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.)