Blue is the New Green: Water Conservation in a LEED Home, Part 1 Inside

When we talk utilities, energy tops the list of resources people are looking to save. That electric bill and oil or gas bill crosses the mailbox every month, but water is quarterly in Narragansett and in some towns might only come once per year. If you’re on a well you may not ever think about it. But let me tell you; blue is the new green. Our water supply is not infinite.

The cost of water is expected to increase over 10% per year.   By the year 2025, if present water consumption patterns continue, 2 out of every 3 people on the planet will live in water stressed conditions as reported by the United Nations Environment Program.

We prioritized water as a resource to conserve when building our Narragansett LEED home as much as anything else.

Here’s the list from our home project of how we are conserving water:

1. Toilets – We installed 1.1 over 1.4 or more normal 1.6 gpf high efficiency toilets. That’s a savings of half a gallon of water for every flush. We have four family members and a full time babysitter at home every day.  We host family gatherings at our house and manage to have a revolving door of summer guests. Ashley practically lives with us enough that if I could carry her as a dependent I would.  With an average flush rate of 10,000 flushes per year,  we will save 23,800  gallons of water per year when compared to a 3.5 gallon toilet (pre-1992) or 8,200 gallons compared to a 1.6 gallon toilet?

2. Faucets: Whether in the kitchen or bath, we didn’t discriminate. Every faucet we have is 1.5 gpm. This is the lowest flow faucet you can buy today. All of our faucets meet the EPA WaterSense specification and come from Kohler.

3. Showerheads: Again, all products of Kohler and all meeting the EPA Water Sense requirements, every showerhead, including our outdoor shower are 1.75 gpm. They are engineered for maximum aeration so shower takers (of which I am not a huge fan) gloriously claim they maintain pressure without feeling like you are being sprayed by house or only getting that trickle of water which makes it impossible to get the soap out of your six year old’s tremendously thick hair.

4. Washing Machine: Everyone laughs at me about the fact that we are going for a LEED point for our washing machine but what can I say it saves water. The Whirlpool Duet front loading steam washer saves the most amount of water of any washing machine in its category. It provides more than a dozen settings so you can wash your clothes correcting and the machine figures out how much water you need. Now if only it put them in the dryer. It’s coming, just wait.

5. Dishwasher and Dishdrawers – Some people might accuse us of being wasteful because we have more than one dishwasher, but I completely disagree. Our dishwasher and dishdrawer combination is designed for the job at hand. If you’ve never had them, dishdrawers are amazing additions to your kitchen, easily concealed, compact, efficient and quiet, this is the second time we’ve installed Kitchen Aid dishdrawers in a home project. The beauty of them is how you can use them to conserve energy and water by washing full loads that are small. If I know the kids are only going to be eating at home for the day, then I can load the dishdrawer and not the big dishwasher. Instead of handwashing all our wine glasses after a big dinner party, they all go together in one dishdrawer. The new Whirlpool dishwasher will be our main family sized dishwasher for those cooking at home nights. Big enough to fit the days dishes plus the night’s cookware, and boasting an ENERGY STAR rating, it will handle anything our family throws at it.

This is an overview of what we’ve done inside the house, in my post tomorrow I am going to overview our exterior water conservation plan.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

Project Drywall: Gypsum and Plaster for Sustainable Walls and Ceilings

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

We are currently finishing our plaster portion of the job. We had decided to go with gypsum board because it meets all of our requirements for a sustainable product.

Gypsum forms naturally like salt or limestone and is an abundant mineral. Its paper backing is made from old newspapers, phone books, and cardboard, and it is a zero VOC (volatile organic compounds) product. It is then finished with USG’s Imperial plaster for a hard, durable zero-VOC surface that easily takes paint.

Under Materials & Resources, gypsum board achieves us ½ of a point in the Environmentally Preferable product category for material and possible another ½ point for local production.

Upstairs Hall and Foyer
Upstairs Hall and Foyer

It looks fabulous!

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

Tips for interviewing and Choosing a LEED professional for your project

Finding the right LEED professional for your home project is as important as finding the right babysitter. They need to be hands on, available when you want them, smart, creative, and very, very flexible.

