Monday, May 31, 2010

Location, Location, Location

So Jody thought the last post was a bit of a downer so I thought I would mention the positive outcome of your LEED meeting: we get every single point in the "Location & Linkages" category!

The idea behind this category is to encourage people to build at locations that minimize environmental impact and encourage a healthy lifestyle. If you choose to build your home in a swift fox breeding ground and need to helicopter in your groceries: you won't get any points. Incidentally you can still qualify for LEED; this is the only category with no prerequisites. I am guessing so that mountain top lodges in National Parks can still qualify.

We cleaned up in this category for two reasons:

#1 We're Renovating
- Our land was already developed so we are not consuming environmentally sensitive land: 2 points (LL2.1 - this is the category code for those of you following along at home with your own handy rating guide)
- We aren't causing any Urban Sprawl. We get 2 points for being bordered by existing developments on at least 75% of the property (LL3.2) and 1 point for being a previously developed lot ourselves (LL3.3)
- Infrastructure already exists so they don't need to run more sewers or power lines - 1 point (LL4.1)

#2 Where we bought
We had the luxury of when we were buying the house, we were buying it with the intention of trying to complete a LEED reno. So we were looking for the right kind of location. LEED encourages houses to be placed in locations where you have access to green space and don't need a car for your daily life. Unless you are buying a new place, not much you can control here as part of a reno project.

To see what points you would get just pull up Google Earth and draw a circle that is 800m away from your house. That's essentially the cutoff for what is considered a reasonable walk.

If a park 3/4 of an acre or bigger (think the size of a kid's baeeball diamond) is in your circle that's 1 point (LL6.1)

Now count how many services are in that range. The key here is you can't count more than two of the same type. So if you are by a strip mall consisting of 25 restaurants it only counts for two services. If you have 7 to 10 services that's one point, 11 to 13 is two points and 14 or more is three points (LL5.3)

Our count is:
• 1 movie theatre
• >2 Banks
• 2 Community or civic centres
• 2 Convenience stores
• 2 Daycare centres
• 0 Fire stations
• 0 Fitness centres or gyms
• 1 Laundry or dry cleaner
• 0 Libraries
• 2 Medical or dental offices
• 1 Pharmacy
• 0 Police stations
• 1 Post office
• 2 Places of worship
• >>>2 Restaurants (we are near that strip mall with 25 restaurants)
• 1 School
• 2 Supermarkets
• 2 other neighbourhood-serving retail
• 2 other office buildings or major employment centres

So we finish the count with 25! Comfortably putting us into the 3 point group.

If you have no services in your 800m circle it may not mean the end. You can count the number of times public transit stops within the circle instead. If there are 30, 60 or 125 buses per day than you can get the one, two or three points as well. You count the number of buses at each stop, so one bus stopping at 5 stops in your circle counts as 5 buses.

So just like that we have 10 points. 22% of the way to certification and we haven't even done anything yet!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One Prereq Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Well that didn't take long.....

Every reno project has its stumbling blocks and surprises. We should have expected that trying to do one that meets rigorous international standards might introduce a few more obstacles. Well we hit our first one and it literally weighs a ton and a half.

LEED has 19 prerequisites that you have to meet. You can pick and choose on the points side where you want to focus but the prerequisites are all mandatory. And they cover a wide range of topics: invasive plants, air filtration, heated garage, etc. So far we have met one of the requirements which was to have a a preliminary meeting. Essentially sit down with the LEED rep and discuss our project.

Where we have run into trouble is the one reno specific criteria. In order for a renovation to be considered for LEED you have to open the entire building envelope. Essentially all the insulation and vapour/air barrier needs to be inspected or upgraded. Makes sense because when it really comes down to energy efficiency the insulation is where it is at.

So I understand the requirement but when you have a 4' by 6' fireplace on the inside of a wall and a brick exterior it makes seeing that stretch of wall a pain in the @$$. And its non-negotiable....

So where does that leave us?

Option 1: take down the brick exterior wall... seems like a lot of work or cost

Option 2: take out the fireplace... ditto, although this option would also fix a another headache as a traditional wood fireplace is also a prereq no no. If we keep it we would need a new wood or gas insert. But then how would Santa get in?

