refer to this list.

Credit SS 1.2, Minimized site disturbance

Minimize site disturbance with a plan.

For this credit, during the construction phase, all workers must follow an outlined plan that specifically details what features where they can walk, where vehicles can park, and where on the site nothing should be disturbed. At least 40% of the site (not including the area beneath the house) must be undisturbed. This will minimize the impact to the site, disturb ecosystems less, and make it easier for landscaping to grow successfully.

In the last project, we specified that as many trees were to be left on site as possible. To accommodate this, the builder brought in a special smaller hauling truck that fit within a six foot perimeter outside the house footprint.

The Site Disturbance Plan for the Greenbush project looks like this:

Site Minimal Disturbance Plan

Refer to “no-disturbance zone” that is marked on the drawings and outlined on the site with markers. Construction vehicles cannot park or drive on these areas as it may impact the area for future landscaping. Plants and trees in this area must be preserved in total. Recycling and waste will be marked as well.

This will also include a drawing, which I am working on right now.

Credit SS 1.1, prerequisite, Erosion control

Identify possible erosion or water problems before construction and develop a plan. During construction, follow the plan to minimize site impact.

I don't have a landscape architect on hand (and I wouldn't expect any regular Joe to have one either), so using the LEED-H guidelines, I came up with a very basic plan for controlling erosion during construction.

I looked into getting a site survey done, but again, would a normal person be able to do this? The estimate for a survey was almost $1,000. From talking to local people I discovered that the site is not in the flood plain (I obtained records from the city to confirm) but that it does have a very high water table, and clay-like soil. It is one of the higher elevations in the city, so water will run away from it.

This is what the erosion control plan looks like so far:

Erosion Control Plan

  • Stockpile and protect disturbed topsoil from erosion (for reuse)
  • Stabilize soils that have been or may be disturbed
  • Control the path and velocity of runoff with silt fencing or comparable measures
  • Provide swales to divert surface water from hillsides
  • Protect on-site storm sewer inlets with straw bales, silt fencing, silt sacks, or rock filters
  • On steep slopes, use erosion control blankets where necessary

I will be meeting with the contractors and discussing their thoughts and ideas on this aspect of the construction process. I think I am also going to call a landscape architect friend of mine and see if this plan, which just followed LEED guidelines, is good enough.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Writing project specs to incorporate LEED-H credits

It's so exciting to have all of these green building ideas for your home, isn't it? It can often be a more frustrating story when it comes to the actual building process and ensuring the techniques are followed exactly.

One way to facilitate this incorporation is to make it mandatory through the architectural/construction project specifications (the LEED provider will require a set of these specs anyway). Make sure your general contractor holds all sub-contractors responsible to the guidelines through written language in your construction agreement. Choosing a general contractor you can trust is a major part of making sure your home turns out as green as you think it will be.

And while sometimes the act of nonconformity is just sheer stubbornness, often it is a lack of knowledge and understanding about the new idea and why it is beneficial. Incorporate this language into your specs, and then be available to answer questions. Direct them to the USGBC page, your energy rater, or your LEED provider if they have questions you can't answer yourself.

I am writing the Greenbush project specs right now. I will be posting each LEED-H credit in a separate post so you can see how this language is included into the project specs. I'll update each credit later if something changes. Each post is labeled by credit so you can search later if you need to.

Let me know if you have any questions, and good luck building green!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Designing for LEED-H

When designing a green building, integrated design is extremely important. For this project distance is a challenge, so I am doing a lot of the legwork upfront, and trying to get input from the builder, subcontractors, and my project manager who is searching out local businesses and opportunities. It's possible that the design might change later to fit many of these needs. That is okay as long as we don't change things after we start construction.

The building design is almost complete! I will post it soon!

After registration you must turn the following items into your LEED provider.

