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YOUR GUIDE TO BUILDING AN ENERGY EFFICIENT HOME
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Green / eco-friendly homes
The New Trophy Home,
Small and Ecological
June 22, 2008
The New York Times
By FELICITY BARRINGER
For the high-profile crowd that turned out to celebrate a new
home in Venice, Calif., the attraction wasn’t just the company and the
architectural detail. The house boasted the builders’ equivalent of a three-star
Michelin rating: a LEED platinum certificate.
The actors John Cusack and Pierce Brosnan, with his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, a
journalist, came last fall to see a house that the builders promised would “emit
no harmful gases into the atmosphere,” “produce its own energy” and incorporate
recycled materials, from concrete to countertops.
Behind the scenes were Tom Schey, a homebuilder in Santa Monica, and his
business partner, Kelly Meyer, an environmentalist whose husband, Ron, is the
president of Universal Studios. Ms. Meyer said their goal was to show that
something energy-conscious “doesn’t have to look as if you got it off the bottom
shelf of a health-food store.”
“It doesn’t have to smell like hemp,” she said.
That was probably a good thing. The four-bedroom house was for sale, with a $2.8
million asking price.
Its rating was built into that price. LEED — an acronym for Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design, is the hot designer label, and platinum is the badge
of honor — the top classification given by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“There’s kind of a green pride, like driving a Prius,” said Brenden McEneaney, a
green building adviser to the city of Santa Monica, adding, “It’s spreading all
over the place.”
Devised eight years ago for the commercial arena, the ratings now cover many
things, including schools and retail interiors. But homes are the new frontier.
While other ratings are widely recognized, like the federal Energy Star for
appliances, the LEED brand stands apart because of its four-level rankings —
certified, silver, gold and platinum — and third-party verification. So far this
year, 10,250 new home projects have registered for the council’s consideration,
compared with 3,100 in 2006, the first year of the pilot home-rating system.
Custom-built homes dominate the first batch of certified dwellings. Today,
dinner-party bragging rights are likely to include: “Let me tell you about my
tankless hot water heater.” Or “what’s the R value of your insulation?”
But if a platinum ranking is a Prada label for some, for others, it is a prickly
hair shirt. Try asking buyers used to conspicuous consumption (a
12,000-square-foot house) to embrace conspicuous nonconsumption (say, 2,400
square feet for a small family). Or to earn points by recycling and weighing all
their construction debris (be warned: a bathroom scale probably won’t cut it).
The imperatives of comfort and eco-friendliness are not always in sync.
For instance, the Brosnans, environmental advocates who admired Ms. Meyer’s
house, are now building a home of their own and “really want to do it green,”
said David Hertz, their architect. Mr. Brosnan may adopt many environmentally
sound building techniques, but he “is not going to live in a 2,400-square-foot
home,” the architect said.
Mr. Hertz’s complaint goes beyond size. He says the rating system is rigid and
cumbersome, something that has been heard across the country as green building
slowly ceases to be a do-gooder’s hobby. The ratings are now woven into building
codes in Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas. The federal government and many states
and cities use LEED standards or the equivalent for their own buildings. The
system is based on points earned for a variety of eco-friendly practices;
builders choose among them, balancing the goals of cost control, design and high
Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia, not to mention Chicago, Cincinnati and Bar
Harbor, Me., give tax incentives or other concessions, like expedited permitting
or utility hookups, for construction that is up to the nonprofit council’s
And “LEED-accredited professional” is a new occupational status.
Worries about climate change and rising energy costs are part of the equation:
roughly 21 percent of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions come from homes;
nearly 40 percent come from residential and commercial structures combined. As
energy prices rise, the long-range economic value and short-range social cachet
of green building are converging.
More than 1,500 commercial buildings and 684 homes have been certified but just
48 homes have received the platinum ranking, among them a four-bedroom home in
Freeport, Me., as well as homes in Minneapolis; Callaway, Fla.; Dexter, Mich.;
and Paterson, N.J. The checklist for certification can be more daunting than a
private-school application, which prompts many to abandon the quest. Mr. Schey
is not seeking LEED certification on his next home (though the project’s
architect, Melinda Gray, is seeking it for hers).
Randy Udall, a builder in Colorado who wrote a piece critical of the process
after building two accredited ski resort additions, said, “You’re happy when
you’re released from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Abu Ghraib,” though he
added, “You typically end up with a delightful building.”
One requirement for getting a home certified is hiring an on-site inspector
approved by the council to test the new systems and help fill out the huge
amount of paperwork, which is reviewed by the nonprofit council. The
organization charges from $400 for a home to $22,500 for the largest buildings
to register and certify costs.
Joel McKellar, a researcher with LS3P Associates, an architecture firm in
Charleston, S.C., said that to earn credit for adequate natural light, “you have
to calculate the area of the room, the area of the windows, how much visible
transmittance of light there is.”
Michael Lehrer, who designed the platinum-rated Water + Life Museum complex in
Hemet, outside Los Angeles, said, “They have mundane things in there that are
pretty nonsensical and others things that are pretty profound.” He added, “At a
time when everybody and their sister and brother are saying ‘We are green,’ it’s
very important that these things be vetted in a credible way.”