Option 3: Expanding foam insulation. Not sure if this would satisfy the kind folks at LEED but as we are only talking about 41", we might be able to drill into the exposed wall studs on both sides and inject a closed cell insulation. This would upgrade the insulation and provide an air/vapour barrier.. but will it fulfill the requirement to "expose" the building envelope? We'll see what LEED says.

Only two weeks in and already stumbling.... this might make for an interesting couple of years.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

LEED: What and Why?

Alright so what is LEED and why are me and my wife spending more time and money on our renovations to have our home "certified"?

In a nutshell: LEED or "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" is a set of international guidelines for green or sustainable buildings. The program looks at 7 key areas:
- Location and Linkages - where is it built and its accessibility
- Sustainable Sites - how green is your yard?
- Water Efficiency - is your home a water hog?
- Energy and Atmosphere - how efficiently does it use energy?
- Material and Resources - use of green products and minimize waste
- Indoor Environmental Quality - minimize indoor pollutants
- Awareness and Education - inform the world

In each category you have to earn a certain amount of points and/or meet a certain number of prerequisites. This means your project needs to be balanced to some degree. You could have a "net zero" solar powered house but if you install a circa 1950s 30L per flush toilet you're outta luck.

The more points you get the higher your classification: "Certified", "Silver", "Gold, or "Platinum". We are planning on Certified with a possible stretch to Silver.

So why bother?
So first off why bother with "green" renos? I think we'll answer that question in detail as we go along but basically it is important to us. If efficiency and reducing your footprint are not your cup of tea then LEED is not for you.

But why bother with LEED? Why not just do green renos and forget the hassle and cost of getting certified? The various LEED websites offer a long laundry list of benefits, for us it came down to a handful of reasons mainly associated with our last reno project. When we were in Winnipeg we completed significant renovations, most with a "eco" flavour: cork floors, recycled paint, extra insulation, etc. but looking back there was a lot we could have done better:

Keeps us Honest
In every renovation, there are trade-offs (cost vs. quality as an example). By certifying the project we need to ensure that none of the trade-offs that we make
compromise on the environmental footprint of our project. And not just on the product but the process.

As an example below is a picture of our Winnipeg basement after the demolition phase.

Now I won't lie. Spending two days with a sledge hammer destroying a place was a lot of fun. At the end the kind folks from 1-800-Got-Junk whisked away our debris and I started building. This time around I have to log construction debris and how much is going to a land fill. So instead of demolition it becomes deconstruction. Wood is salvaged (already used all second material for my work bench) and recycled. Looking back at that picture and thinking how much material went straight to the dump: it pisses me off. Not just from the green side of things but I threw out good quality lumber and went out a probably paid money for a poorer quality product.

Sometimes making the right environmental choices isn't that clear cut. For example I wouldn't have thought that installing a sprinkler system was very eco-friendly. But if you have a traditional lawn a sprinkler system that applies the optimal water at the optimal time will definitely reduce water usage over dragging the sprinkler out on a Sunday afternoon.

Having guidelines to follow and people to support you through the process will help both of us become more knowledgeable about green building.

I can't say whether or not a LEED home is worth more. I am sure there are studies out there that say it is. But when this building changes hands I want the next occupants to know that they have a green home. When we sold our Winnipeg home, the prospective owners may have heard about some of the improvements... do they still remember? Will the next owners know that the insulation was upgraded? I want future owners of this house to know and hopefully care that it meets higher standards.

Being a Leader
I care about the environment and it is not often that I really get to go above and beyond. LEED certification for existing homes is fairly new and so making it a DIY project while you are living in the home is pretty rare. It is nice to feel like you are breaking new ground and I hope others can learn from us.

Welcome to the Blog

Welcome to our blog!

If you have stumbled across this blog, there is a good chance you are interested in home renovations, energy efficiency, or sustainable development. We know we are. (Actually in all honesty, odds are if you are reading this it is because you are friends or family trying to figure out whether or not we are crazy.)

Either way, we have just started knocking out drywall in what will ultimately be an entire Gut - Rehab renovation - to LEED standards - while we live in the house - doing most of the work ourselves - in our spare time. Okay, now I am trying to figure out whether or not we are crazy.

Whether we pull it off or not, the blog will document our attempt and hopefully inspire others or at least help them learn from our mistakes.

Wish us luck!