  • Builder Construction Agreement - This form is very easy to fill out and formally registers your project with the USGBC under the builder's name (this is usually turned in with the registration check to your LEED provider). Where we are: This has been turned in.
  • Preliminary LEED Checklist - This form is in Xcel format and condenses all of the credits and points your project is trying to achieve. It is not set in stone, but your provider will ask for a completed copy to get an idea of what LEED level the project is aiming for. A meeting with your team and provider (the preliminary meeting, which is a LEED prerequisite) will help to determine if your goals are realistic and who is responsible for what. This just recently changed in January of 2007, so make sure you are working with an updated version. Where we are: This has been filled out, and is being used to formulate the project specifications (see below).
  • Durability Inspection Checklist - This Xcel form is part of credit ID 2.4, which expands on prerequisites ID 2.1 and ID 2.2, in which a durability evaluation and quality management program are required. My LEED provider said that this form looks tricky but is simple once you have done it. It's the provider's job to walk you through it. Make sure you use version 1.11a. Where we are: I need to go over this with the provider and then the builder.

  • Building blueprints - In Greenbush architects aren't required to sign off on house design, (as they are here in the Cities). I'm trying to replicate this process for the specific area, so it will be interesting to see how LEED reacts to our building drawings without architectural signature. Where we are: These are almost completed!

  • Project specifications. These would be like normal architectural specs, only they should include all LEED-H criteria that is to be incorporated into the design. Your builder and contractor should also have a copy of these. Where we are: These are being written at this very moment.

The process of involving everyone for the design is extremely time-consuming. Make sure tasks are delegated appropriately, and with realistic timelines. It adds at least another month to building design, but in the end makes for a better-constructed, better-planned building.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Rater solution and Greenbush LEED® registration completion

Today a compromise was reached about the LEED® rater, who will verify that the house is built to the proper standards and will deliver this data to the LEED® provider.

I wanted to use someone local to the Greenbush project, but a LEED-trained rater is not available in the region (a common occurance in rural areas). Currently, there are only a few raters with LEED-H training (LEED has plans to add more eventually). The closest is located in the cities, which is 6.5 hours away from the project.

However, a local RESnet energy rater has been found, and the LEED provider has okayed her involvement for the energy portion of the Greenbush project. She will not be able to sign off on any other data besides the energy portion, nor will she be able to receive official LEED training through the project, but she will gain LEED experience. She can become properly LEED trained later if she decides to.

The LEED rater (the rater for the non-energy portion) has agreed to minimize our travel costs as much as possible. I had hoped to get a guarantee from him that he wouldn't need to visit the site and that all data verification could be done digitally. He promised to try, but he has never worked with us or with our builder before, so it is understandable that this may not happen. Thankfully the worst case scenario is if that this project incurs a lot of travel expenses, it would still pave the way for future LEED projects in the area to go entirely digital and diminish travel expenses altogether.*

The LEED rater also applauded the fact that the project involves the local Community Alliance (our builder is from the NWCAA), because then the builder will gain green building experience that can spread throughout the community. I am going to invite other Community Alliances to look at the project so they can benefit as well.

So today I mailed the check into our LEED provider to complete the registration process. Here we go!

*(This is a pilot and a great deal of flexibility has been given. This is not business as usual because we don't know what the limitations will be when the program launches completely in a couple of months. LEED expects to add more people to cover a larger portion of the country sometime in the future.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Choosing sustainable materials

What exactly is a sustainable building material, and how can you be sure you’re choosing the best one?

A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) can be used for balancing the environmental and economic performance of building products. LCAs calculate the total embodied energy of a product by considering harvesting, manufacturing, distribution and eventual disposal. There are many LCA resources available, a few of which are included here.

  • Perhaps the most well-known LCA system, the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute is attempting to make their software more accessible to builders. They offer free demo software for their Environmental Impact Estimator available on their website.
  • The BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) software, created by National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory can be downloaded for free from here. It is aimed at designers, builders, and product manufacturers and includes actual environmental and economic performance data of many products.
  • The Boustead Model version 5.0, by Boustead Consulting out of the UK, offers a free demonstration disk from here. The program hosts an extensive database of fuels and energy use, raw materials requirements, solid, liquid and gaseous emissions.
  • ECO-it, created by PRé Consultants from the Netherlands, calculates the environmental load of a product and shows which parts of the product contribute most. A demo version can be downloaded from the website or the full software can be purchased for $147.
  • If LCA software is not available, The U.S. Pollution Control Agency has an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide that explains the “green” attributes of certain materials.
  • If you still have questions about sustainable materials, Dovetail Partners offers detailed reports and information about responsible consumption and sustainable materials.