To cope with the growing appetite for accreditation, the council this spring
asked other agencies to help make LEED certifications. A new code, which
addresses some of the criticisms, is at
Is LEED a useful selling tool? Offered with great fanfare last fall on eBay for
$2.8 million, the Meyer/Schey home in Venice, which can be seen on their Web
site, www.Project7ten.com got no bids at the time; it recently found a potential
buyer, for $2.5 million.
But Maria Chao, an architect in Amherst, Mass., said her new home’s
certification rating had meant instant recognition. “This is a small town,” Ms.
Chao said. “When I mention I live in the house on Snell St., people say, ‘Oh,
the green home.’ ”
Frances Anderton, a KCRW radio host and Los Angeles editor of Dwell magazine,
longs for the day when LEED recognition is irrelevant. “Architects should be
offering a green building service,” Ms. Anderton said, “without needing a badge
The New Trophy Home,
Small and Ecological,
The green house effect:
Eco-houses get closer
The home of the future
will be kind to the environment.
week ministers laid the foundations
Published: 25 May 2007
By Michael McCarthy,
The Eco-House, the one which doesn't damage the planet with
its profligate energy use, has just got closer.
Not as imminent as it needs to be. But after three big sets of government
proposals in the space of four days, the road to the energy-saving home which is
sustainable as well as comfortable is certainly clearer than it was.
White Papers on planning and energy (plus a new strategy for waste disposal)
have this week all set out ways of making Britain's housing stock much more
Not before time. Although most of the attention in the fight against climate
change is focused on greenhouse gas emissions from power stations, motor
vehicles and aircraft, emissions from buildings are hugely significant - as the
Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, is constantly keen to
Just look at the figures. Britain's emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal
gas causing global warming, were 152 million tonnes (expressed as millions of
tonnes of carbon, mtC) in 2004, and of this, emissions from the domestic
building stock were 41.7mtC - no less than 27 per cent of the total.
Most of that energy goes on heating water and heating space. (For the record, 53
per cent goes on space heating, 20 per cent on water heating, 16 per cent to
power appliances such as computers and televisions, 6 per cent on lighting and 5
per cent on cooking.)
But much of that can be cut right back - as of course it will have to be if the
Government is to meet its climate change target of slashing UK carbon emissions
by 60 per cent by 2050.
It can be done in two ways - by energy-saving measures in the home, and also by
decentralising the electricity supply system so that power is generated locally,
on a small scale, rather than at a huge power station far away, which wastes
much of the energy it produces in transmission. In some places this has produced
astonishing results: Woking in Surrey reduced its carbon emissions by 77.4 per
cent between 1992 and 2004.
Local generation may take place in a miniature power station serving a small
community, but taken to its logical conclusion, you can do it in your own home,
with solar panels on your roof or even a mini-wind turbine à la David Cameron.
This is known as "microgeneration".
On Monday, the Planning White Paper published by the Department of Communities
and Local Government set out to make microgeneration easier. That didn't make
the headlines - they were concerned with the easier ride that was going to be
given in future to large infrastructure projects such as airports, motorways and
But published with the main document was a 52-page consultation paper entitled
"Permitted Development Rights for Householder Microgeneration". In essence, it
spelt out a future where no clipboard-carrying council official is going to
glance at the turbine on your roof, shake his head, and mutter, "That'll have to
At present, there are substantial bureaucratic obstacles to domestic solar
energy, wind power and other technologies such as ground source heat pumps,
biomass burning and combined heat and power - they need planning permission. The
consultation proposes that (within limits) they should be "permitted
developments" for which official sanction does not need to be sought.
The reason is clear. A recent study, the paper reports, "suggested that 30 to 40
per cent of the United Kingdom's electricity demands could be met through the
use of these technologies by 2050".
But home-generated wind power and the rest represent only half of the story.
Energy-saving measures such as insulation are just as important in reducing
carbon, if not more important, than "gadgets on the roof".
In the Energy White Paper, published on Wednesday by the Department of Trade and
Industry, where, again, the big story was elsewhere - this time all about
nuclear power - the Government proposed measures to give energy-saving a
substantial boost. The principal one was to alter the role of the energy
companies. In future, their job will be not just to sell units of electricity -
it will be to sell energy services, and that means selling energy-saving
measures such as cavity wall insulation.
Other proposals included supplying new real-time visual display meters, so you
can see how much electricity you are using at any given moment; and talks with
the electronics industry on reducing the time spent on standby by the
proliferating number of household electrical appliances, the computers, TVs, DVD
players and the rest. (Their standby time accounts for about 7 per cent of all
the electricity used in UK homes.)
Finally, yesterday the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
published another hefty document, the new Waste Strategy for England. This too
helps bring the Eco-House nearer, not just with its extensive proposals for
recycling, but with the specific proposition that food waste should in future be
collected separately, every week - and turned into fuel or compost. Organic
waste such as food adds to climate change - because it produces methane as it
rots, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
None of these proposals will bring about the green home overnight. They do,
however, point in the right direction.
The green house
effect: Eco-houses get closer,
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