Although the construction industry has been dealing with green buildings and sustainable design for quite some time, there is a new entry into this residential market arena: LEED for Homes (LEED-H).

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was enacted in 2000 and has had great success in creative sustainable buildings. Even those not fully participating in the program have taken cues from the criteria and incorporated aspects into their own buildings and projects. The LEED-H version is similar, but is set up for the residential market.

The residential market remains promising. According to James Hackler, LEED for Homes program manager, U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC), there are 2 million housing starts each year. Of that amount, 1.6 million are single-family dwellings.

During the pilot phase, 100 to 400 homes will take part in the newly designed rating system.

Hackler acknowledged that while this is a small sample, it will help look at the overall rating system.

The USGBC is spearheading the program along with various local and regional groups throughout the country. Regional issues play a significant role in helping determine what aspects of LEED are relevant to each area.

The primary goal of the LEED-H program is to create a national consistency and help define “green” building.

Traditionally, green buildings were defined as those that used solar panels and recycled building materials. But, times have changed and there are far more things that can help a building, even a home, become green. Hackler said that one question that inevitably comes up is, “What is green enough?”

As has been the case historically with LEED, things such as landscaping, irrigation systems, water reuse, environmentally preferable products and waste management play key roles in making a home green. But, there are many other items as well.

Energy Star is a large factor in the LEED-H program, and it is mentioned throughout the handbook and associated checklist. Most contractors are already familiar with Energy Star, which will help them understand LEED-H.

Two areas in the LEED-H program should be of interest: the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and energy and atmosphere (EA).

IEQ section

Although IEQ is related to heating, ventilating and air conditioning, many contractors are starting to work in this area because mechanical controls are dependent on electrical systems. Most of these systems require electrical power for operations, which creates room in this section for contractors to become involved.

EA section

This is probably the most relevant section for contractors. Two standout elements include lighting and renewable energy. Lighting is present in all buildings, but some may claim it has a bigger affect on homes because it is functional and aesthetic.

For the purpose of LEED-H, lighting needs energy-efficient fixtures and controls, or an Energy Star advanced lighting package.

Getting started

Even if you do not opt for full certification, you can incorporate parts of the initiative into your own customers projects. This is where contractors can take the opportunity to gain some extra work.

Once the program catches on and garners interest, people will most likely seek out some of the items outlined within the LEED-H program. The best place for contractors to start understanding this new program is to read through the LEED for Homes handbook and associated checklist.

Get out there

Many contractors have already participated in other green building projects for the commercial market, and this is just the latest door to open up. The residential market remains a mainstay for many contractors and LEED-H is one of the newest programs addressing the need for more efficient homes.

Hackler said of LEED-H, “Green has been around the trades and it is exciting to see it shift to the mainstream.”

Being cognizant of the program can give contractors another service to offer to their customers—the chance to make their homes a little more eco-friendly.

Contractors have long dealt with energy efficiency and can offer guidance to those interested in incorporating LEED-H in their homes. One should think of LEED-H as another way to promote what contractors routinely do: making buildings, in this case homes, more efficient.

Mounting energy costs have been hitting wallets across the country, and homeowners are just as concerned as corporations when it comes to budgets. Portions of the LEED-H program help address these issues and offer ideas for ways to help save money. Perhaps this alone may help fuel interest.    EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.