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LEED house is efficient, healthier

JAMES DULLEY

Q. I am planning to design and build a new house and I want it to be energy efficient. I want to try to make it a LEED house so I get reduced property taxes. What exactly is a LEED house, and is it efficient?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED is a certification procedure developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC – www.usgbc.org) to promote environmentally responsible and sustainable housing. These houses are not only efficient from energy and material standpoints, but they are more healthy to live in.

Building a LEED house will generally cost more than a house of typical building codes. When you consider the energy and water savings and possible tax abatement, a LEED house will quickly pay back its higher initial cost. Contact your local tax authorities to see if a LEED house qualifies for any local tax abatement.

In order to build a LEED house, you or your builder must apply for LEED certification through the USGBC. You must be able to verify the types of materials, equipment and appliances used throughout the new house, and it must be inspected by a certified LEED inspector. There is a fee for the inspections based upon the size of the house.

A house is given LEED points for various criteria. For a house, there are 108 possible points. If a house reaches 30 LEED points, it is a LEED certified house. At 50 points, it is certified “silver.” At 70 points it is “gold” and “platinum” at 90 points.

It is not extremely difficult to build a LEED house. Deltec Homes (www.deltechomes.com), makers of circular panelized houses that a homeowner can build himself, recently earned a platinum certification for a house built in New Orleans. This circular house looks similar to their other standard houses that people typically build. It was built in only about 100 hours.

Energy-efficiency features gain the most LEED points (a maximum of 16). For example, extra insulation earns one point. Installing windows that are 20 percent more efficient than Energy Star (www.energystar.gov) requirements provides two points. A better furnace gets three points.

Many items that gain LEED points seem pretty typical today. Installing compact fluorescent bulbs in 80 percent of the light fixtures gets one point. Using low-VOC paint for less air pollution and healthier indoor air quality earns a point.

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