With the official launch of LEED for Homes in February of 2008, we were already consulting on several custom LEED-H pilot projects. We provide LEED-H “Representative” services through the LEED-H “Provider” in California, Davis Energy Group. The Representative is similar to having a LEED consultant on a LEED-NC project, except there is a strict limitation on the Representative’s time, since they are contracted through the Provider in an effort to keep certification costs down. The Provider is contracted by USGBC to act as the local agent for USGBC, since there is such a large volume of residential projects compared with other LEED programs. The program works fairly well, as long as the architect and contractor are savvy with green building, energy, water and indoor air quality.
Our most successful projects hired us independently to provide additional LEED-H consulting, which eased the burden on the design team and contractor. Some owners and architects initially expect LEED-H fees paid to USGBC to cover the consulting portion, which Davis Energy describes as the “how you do it” scope of work. Fees charged by USGBC, including the Representatives’ time, actually only cover the “did you do it?” scope of work. Davis Energy encourages owners and design teams to hire the Representatives independently, if the design team needs support in meeting prerequisites and credits. The most successful projects either pay someone in-house or hire a LEED consultant to coordinate, update, and administrate the LEED-H process. LEED-H requires numerous documents in addition to the LEED-H checklist, such as the Thermal Bypass Checklist, Accountability Forms, Durability Evaluation, and Rater Checklist. Keeping track of all these documents and preparing them at the appropriate time is challenging and confusing, particularly given the ongoing evolution of the LEED-H program. It is also important to keep in mind that the design team, owner, and contractor are also required to produce supporting documentation for each credit. Many people have the false impression that a LEED consultant prepares everyone’s documentation for them.
The main areas of discussion around LEED for Homes are hard and soft costs, prerequisites and credits. I’ve heard people say that only the top 15% of homes are targeted for LEED-H. This may be due to design team experience, quality of construction, potential added costs, and sheer will of the owner and architect. We had 5 LEED-H Platinum Homes certified last year where the added hard costs were very low; in the range of 2%-5% with a per square foot cost under $250. Those five homes are also net-zero energy homes. We also have the other spectrum of larger “green” custom homes that do not fit into Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” concept; I’ll call them “Case Study Green Homes.” Added costs for LEED on these case study projects may actually be a smaller fraction of the overall costs, since volume and fancy finishes typically outweigh green elements and systems. Our hope is that working together, we can streamline the LEED-H program with the goal of added hard costs under 2% and added soft costs for the entire team under $10,000. It would be interesting to hear what others have to say about added soft costs and program efficiency improvements.
LEED-H Silver house in Palm Springs by Solterra Development
Michael Heacock + Associates is a LEED consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Their work includes schools, commercial, public, institutional and residential projects.
California Academy of Sciences photo: Tom Fox
As a part of the Landscape Architecture firm for the new California Academy of Sciences Building in San Francisco, SWA Group, I wanted to share one of lesser known successes of the 2.5 acre Vegetated/Living Roof. This success is the creation of a native landscape habitat within the Golden Gate Park, located three stories above the ground plane. The Academy’s roof is planted with native plants which separates the native plantings from the non-native plantings of the park below. Since the installation of native species, the roof has begun to naturalize with native insects, bird habitats, and non-planted plants that have migrated to their preferred location on the roof. Researchers have been finding that there are more native insect species on the roof than in the surrounding park below, and that this may be attributed to the use of native plant material on the roof, according to researchers. The roof has created a native refuge that will allow the seven hill topped roof to continue grow and evolve into a native California hillside.
Along with the creation of the native habitat, the roof structure is also collecting water that falls on the roof, including the water irrigation runoff in addition to precipitation. The roof’s water run off is directed to a recharge chamber located under the building that then recharges the aquifers within Golden Gate Park. These aquifers also supply the park with its own irrigation water, which irrigates the entire park including the Academy Building. So rainfall and supplemental irrigation that the roof’s plants cannot use, and would otherwise go into a storm drain, now go into the recharging of the natural aquifers and can be used again to keep the roof alive. The roof acts as a successful and symbiotic living part of its environment that functions as a part of its own healthy habitat by providing animal and plant habitats while also aiding in the site’s hydrological process of aquifer recharge. The roof of this great building is proving truly to be a Living System.
SWA Group Project Team: John Loomis, Laurence Reed, and Zachary Davis
Photography by Tom Fox
Bird's-eye view photo: Tom Fox
Viewing platform on living roof photo: Tom Fox
Living roof detail photo: Tom Fox
On top of living roof, looking at DeYoung Museum photo: Tom Fox
Travis Theobald is an Associate at SWA Group, a world renown landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm.
Editorial Director of Green Architecture Notes , Principal of Feldman Architecture
Launching Thoughts & Happy Earth Day
As an architect who is often on the lookout for information about sustainable design strategies, materials and products, I have been frustrated at how hard it is to find people who have experience they are willing to share. It’s not that people are so protective of what they have learned, quite the contrary. When I have stumbled across somebody who has wrestled with the problem that I am seeking to solve, she is normally quite happy to share the lessons she has painfully learned. But finding these guiding lights takes a lot of work and considerable luck.
Green Architecture Notes sprung from a modest idea: that the explosion of online communities, discussion groups and blogs has placed at our feet some powerful new opportunities for exchange. We are seeking to create a place to post new discoveries when we find them and to ask for guidance of others when we are coming up empty. And because of all the new interest in the green building world, it’s also a place to verify, challenge and debate the claims of new products and strategies.
We have started by asking the architects, engineers, builders and consultants who we know to share key things they’ve learned about green design and to pose challenging questions. We invite others to jump in and join the discussion.
Green Architecture Notes comes, we think, at an appropriate, if difficult, time. As projects get scaled back, put on hold or outright cancelled, we are forced to cut expenses and find new sources of work. With these challenges come some unique opportunities.
We suddenly have more time to establish better ways of working, research products and materials, improve our workflow and project delivery strategies, and tighten or reinvent our detailing. We also can tap into the expertise other professionals who might previously have been too busy to help us work on these important areas. The excesses of recent times have caused many to question the wasteful and unsustainable ways of our construction industry and to replace them with more thoughtful and restrained efforts. It’s clear that the new economy is pushing sustainable design to the center of the profession architecture. Our hope is that Green Architecture Notes will facilitate better and more efficient green design by connecting professionals and helping practitioners avoid repeating costly mistakes.
Here are some images from recent and current Feldman Architecture projects showing green design components. I look forward to exploring these and other topics in the near future.
Approach to house
Photovoltaic integrated solar skylights
Photovoltaic integrated solar skylights
Rammed earth walls and concrete floor provide thermal mass for passive heating and cooling
Rammed earth site wall
Thin film solar mounted on metal roof
House on site
Jonathan Feldman practices architecture out of a small, award-winning, design studio in San Francisco where he focuses on residential and modest-scale commercial projects. Recognized for creating warm, light-filled spaces that are site sensitive and carefully detailed, Feldman Architecture is committed to incorporating sustainable technologies and minimizing environmental impact.
Feldman Architecture projects have been recognized with a number of prominent green design awards, including the San Francisco American Institute of Architect’s Honor Award for Energy and Sustainability, the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ award of excellence, California Home + Design’s Eco-Friendly Design Award, and have been featured on green and solar home tours. Feldman Architecture currently has its first two projects with the USGBC LEED for Homes program and both are on their way to platinum certifications, it’s highest rating. More about Feldman Architecture can be found here.