As an added note, when I choose materials, I prefer to use local materials over anything else. Even if FSC-certified wood is available from China, I prefer to use non-FSC wood from Minnesota. How you choose materials is really up to you.

One thing to keep in mind: a recent study estimated that the wood from a log home could build 12 regular stick-frame homes. However, if this log home was built using logs from the local region, the total embodied energy of that home would be less than from those 12 typical stick-frame houses. The log home construction also increases the demand for large diameter wood, which means people will keep growing it in the forests, and stimulates the local economy. I am not advocating either type of construction over the other, but more the understanding that we need both types of housing in order to stimulate diverse forests, and balance housing needs with embodied energy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Art with a Consumption Conscience

Ever wonder if that one plastic bag you throw away really makes a difference? Sometimes the numbers we hear don't really mean much. But what if you could see them?

Artist Chris Jordan reflects on human consumption with his new exhibit, Running the Numbers: an American Self Portrait.

You really must see these images to believe them. Make sure you scroll down to the plastic bags!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NAHB Green Building Guidelines

I have been facing the real possibility that because a LEED®-trained data collector is not in the Greenbush area, LEED certification may not happen. The rater from the cities is still available, but the travel expenses may be too high to justify the certification. I have been looking into other green building programs for the Greenbush area.

One alternative I've been researching is NAHB's green building program.

The National Association of Home Builder's (NAHB) launched its own green building guidelines in 2005. The voluntary Model Green Home Building Guidelines were designed to be used as a template by home builder associations wishing to start their own regional green building program, or as a green guide for the mainstream home builder. According to studies conducted by NAHB, more than half of their members (who build more than 80 percent of homes in the US), will be incorporating green practices into new homes by the end of 2007.

NAHB's green building program encompasses sustainable design elements through the following categories:

  • Lot Preparation and Design
  • Resource Efficiency
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Water Efficiency/Conservation
  • Occupancy Comfort and Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Operation, Maintenance and Education
NAHB's program is not third-party certified, but like LEED it is voluntary and based on a point system. Some builders have stated that NAHB's approach to green building standards has been much more comprehensive and easier to use than LEED. The most important difference to note is that NAHB addresses the embodied energy of building materials through Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), while LEED does not. Also, LEED has demonstrated preference for remaining in the top percentage of "high-performance" buildings, while NAHB's program is targeted to hit the average builder. NAHB has plans to release a national green building program, complete with certification, in early 2008.

Because I'd like the Greenbush program to receive some sort of certification and NAHB does not currently offer certification, I am reviewing Green Globes and other green building programs as well. I am not giving up on LEED yet either, and hopefully a solution will soon arrive. I will keep you posted.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Basics of a Green Home, and the Integrated Design Approach

This is from the National Association of Home Builder's page. I love this image because it still looks like a typical house. Building green doesn't have to be scary. It doesn't mean tentacle tubes poking from walls or living in darkness to save energy. It simply means building a better building.

There are many ways to build green, and it doesn't necessarily entail a full-blown overhaul of your thinking. Start out small, by choosing a few things you'd like to improve, and add things to your next project. It's better to do something than to do nothing.

Just remember that for maximum benefit, starting in the design stage will save costs in the long run. A fully integrated whole-system design approach leads to an efficient, high-quality product and happier customers. Everyone has a learning curve with green, so don't forget the value of these new experiences. Embrace the opportunity to learn from the subcontractors that you will interact with when using a whole system design approach, and enjoy teaching them new things as well.

For more information on the integrated design approach, consult the Whole Building Design Guide.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Finding a Local Energy Rater

Now that LEED® registration is almost complete, it is time to choose an Energy Rater.

