Green rating hell.

I spoke about this in a previous post regarding the high performance home.  I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with the possible rating systems.  And I am beginning to wonder if it is worth spending my heard earned money to meet what appear to be rather arbitrary standards.  And the overall process seems to be painstaking in its detail and appears to be straightforward, but inflexible in the execution.

what rating system is right for me?

what rating system is right for me?

Here’s some observations of a few of the green ratings:

LEED – probably the most comprehensive scoring system for both energy efficiency, quality of life issues and social responsibility.  Between the HERS index and other points for things like solar panels, they have this area pretty well covered.  Testing is required, too, so that’s good.  Guidance for issues like water conservation, VOCs, avoiding indoor air contaminants gives this a good “healthy home” foundation.  And lastly – points for things like using infill lots and access to public transportation, and even points for an electric car charger add the social responsibility aspect into the mix.  Of course with us building a pretty large house on 15 acres, in the country and driving a variety of non-earth friendly vehicles – we’re not racking up the points in those areas.. That being said – while you have to meet prerequisites, you can get your LEED certification by focusing on the areas that are the most meaningful to you.  I wish it was as generally recognized as some other programs.  It also seems to be the popular “architect’s choice” and is much more popular in commercial building.

National Green Building Standard (ICC 700) touted by the home building professional association as the only standard certified by ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) seems to be a way for the building industry to capitalize on the green bandwagon.  My scientific observation that any home that can be certified to a “bronze” level isn’t that green.  But – I downloaded the spring template and it’s A LOT like LEED.  Everything from site location, solar preparedness, formaldehyde free cabinets and no VOC finishes matches nicely.   So while Bronze appears to be an easy deal (you can get Bronze by being Energy Star in their HVAC section) if you did get to Emerald – there’s at least a bunch of paperwork that needs to be submitted.  My guess is that this is the preferred certification of the more production builder.

Passive House, or – for the more Euro flair – PassivHaus….  Besides trying unsuccesfully to navigate and understand the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS)  and the Passive House Alliance US (PHAUS) differences, so far it’s been painful.  Requiring a consultant to pre-approve or at least “pre-score” your project, then to put this project / register it with the proper organization, and also to hire a rater (usually the LEED raters are cross certified – and the stuff they are checking is about 80% overlapped, so it’s not that big of a deal) it’s costly.  We started considering Passive House late – mostly because it looked like we were headed towards building something that would meet it – so perhaps the next comment isn’t fair – but we’d hoped that we’d have enough feedback from the initial certification assessment that we could make building decisions (cost benefit, etc) based on the calculations.  We’d also hoped that we’d be able to take that info and perhaps help our HVAC contractor best design a system that will perform and keep us comfortable.  So far – that’s not happening.  And with the cost, if we can’t offset some of that by either savings from not having to hire engineers or other experts in the HVAC field, or perhaps being able to reduce some insulation or switch from using geothermal to going solar and   generating more electricity – then it’s going to be hard to justify continuing.  It also seems that many just say “built to the Passive House” standard – and don’t go for the full certification – and I wonder if the cumbersome nature of the process isn’t driving that…

Maybe it’s just a brag anyway, since there’s no marketing “value” for us – but I am still searching for the perfect “green” rating…

LEED for Homes 4, Passive House, Energy Star, DOE Challenge Home, and and and…

There seems to be a decent amount of alphabet soup or certification “choice” when it comes to energy efficiency and measuring your “green-ness” – but realistically, what does it mean and what is it worth?  We’ve already established that the mortgage industry and the appraisal system doesn’t give it a hoot, and since we’re not a builder – what the heck does any of this stuff MEAN to us?  Overall, nothing.  Well, that’s not entirely true – it should result in lower operating costs and a “better” home.  But at what cost?  What’s the payback calculation?  There’s no way in Hades that we’ll ever pay for our uber windows in energy savings with anything close to the current rates for power in the US. So why do it?

Maybe we’re looking at this wrong.  It’s not about the certifications, (although we believe they DO have value for both builders and suppliers of the materials for the project) it’s about building the High Performance Home.  THAT’S my new personal certification – HPH.  Everyone else seems to have a certification program – why not me?  HPH fits a theme here – we have high performance “stuff”.  My daily driver car is a 469 HP station wagon.  It’s not the highest HP car out there – but in it’s class, it’s top of the heap.   Henry drives a Dodge Cummins diesel dually pickup.  All the wheels and all the torque – a high performance towing machine.  We have a little vice in that we drive Dodge / SRT Vipers.  Very high performance American muscle.  This level of high performance may not be necessary, but it’s pretty cool when you can achieve it.  And ultimately, that’s what we want for our house: quite simply, a house that performs to the level of the rest of our lives.

But- since HPH is not a globally recognized certification (yet), what are our options?

LEED can be regarded as being a little prescriptive  and judgmental (after all – what the hell would we do with an electric car charging station? Unless I get a Tesla) and there’s a lot of focus on stuff we can’t control – we’re not an infill lot and our “walkability” score is pretty low.  But then DOES cover things like Indoor Air Quality which we believe to be a real benefit to living better.  LEED incorporates this measure, and also Energy Star into its rating system, so you are getting a little more bang for your buck here.  And maybe feeling that you are looking at your home’ performance from a multifaceted approach, and building a High Performance Home.

But then you look at Passive House – I call this the Engineer’s certification.  It’s VERY much performance based and focused on energy usage, and not wasting energy.  This certification becomes very much a numbers game.   Without being all that smart on Passive House – it’s close to saying that your energy usage is about 10% of something “normal” for your home’s size and location.  It also says that you take advantage of passive means to heat (and cool or avoid heat) the home – so using solar warming of a slab concrete floor, for example.  In this regard, Passive House is right up our alley.  They are VERY interested in building envelope performance- with requirements for multipoint blower door tests and other more stringent qualifications.  The other good news is that Passive House seems to be “flexible” in how you meet the requirements – and for an out of the box project like this – that’s GOOD news.  So – this very much works with the High Performance Home theme.  Passive House also incorporates the Department of Energy’s Challenge Home criteria – so again – more recognized certs as part of a higher level program.

With this in mind, we’re going to see if we can meet Passive House without any major design or building plan changes, as it’s highly regarded as a standard for PERFORMANCE.  Once we know if we can pre-certify – we’ll show you the numbers and talk about it more and see if it really makes sense to got for the full certification process or just “built to the Passive House standard” that often gets used instead.  In the meantime – let’s hope we can nail a high performance BUDGET…

If all goes well, we’ll be able to move to submit for our building permit this week – another milestone we need to make.  Onward!

P.S.  What do you think of the new rendering???