We’re building a (green?) house, ed.4: To LEED or not?

NOTE: Updates of this post can be found at EcoMajority, my web-based forum focused on sustainable home building.

If you are going to build a green house, seems like you’d want some sort of gold star for the effort, right? That’s where I was coming from when we started our project. Of course — why not?

LEED, developed by the US Green Building Council, is the gold standard. What started out as a means of encouraging, measuring and verifying commercial building projects, it has since moved into residential construction projects as well. I won’t go into all of the details about LEED, but it’s a checklist-based system that offers guidance, consulting, and how to lessen you building’s impact on the environment and create a healthier home in the long term. You, your architect, your contractor and a LEED consultant work from checklists that guide you to better choices. And then an independent verification and your home becomes certified at whatever level it meets — I believe the levels are silver, gold and platinum.

Bottom line is I wasn’t big on going after gold stars in school, and evidently I haven’t changed much. We didn’t go down this road. Looking at it, LEED accreditation seemed expensive and cumbersome.  There was fees to pay, consultants to hire, and considerable extra time in project management that would be needed by our contractor in order to be in compliance. In the end, it seemed to me and my wife that what was important was our intention. We figured that with every decision along the way, we could look at our options, always ask the sustainability questions about the proposed materials, look at alternatives, and make the best decision we could, all things considered.

At the end of the project, I’m not sure we’ll be able to look back and defintitvely answer the question, “how green is your home?” But who cares? Building a green home is a thousand shades of gray. We’ve learned that, if nothing else. Some people could look at our project and be impressed with the decisions we made and the lengths we’ve gone to. Others could look at it and decide that we didn’t go far enough. (I suppose that’s why there’s a question mark after the “green” in the headline — ultimately this is subjective.)

If we were planning to turn around and sell the house, we might have made a different call so that we could have the LEED tools and certification to help us sell the house. But for us, all that really matters is that we’re satisfied with the decisions we made along the way. And we are.

4 Responses to We’re building a (green?) house, ed.4: To LEED or not?

  1. snughomes says:

    The trouble is, it’s a two edge sword. the certifications are designed to go to experienced professionals so they figure that the more succesful ones are the ones that are more experienced, so they can weed out the less experienced by making it so only the more successful can afford to apply. However, just like you did, many experienced contractors didn’t become successful by shelling out cash, and figure they can teach themselves just like they always did, and leave the organizations out of the picture. The trouble is that it’s really only the smaller contractors that need the extra oomph that the certifications and organizational affiliations privide, but because the price is so high, they can’t afford it.

  2. Lou M. says:

    Stumbled upon your blog via ddb west. Met you once (I’m CD at Brooks Running) on a tour of ddb. We are also in the process of designing a custom home with an architect (http://www.oskaarchitects.com/Projects/1391/Maxon-House) and I really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Thanks for sharing, would love to see final pix of the house…. cheers, lou

    • johnlivengood says:

      Hey Lou — yeah, I remember meeting you. Thank for linking me to your house. Tom Kundig is a hot-shot — can’t wait to see how your house turns out. I need to get pictures up of our house. I’m pretty delinquent on that front. I will soon. Also thanks for the heads up on the guy who is chronicling the building process. Thanks for connecting. — John

  3. Lou M. says:

    There is also a great blog of a guy in Seattle chronicling the entire process of a custom home project. (http://www.ahousebythepark.com/journal/)

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