The Greenbush project is taking the Energy Star path of the LEED Energy and Atmosphere category. This means the home design will be evaluated for meeting Energy Star requirments, and then will be tweaked to increase the level of energy efficiency beyond Energy Star standards. More points can be achieved by incresing the level of energy efficiency. An energy rater is needed to measure and verify this data. They will sign off on the LEED Energy and Atmosphere credits and send the information to our LEED provider.

Typically the LEED provider can suggest an energy rater to you, and it will most likely be someone that they have had positive experience with (and someone that can do the non-energy data collection too - more about that later). If you are building a LEED Home in a rural area like I am, I would suggest shopping around a little bit. The rates to certify a home as Energy Star differ from rater to rater. You can use anyone as long as they are RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) certified (this is true whether you certify the LEED Home using Energy Star's Guidelines, or LEED's guidelines for Energy). With energy-efficiency increasing in popularity, the number of RESNET certified raters is growing daily. To find a certified RESNET rater close to you, go here.

It is my strong belief that if you can go local, you should. Buying local has less environmental impact and stimulates the local economy. Using a local energy rater also means that value is placed on their services, which promotes sustainability for the entire community by increasing the likelihood that more people will seek energy-efficient practices after word-of-mouth advertising.

By choosing a local rater, there are economic benefits to your project as well. Energy raters in rural communities are typically cheaper than raters found near an urban hub. For example, one energy rater local to the Greenbush project was half as expensive as one based out of the metro area. Most raters charge for transportation and lodging costs as well, which can really add up if you they need to drive 6.5 hours like they would for Greenbush.

The energy rater will perform two site visits to test the home’s energy-efficiency. One is after insulation, just before drywall is installed. The other is just prior to occupancy. The onsite inspections should include the following:

  • a blower door test to test the leakiness of the house,
  • a duct test to test the leakiness of the duct system, and
  • a thermal bypass inspection, which is a visual inspection of common construction areas where heat and cold can escape from a home.*

*information provided by the EPA

Energy rating is just one part of the LEED criteria verification. Other portions of it need to be verified as well. Sometimes, this person will be the same person who is your Energy Rater, if they have the proper training. As the LEED-H program has not been offiically rolled out yet, there may not be someone local to Greenbush to perform the non-energy data collection, and a rater from the metro area may have to be used. I am currently checking with the LEED provider on the options. I will get back to you on that progress as soon as I know!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Understanding Energy Star and LEED®

The Energy and Atmosphere category of LEED® for Homes can be met through two different paths. One path consists of meeting LEED's own specific energy criteria. The other path is to follow Energy Star standards, increasing the level of energy efficiency beyond Energy Star standards to obtain more points.

Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. It was formed in 1992 on a voluntary-basis, and has become a noted standard for energy-efficiency. There are currently more than 750,000 Energy Star rated homes in the US -- 200,000 of which were built in the last year. That number is expected to exceed 2 million by the end of the decade.

New homes built to Energy Star standards are at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC). Your local codes may be more or less stringent depending on where you live. Energy Star homes utilize effective insulation, high performance windows, tight construction practices and ductwork, Energy Star lighting and appliances, and energy-efficient heating/cooling equipment.
Besides having lower energy costs, energy-efficient homes pollute less (16 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are generated from the energy used in houses nationwide).

Homes earn Energy Star certification through
verification of a third-party organization or an individual called an energy rater. There are two verification options. One is called the Performance Path, in which the energy rater uses software to model the home’s energy use, verifying that it meets a target HERS score. This option looks at existing homes or design plans that have already been completed. The other option is the Prescriptive Path. This home is built using a prescribed set of construction specs that meet the program’s requirements.

Concern about energy-efficiency is increasing (obviously), and the Energy Star name is becoming more familiar to the general public.
A study from late 2006 shows that 68% of consumers recognize the Energy Star label and that energy-efficiency is important in the buying process. Some mortgage companies now offer incentives to buyers purchasing energy-efficient homes (such as Energy Star), and there are tax benefits for building an Energy Star home as well.

The Greenbush project will follow the Energy Star route so that the house will be certified as both LEED and Energy Star. I am very excited because it is a great way to provide both Energy Star and LEED education to contractors in the Greenbush area. Rural communities are especially interested in energy efficiency, they just don't always have all of the information!

