This entry was written by one of our members and submitted to our blog section. The author's views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Green Home Guide.

 Introduction

   Understanding the LEED for Homes process can be critical in making the decision to pursue certification as a homeowner or bidding a LEED-H project as a contractor/design professional or even as a LEED AP considering managing a project.  There is no shortage of information available on what the LEED for Homes Certification program is or what it can deliver. However, there is little information on the process flow of certifying a home under the LEED for Homes program and even less information on how to manage it.

   The following is provided as an outline to the process used while managing successful LEED-H projects. The goal is to foster an understanding of what is involved and in conclusion a few best practices to make your project a success.

 

LEED for Homes process

Define a Champion: After you have established a construction team (architect, builder), the starting point is to find a LEED for Homes champion. This professional or group of professionals will lead your home construction project through the LEED for Homes certification process. The champion could be your builder, architect, green consultant or Green Rater. They may have extensive experience on LEED for Homes projects or just recently completed a LEED education program. The champion could be you. The key is to establish a leader with regard to managing the LEED process and paperwork necessary for the final certification decision. Design, Construction, and LEED process management should not be conducted independent of each other without adding considerable risk to the success of your project. If you have not yet selected a construction team, add to your selection criteria the ability to take on the position of LEED for Homes champion.

 

Checklist Review:  Ideally, before the design process starts the homeowner and champion should conduct a thorough review of the LEED for Homes checklist and decide the pathway to certification. This pathway will outline the specifications to be incorporated into the design of the home and are chosen based on the homeowner’s priorities (Energy Efficiency, Indoor Air Quality, Sustainable Materials etc).  If the champion is not the architect or builder, consider including them in the checklist review. At this point, the checklist is fluid and can be changed to meet future restrictions or budget changes. However, having a basic understanding of what is to be incorporated into design and ultimately the construction process is crucial.  

This is also the most opportune time to contact a LEED for Homes provider (Green Rater). These companies will conduct a third party review of the entire process from design through construction and ultimately the final certification process. However, they are not merely inspectors. They can provide practical knowledge and guidance for your project. Securing a LEED for Homes Provider early in the process is essential since one of the first action items of the Green Rater will be to review the checklist.

 

Design Phase :  During this phase, the home will take shape on paper or perhaps in a three dimensional model. The champion will work extensively with the architect or design professional to ensure all of the checklist items are converted into plan specifications. The homeowner will work with the architect to collaborate their vision for their new home as is customary with any project. The builder will involve himself with preliminary plans to begin developing construction cost estimates and report any inconsistencies against the budget. It is crucial to know that a specification will be eliminated due to budget concerns during the design phase so that the checklist can be adjusted. Eliminating a specification that is necessary to achieve certification later in the construction phase could place LEED certification at risk. It is best to make the adjustments during the design phase so that the checklist can be adjusted and other specifications can be added to compensate.  Specifications= Points= Certification.

 

Design Charette &Integrated Project Team:  The integrated Project Team is the group of individuals that will design and construct the home. Since many of the design team is already established, the champion and builder should begin creating a list of trades people that will or could be involved in constructing the home. The team should include 3-10 members of the design and construction team. As a point of note, the team must include at least three professionals from the following categories:

  1. Architect or Design Professional
  2. Mechanical or HVAC professional (can provide manuals J&D)
  3. Building science or  performance testing
  4. Green Building or Sustainability specialist
  5. Civil engineer, Landscape Architect, Land Use Planner or Habitat restoration professional

 

The object of the Deisgn Charette is to allow members of the Integrated Project Team the opportunity to make small adjustments to the final plans to accommodate their trade or aspect of design. The 8 hour long charette provides an opportunity to discuss how components of the building work together and what challenges will occur once construction begins. Quite often, green building includes systems and procedures that are not common to the average trades. A successful charette will vet out these issues at a conference table rather than trying to solve problems at the construction site.

A Design Charette produces all of the final notes and changes necessary to develop a final set of construction drawings ready for permitting.

 

Construction Phase:  If the Design phase is successful, the construction phase should not differ dramatically from the construction of a code-built home. However, there are additional inspections by the Green Rater and Energy Star teams to ensure compliance with the design and paperwork is completed that will be necessary for the certification review. The Integrated Project Team will continue to meet regularly to discuss the progress, solve any outstanding issues and solidify scheduling. The champion’s focus is to collect all relevant data sheets and photo documentation necessary for submittal during the Certification Phase. This will include data sheets on materials used and photos of areas that will not be visible at the end of construction. In addition, as the project progresses the champion will collect accountability sheets from trades and design professionals with signatures verifying that the work has been completed in compliance with the construction plans and LEED criteria.

 

Certification:  Once construction is complete and typically during the final punch-list phase, the Green Rater will conduct a thorough final inspection of the home. These inspections include but are not limited to duct leakage, home air leakage, durability checklist, and ventilation verification. Most importantly, the Green Rater will conduct a HERS rating to determine the final energy efficiency rating in accordance with the actual construction of the home. The champion will compile all of the documentation to be submitted for certification and conduct a homeowner operation training session complete with homeowner’s manual.

Once the champion submits final documentation to the Green Rater, it is submitted to the USGBC for a certification audit. In 4-8 weeks, the home receives a final determination of certification.

 

Best Practices

Hire an architect to design the home: The modern era of residential architecture in the new millennium has decidedly not included architects. McMansions litter the inventory of existing homes and the trend towards green away from this design philosophy will require a reintroduction of this professional into the process. If you are building affordable green or your budget does not provide for this expense, shop around; there are many architects that would be willing to discount their services for involvement in a LEED project.

 

Do not skip the Design Charette: It is not a mandatory process step to achieve LEED certification; however, the value of the charette cannot be underestimated. Including trades outside of the design team will create “buy-in” to the project that creates an ownership environment that you cannot replicate in any other way. Many contractors will over-bid a project when there are details involved that they have never seen as a defensive mechanism to protect themselves. They understand the transformation in the current business environment towards green and sustainability and will appreciate you including them in this educational part of the project. This appreciation and understanding translates into a higher level of detail in their work and possibly a sharper pencil on their bid.

 

Choose the rightChampion: The ideal champion is a builder with LEED experience who is skilled at administrative management. The architect is another great secondary choice. However, since the bulk of the champion’s work is managing specifications, their inclusion into the structure and the paperwork that follows…the builder is centrally located throughout the project to manage these aspects of the LEED process.  If the builder is challenged managing his insurance/financial paperwork; however, this may not be a good fit.  If someone meeting the champion criteria is not standing out from the project team, consider asking the Green Rater to take on the role or recommending someone who can.

 

Conclusion

   This article is a response to the questions from clients, subcontractors, and other LEED AP’s who have an understanding of the LEED for Homes Program but no insight into how it is accomplished. While not all of the information is valuable to everyone, it provides a more complete picture of the process flow from the start to end of a LEED-H project. At the risk of indulging in a cliché, there is more than one method to manage a project. However, it should be helpful to understand at least one successful method for the purpose of creating a new or different management philosophy.