Last week the Providence Journal wrote an article that stated “hundreds” have signed up to take the LEED accreditation test that is scheduled for June 30th. The story reported that 300 applicants have registered at local test centers to take the national LEED AP credentialing exam, with more expected. The LEED exam measures a person’s knowledge of high-performance green building standards – everything from best building practices and site sustainability to energy management and water conservation. We think that every architect, engineer, builder, interior designer should be required to take the test to stay up to date in their field, but does that mean they are any good?

At present, there are 200 LEED-accredited professionals in RI as reported by the ProJo. I find this statistic staggering. When I started our LEED-H application last summer and registered it in October, I found exactly one registered LEED-AP provider in RI. There were a few companies that did work in RI, but not many.

My concern with the LEED-AP bandwagon is that it has to be more than just passing the test. It takes experience, hands on experience in the field with a project to understand what it takes to to build a completed LEED home.

I know this for a FACT; I’ve been building one for 9 months and I learn something new every single day. There are so many variables that will only happen in the field and nothing in a classroom or on p.86 of a referenee book will tell you.

If you are interviewing LEED professionals for your project, there are some really important questions to ask to make sure you are getting what you need from them.

1. Make sure you like them – you need this person and spend a lot of time with them. Make sure you think alike, they get you and represent the same morals and values you do.

 2. Ask them why they got into green building? How long they’ve been there. A lot of these people are former ENERGY STAR raters. There is good and bad with that. ENERGY STAR is a critical element to getting LEED certified but it is not the only element. The wrong rater can end up sidetracking you with information that doesn’t help your bottom-line. Also, I have found that longtime raters are not big fans of geothermal because it uses more electricity despite achieving 100% efficiency in COP and incredibly high SEER rating. Some raters may even say its a cheat step on the E&A performance path. Call it what you want; it’s clean, efficient, safe and independent of the oil and gas utilities. Make sure your rater has the same vision for your project that you do.

3. Ask your LEED AP how many homes they have rated. The more homes they’ve rated the more they know, the more they’ve dealt with local and state level zoning issues and the more time they’ve dealt with the USGBC.  

4. Ask the cost per square foot and size of the homes they have rated. It is a lot easier to get LEED spending $400 sq/ft then spending $125. Bigger homes represent different challenges due to size thresholds with LEED.

5. Ask if they will help you solve problems or if they will merely give you the LEED answers. This is a big one. Whether you are a builder or a homeowner, going through LEED the first time is intimidating, frustrating and utterly time consuming. There are so many variables and having someone say to you “Yes, this is the best path” or “Yes, this will help you” can be incredibly reassuring. Saying “We can’t take a position on that” is infuriating.

6. Ask them if they’ve created new LEED ID points. This is cool if they have. If they say no, ask them what LEED ID points they have helped get. I’m sure one of the answers will be for a high efficiency washing machine (lame, no challenge in this one) but there are lots of cool Innovative Design points and someone who has thought outside the box to make this happen gets props in my book; it also shows they know how to complete an application for a LEED ID point and get reviewed with positive results from the judging council. There are four LEED ID points on the table and it is an opportunity to really show your commitment to green living. We’re trying to create new ground with some of our ID points, trying some really unique stuff with energy management and monitoring and whole-home lighting control.

7. Ask them have they ever rated a home that didn’t  acheive LEED. If they say yes, this is a red flag because the LEED AP is there to help you. You have to ask yourself what didn’t they see in the beginning and why didn’t they talk about it with the homeowner. Going all the way through LEED and then finding out your house doesn’t pass because you didn’t put doors on your fireplace and you aren’t willing too or you decided a walk-in fireplace was your thing would be unfortunate after the time and money invested.

8. Ask them will they review your current architectural plans with you and your architect? And will they do so in conjunction with the preliminary pass of your LEED application? These two items are critical because they can correct any mistakes on your plans before you are in field. For us, one item we could have done was install an insulated concrete foundation as opposed to traditional. It’s an incredibly efficient and cost effective way to increase your homes insulation envelope if you are planning on finishing the basement. It would have been a good option for someone to call out to us up front, not when they were walking through two months later.

9. Ask them what it will cost. No, what it will really cost. Having interviewed LEED APs up and down the eastern seaboard; the pricing variables were significant. The straightforward cost of the application is one thing but with LEED there are numerous third party testing options. Each of these add a layer of cost to your application. You need to know this, you need to know what points you want and need, and you need to know what it will cost to get them. Our contract was $3k, which wasn’t bad, but we will add $1500 for every third party testing we opt to implement.

