Caterpillar House by Feldman Architecture earned LEED Platinum certification in the LEED for Homes program in 2011. Photo by Joe Fletcher.

At Feldman Architecture, we have been fortunate to have clients coming the project kick-off meeting with a list of ‘green goals’ in mind. Today, with so much being published about sustainable design, the ideas that green design can be beautifully integrated into a project and promote technologies that help rather than harm the environment are widely disseminated.

One of the champions in the promotion of green design has been the United States Green Building Council, USGBC, with its well-known LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, program. Buildings which have earned the LEED designation are known to have met and exceeded the standards of the local, state and federal requirements for green design. Here in California, our Title 24 and local requirements, some of which even require that projects meet the Green Point Rating system administered by BuildItGreen, tend to be quite progressive in terms of protecting the environment, but LEED tends to push the green building practice steps further.

As jurisdictions get more and more attuned to green building, a common question from clients is, “Why should I complete LEED certification?” There are many tangible benefits in pursuing LEED certification, including but not limited to bringing a thorough process to evaluating and pushing a green design agenda. Back in 2008, the USGBC began the LEED for Homes program and we began our first quest for certification on the Caterpillar house. The client for the Caterpillar house wanted to create something of a case study of green building and pursuing LEED, eventually leading to LEED Platinum certification, made sense as we were held to LEED’s intense standards. LEED certification does come at a cost, requiring additional services by the architect and general contractor in terms of paperwork, research, calculations, etc., which means we wouldn’t suggest pursuing LEED if the clients aren’t committed to issues of sustainability. On the downside, the considerable paperwork, extra research, and additional coordination of consultants must all be factored into the decision to pursue LEED.

As the USGBC has been a marketing juggernaut in green building, I took a look at the LEED for Homes Overview on their website and generally agree with all of the main points of ‘Why LEED for Homes.’ These include savings in energy, water and therefore money; providing “a healthy environment for families;” increasing the value of the home; and providing a “performance test and green measures which are third party verified.” As the architect on a LEED project, we are forced to take a wider and more thorough look at different areas of sustainable design. We are also held to follow-through with our early project commitments to green design and to help keep our clients, vendors and builders committed. Also, with the Caterpillar house, we received considerable good will from building departments, home-owners associations, and from the press because of our project was the first LEED Platinum project in the area.

Caterpillar House great room by Feldman Architecture. Photo by Joe Fletcher.

From the homeowner’s perspective, a LEED certified project is one where all the materials, products and environmental strategies were a little more carefully considered, specified, installed, calibrated and tested. On any LEED project, the general contractor’s role is essential as they are responsible for a fair amount of documentation. This can be very difficult for a small contractor without much front office support. And, obviously, the more the builder is familiar with sustainable products and building techniques the easier the process is for everyone.

There’s a bit of a steep learning curve for LEED checklists, so the more architects and builders go through the process the easier it becomes. I also think that the more architects and builders share what they learn with each other, and the more we embrace the different certification programs, the easier it will be for all of us. There are those who don’t want to share what they’ve learned with those they view as their competition. I find this amazing. If we are truly concerned with making a dent in curbing the devastating effects of the building industry, then we really should be doing everything we can to help every building project move as much as possible towards sustainability. And if we are not really committed to this goal, then participating in the LEED certification process probably doesn’t make much sense to begin with!