Green building the hottest trend in custom homebuilding, with LEED certification the ideal

The homebuilding market today is replete with requests for sustainable building and even LEED certification, so much in fact that “green” building is the single hottest trend in the custom and semi-custom home marketplace. Environmental consciousness is indeed on the rise, but it’s more than that, because not only does the “green” home make an environmental statement, it also offers the added advantage of significant energy savings over time without sacrificing any modern conveniences or that “dream” status for a new custom home.

Here at Chase Custom Homes we understand “green” building because we are more than a builder. We are a complete project manager from site acquisition and design, to financing management through construction and occupancy, and we are on the cutting edge of building practices that can help our clients with any level of “green” building they desire.

It seems that everyone is concerned about energy and water-usage savings and other “green” practices and systems in their new home, but not everyone wants to go as far as striving for LEED certification. That’s okay, but the LEED for Homes certification program can act as a great guide to sustainable practices in homebuilding and is a great place to start the discussion.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and it is a program developed in the late 1990s to provide third-party verification that houses, housing communities and even commercial and government buildings meet rigorous standards in sustainable development. The program was launched by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and the certification system was designed through a collaborative process of many stakeholders in the building industry, including architects, landscape architects, builders, developers, and government agencies at the local, state and federal level. The entire program, in just 13 years, has become internationally recognized, and as of last year comprised more than 14,000 projects in the United States and 30 other countries, with more than 1 billion square feet of certified development. Colorado is one of the Top 10 U.S. states for LEED development, with 2.85 square feet of certified space per capita.

While commercial development gets most of the LEED attention, the LEED for Homes part of the process is gaining strength every day. Through the middle of March this year, according to the USGBC, there are 48 homes in Colorado which have achieved some level of LEED certification, with Denver and Boulder locations leading the pack, with 15 and 8 LEED homes, respectively. The remainder are scattered in the Front Range and in many of the state’s leading mountain resort communities.

To attain LEED certification, a homeowner or developer must apply for certification, and then contract with a certified third-party administrator, called a LEED for Homes Provider. The certification process is a 100 point system, with points awarded for a wide variety of practices and factors; with bonus points allowed it is possible to be awarded up to 110 points. A project that achieves 40 to 49 points is “Certified;” 50 to 59 points rates a “Silver” certification; 60 to 79 points a “Gold” certification; and, 80 to 110 points a “Platinum” level of certification.

It would take pages and pages to go through all of the specifics in a homebuilding project that garners points toward LEED certification, and the USGBC has already done that. Interested parties can find all of the specifications on the LEED for Homes website at http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=2135
What is included is a fascinating collection of sustainable practices, methods and factors that go way beyond merely constructing a new home. Of course, there are specifications in building materials, the way they are handled, and points can be awarded for obtaining these materials locally. In addition, the certification process address indoor air quality and can award points on the basis of adhesives used for flooring, for instance, and there are several factors involved in water usage, storage and even heating that can garner points. Moreover, the LEED standards also include the use of Energy Star appliances and systems, and there are points to attain for such things as passive solar use (acclimation of the house on the property, building materials, etc.), and even for landscaping that takes into account water savings in its design and for proper drainage.

Those are but a portion of the obvious things involved in home design and construction that can be calculated to attain LEED certification. But the standards also include such seemingly unrelated things as proximity to public transportation and “walkability” to parks and green belts, as well as such amenities as dining and shopping. The object here is to minimize the need for automobile travel.

The lion’s share of the LEED specifications, however, have to do with energy and resource savings. The USGBC says that a home with LEED certification has the potential to use 20-30% less
energy – and sometimes up to 60% less – than a similar home built to the International Energy Code
Council’s 2006 code. This obviously can translate into significantly lower utility bills throughout the life of the home.

There are other homebuilding certification programs, most notably Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov), but LEED is recognized as the most comprehensive program in the world. Building a home using the LEED process may result in a variety of rebates and financing options, ranging from federal tax credits, mortgage incentives (points buy-downs), and credits from local utilities, however they are all subject to change or expiration at almost any time.

Chase Custom Homes, based in Denver but available for custom homebuilding throughout Colorado, can help any client through a “green” custom homebuilding project at any level. We can help the homeowner simply achieve energy savings, or we can walk with a client through the rigorous certification program to attain LEED Platinum status. In any case, our desire is to build our clients the very finest custom home available anywhere, with an eye toward “green” development and saving all the “green” possible. For more information visit our website at http://denvercustomhomebuilder.com/