Click here to find an Energy Star energy rater, builder, or lender in your area. When we get further along in the process, I'll explain more about Energy Star.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Podcasts offered by Energy Star

I like to think that by using an electronic calendar, I'm minimizing my paper use. But according to the EPA, most of us do not realize that even when not being used, these products can consume substantial amounts of energy.

Energy Star is offering podcasts on how the many small gadgets and electronic appliances affect our energy conumption. They are also in written format.

Click here to learn how your little gadgets may be sucking energy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Passing the LEED® AP Test

Taking the LEED® AP test was very grueling. The room was cold, and the noise-muffling headphones sure didn’t muffle any noise. But I shouldn't be complaining. I passed!

Here are a few things about the test to keep in mind:

  • Formulas. Do more than just memorization. Make sure you know how to apply the glazing factor formula to building design and the LEED credit, for example.

  • Credit responsibility. I thought this would be common sense so I didn’t study it much. Make sure to know who signs off on a credit, and remember that it is different for each one.

  • Credit relationships. Understand how changing stormwater management design may affect heat island affect, for example. A lot of questions focus on the integrated systems approach to design.

  • Prerequisites and the different ASHRAE standards. Know these inside and out!

  • The LEED registration process. If you can, try to register a project online before taking the test. It really helps in understanding how the registration process works.

There are many helpful resources for test preparation. Here are a few:

  • Study Groups. Contact members of your local USGBC chapter and form a study group.
  • LEED NC v2.2 Flashcards. These are great, and well worth the $35
  • LEED Bootcamp. An informative blog for anything you need to know for your LEED test (remember to study for the updated version of your test)
  • LEEP AP Candidate Handbook. Very important information about registration, scheduling, exam preparation, test-day procedures, and more

Until now, the USGBC has not required any dues or re-testing to maintain LEED AP status. So the good thing is that I probably will not ever have to take the test again. However, they have mentioned that starting in 2007 this may change, and they are now in the process of developing an accreditation maintenance program for future implementation. Stay tuned for future developments!

UPDATE***Please see here for changes to the LEED-AP exam***

Thursday, May 17, 2007

LEED® Project Registration for the Greenbush project

Registration is the first step for LEED®. Most projects are registered directly through the USGBC’s website. LEED for Homes is still in the pilot phase, so it is registered through a LEED for Homes provider. Providers are chosen by the USGBC to verify that the homes are built to meet LEED standards. They also market LEED to builders, provide rating support, offer LEED training, and supervise LEED qualified inspectors and support staff.

Once a project is registered, the next step is typically for the provider to arrange a meeting with the entire design team to determine how many points the project theoretically qualifies for. The provider then delegates the responsibilities of data collection per credit amongst the team members. The provider collects the data and verifies that it meets LEED criteria. At the end of the project, the provider assembles all credits and supporting data, and submits it to the LEED certification team as one complete package.

Currently there are 12 providers across the US, and the USGBC has plans to expand the provider list after the pilot has closed by approximately 10-15 providers on an annual or semi-annual basis, or as demand dictates. The closest provider to the Greenbush project is in Michigan. Normally at least one visit with the provider is done in person, but due to the Michigan provider's busy schedule, the project's remote location, and the wonders of technology, all communication and data might be able to be transferred electronically*

. Talk about sustainable!

So far the costs for LEED registration are as follows:

  • Registration fee: $150
  • Provider fee: $500
  • Certification fee (paid at end of project): $50

In addition to using a LEED provider, an energy rater is needed for performance/commissioning testing. Additional energy tests can be performed to achieve more LEED points, and rates can vary from region to region. Because Greenbush is located in a remote location, this project may incur extra expenses for travel and lodging. One goal of this project is to facilitate green building for the average person in the area. If the energy rater cost is too high, I will look into alternatives.

*(This is a pilot and a great deal of flexibility has been given. This is not business as usual and will be not be the norm when the program launches completely in a couple of months. LEED expects to add more people to cover a larger portion of the country sometime in the future.)