EnergyStar has been a welcome guest in homes since the labeling for energy-efficient appliances was approved by the government in 1992. Another label that might soon become commonplace in residences is LEED.
For years, architects and environmental designers have been creating "green" buildings - schools, libraries and offices - that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria. Now those same innovative design principles are popping up in single-family houses.
The latest trend is residential buildings with LEED certification. LEED, created by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, is a national third-party certification program for environmentally responsible building. Overlook Clipper Mill, a new development of 38 semi-detached houses in Baltimore, boasts the first private homes in Maryland to be LEED-certified.
"This is really the cutting edge of housing," says Overlook resident Robert Kan, a retired surgeon who moved into his new home in April.
"There was nothing else like it," says Lucinda Rouse, who moved from a 6,000-square-foot house in Federal Hill to her new 2,300-square-foot home in Overlook Clipper Mill in June.
The houses, which range in size from 2,300 to 2,600 square feet, provide eco-friendly amenities that include spacious light-filled rooms that are quiet, thanks to an argon layer between the attached walls and windows, tankless hot water heaters, water-saving shower heads and low-odor paints. Outside, there is an award-winning community pool reminiscent of a Roman grotto. And while the energy-efficient houses are in the city, they offer a sense of seclusion thanks to their wooded surroundings.
"It backs up to 765 acres of Frederick Law Olmstead parkland," says Sarah Taylor, sales manager at Overlook Clipper Mill.
This big chunk of protected green space in Druid Hill Park provides back-to-nature peace where owners can walk or bike. Rouse's home is within spitting distance of the woods that make her east-facing deck feel like a green retreat despite the construction going on next door.
"I can walk out my door and go into this incredible park with huge trees," says Rouse, a musician who loves the juxtaposition of nature with urban amenities. "But I can get to the train station in 12 minutes and I'm 13 minutes from the symphony hall."
The easy access to alternative transportation is a high-ranking element in LEED certification. There are four levels of certification - basic, silver, gold and platinum. Each level is achieved by earning a certain number of points in six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. The categories are further broken down into subcategories, each with its own point value.
"There's a LEED for homes checklist," says Kara Strong, senior project manager with Sustainable Design Consulting in Silver Spring. "It will tell you how many points you need to capture in order to get certified. The more points you get, the higher your certification level."
The sustainable site category begins the checklist. This category's stated objective is to reduce the need for cars and sprawl, reuse existing infrastructure and minimize the impact of development on surrounding areas. Yet even before points can be earned in this first category, a project must effectively address the ability to prevent pollution of the site and its surroundings during construction.
Once that prerequisite has been met, a project can go on to earn points for site selection, development density and community connectivity (proximity to basic services such as places of worship, medical care and banks), storm-water management, light pollution reduction and low-heat generating surfaces like roofing and paving that would otherwise jack up the ambient temperature known as "heat island effect."
The Clipper Mill development, occupied by a number of artists and artisans, is also close to shopping, restaurants and other services that fulfill the criteria. Nearly a third of points awarded in this category are related to alternative transportation. The proximity of various commuter options helped Clipper Mill earn its silver certification.
"Clipper Mill is within walking distance to light rail," says Taylor, who notes that it's also conveniently situated beside Interstate 83.
Another category, materials and resources, offers points for using recycled or rapidly renewable materials in fabrics or carpets and woods harvested from sustainable areas. More points can accrue for the reuse of an existing structure, which the Clipper Mill development achieved with condominiums in the historic mill. The energy and atmosphere category sets standards for the energy systems, including heat and refrigeration. The resulting energy-efficiency is a benefit owners can see in their electric bills.
"I just got my first BGE bill and I'm very happy," says Kan. "I use AC from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and we don't compromise on the temperature."
Likewise, Rouse has seen energy benefits.
"I just paid my electric bill," says Rouse. "It was $150 for everything, air conditioning, dryer, which I use a lot, everything. In comparison, I have a friend in a condo downtown whose last bill was $450!"
The indoor environmental quality category seeks to improve the air quality within a home by awarding points for increased ventilation and low-emitting paints, coatings and carpets. In Overlook homes, the attic and wall insulation is formaldehyde-free to help ensure that indoor air quality is high.
This category also includes aesthetics, such as how much daylight the home receives and the views it enjoys. From the back, Rouse's home overlooks a stand of mammoth old trees while the front windows offer views of the leaf-shaded rooftops of the older rowhouses beyond.
While marketing and sales data for LEED homes is in its infancy, LEED commercial buildings have a track record that shows that "green living" has become increasingly important to both corporate and municipal owners, who see worker health and carbon footprint as directly affecting the bottom line.
According to a recent study by CoStar Group, a national real estate information firm, LEED-certified commercial buildings rent for an average of $11 more per square foot than non-LEED buildings, and sell for an average of $171 more per square foot than non-LEED buildings. LEED-certified buildings also average higher occupancy rates.
"The LEED certification is a very definable standard, like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," says Kim Schaefer, principle in Terralogos Eco Architecture in Baltimore. But as it's currently implemented, she does not recommend constructing an individual home for LEED certification, unless it's a high-end property with a large budget.
"It is expensive for an individual home, and the certification process is complicated," says Schaefer, who both designs and consults on commercial and government green building projects. "It's really designed for multiple-unit construction, which makes it more cost-effective. But the principles behind LEED for homes is certainly worth it."
Experts say following LEED guidelines can benefit your family's health, through better indoor air quality, and also your financial health in lower energy bills, which ultimately increases the resale value of your home.
While LEED guidelines may not make sense on an individual basis, using builders and providers familiar with the latest eco-materials and energy-saving fixtures and systems can go a long way toward constructing an energy-efficient home that will be a pleasure to live in, but also be ahead of the curve in the marketplace.
Kan, who moved from Ruxton, says that while resale value was not his first consideration, he is confident the home will hold its value.
"Even in this market, the resale value is going to go up and not down," he says.
Of the 38 homes slated for Overlook Clipper Mill, 13 have been sold and about five are currently occupied by residents.
"My partner loves coming home from work to this house," says Kan. "Walking into the door at night is an antidote to the stresses of the day."
The LEED rating system was established in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit association of building-industry stakeholders such as architects, contractors, materials manufacturers and owners, as well as environmental groups. The LEED criteria are meant to act as a framework for assessing a building's performance in meeting sustainability goals. LEED rating systems are available for new construction, existing buildings, commercial interiors, schools, retail structures and homes. Rating systems are also being created for neighborhood developments and health-care facilities. Certification is generally voluntary.
U.S. Green Building Council, usgbc.org. The Web site has a checklist for LEED homes. It also has a LEED checklist for existing homes for those who want to audit and upgrade their current residence.
Other resources for green building include:
The Green Building Certification Institute, gbci.org/
Green Building Network, www.dnr.state.md.us/ed/mdgbn. This organization was initiated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and is an informal group of architects, builders, contractors, developers, planners, landscape architects, related professionals and citizens.
Terralogos Eco-Architecture, PC, 1635 E. Baltimore St., Baltimore, 21231, 410-276-8519