Depending on your project you may have additional questions but this is a good place to start. I would interview a LEED AP like I would an architect or a builder. The information they are going to share with you and their impact on your home is significant. The right person can make all the difference.

posted by: KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newcaster

Green Building Perspectives: National Lumber Company

national-lumber-logo1Green Life Smart Life is sourcing lumber, as well as exterior and interior building materials, from one of the most environmentally-conscious companies in the field, National Lumber Co. of Mansfield, Mass. You can read about National Lumber’s green initiatives here.

We spoke with Mike McDole, National Lumber’s vice president of sales, to learn what he thinks of our project, as well as green’s overall impact on his company’s business.

What do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project to date? What interested National Lumber about the project?

We are very excited to be a part of it. The project has been moving along at a good pace, especially considering it is being built along the Rhode Island coast during winter.

Kudos to Bob Leonard and Mark Lubic of Merchant Construction for doing such a fine job. Credit also has to go to the homeowners, Kim and Joe. They did a tremendous amount of research and pre-planning prior to putting a shovel in the ground, which paid off once construction started. They had multiple pre-construction meetings with Tom Wickham, our Contractor Outside Salesperson covering South County (R.I.), to choose the various green building products they wanted to use in their project. As a result, the building materials were on the job site when needed, which helped keep the job flowing smoothly.

What really attracted us to this unique project, besides the fact that it is in my neighborhood, is that National Lumber is a huge supporter of green building and environmentally-friendly building practices throughout New England. We are a third-generation family-run business, and we care very much about smart building practices in all of the neighborhoods we service. In addition, Kim and Joe’s passion about building an environmentally-friendly home, and their knowledge of green products, also contributed to our extreme interest in this special project.

Where does National Lumber see green building going in the next five years?

It is estimated that green building products and services currently represent about $40 billion, a figure that is estimated to grow to $140 billion in 2013, with $90 billion of that in products alone. Several factors are contributing to this enormous growth. One, the public wants to be more environmentally-friendly. Two, an unprecedented level of government incentives are available. Three, there have been improvements in sustainable materials.

According to the EPA, buildings account for 39.4 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption, with residential structures accounting for 54.6 percent of that total. Also, building construction and demolition account for approximately 136 million tons per year, which is approximately 60 percent of all non-industrial waste generated in the U.S. Americans want to reduce their energy usage and their waste to protect the environment for not only themselves, but for many generations to come.

How is your company evolving to address green building?

National Lumber has been involved in green building practices for approximately five years now. We were the first lumber company in New England to be able to supply FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified Lumber along with the Chain-of-Custody Certificate, which assures that the lumber comes from a responsibly managed forest. Even now, in February 2009, we are one of only four lumberyards in New England with FSC Certification and Chain-of-Custody Certificate; there are currently no lumberyards in Rhode Island with these credentials.

In addition to the lumber, National Lumber partners up with building materials manufacturers who also are interested in green building.  Such manufacturers are Andersen Windows, Marvin Windows, Boise Engineered Wood Products, Huber (Advantech & Zip System), SBC White Cedar Shingles, Owens-Corning Roof Shingles, kitchen cabinet manufacturers and more.   

What challenges does National Lumber face in the evolution of green building?

The biggest challenge, I think, is “green-washing,” which is what corporations do to make themselves and their products look more environmentally-friendly than they really are. Real standards are needed that must be met before a company can call its products “green,” and right now, no real standards have been accepted by the construction industry.  However, a few strong organizations such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), US Green Building Council, and NAHB’s (National Association of Home Builders) Green Building Program are making a difference.

The second-biggest challenge is the fact that it is slightly more expensive to build green. However, I believe that the more green building there is, the cost spread will be reduced over time.

Do you think green building will ever dominate your business?

I don’t think green building will ever “dominate” our business, but I do believe it will continue to become a larger and larger percentage of our overall sales. I certainly could envision green building becoming 25 to 33 percent of our total lumber sales within the next five to seven years, which would certainly be significant.

Anything else you would like to add about the green building market or the Green Life Smart Life project?

We truly appreciate that Kim and Joe picked National Lumber Company to be their supplier of lumber, along with their exterior and interior building materials, on this unique and exciting project. We are very proud to be a part of it.