LEED AND PRAXIS
In our collective human DNA is that relentless desire and need for shelter that is accessible, comfortable, safe and readily at hand. With 7.5 billion of us on the prowl for suitable housing, the resources required to create living space puts considerable strain on the planet we all live on.
Early man took shelter wherever and however it was available, such as a cave. Today, we take what we can afford, sometimes at great distances from family, work, school, transportation, water or food. Greater comforts we enjoy today comes with a climate-change price tag that threatens the very survival of the planet that we all call home.
Danger from pre-historic predators is exchanged for hazards from the present-day building materials whose bite is insensible but perhaps no less lethal. And the demand for shelter outstrips supply as a matter of economic course.
Into this seeming return to a primitive world of no happy choices and equally-injurious trade-offs steps the ideals and practices of green building, many of which are embodied in the standards of LEED.
The challenge we face is to invent construction that is, at the very least, environmentally neutral, if not environmentally positive. Present-day building techniques at best harm the planet only modestly less than housing built twenty years ago. It is the start of a very long road of green discovery and implementation with many miles yet to go.
But design and construction firms like PRAXIS have not waited for journey’s end, but rather saddled up early on with the ideals of green building as embodied in the LEED standards.
Beginning in 2005. the PRAXIS-designed A1 building of the Artyard project located in the Santa Fe Railyard would have been the first building in New Mexico, commercial or residential, to attain a Platinum certification. Platinum recognizes and awards the highest achievement in environmentally-friendly construction and design. (This distinction failed to materialize because of the economic downturn in 2007, delaying completion of this project.)
In 2011, PRAXIS designed and built another project that did win a LEED Platinum award. The Rothstein/Meckler Residence LEED Platinum was followed three years later with another Platinum certification in 2014 for the Summers/Render home.
A scoresheet details the green features of each project that earned points towards their Platinum certifications. It sums up what makes a house a LEED Platinum home.
WHAT IS LEED?
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, provides the construction industry and the public with a definition of green building design and a means to measure green construction techniques and their effectiveness. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is the organization responsible for authoring the LEED standards and administering their application.
As part of this program, the USGBC has created a rating system to promote sustainable building practices. There are four levels of certification (from highest to lowest): Platinum, Gold, Silver and a basic certification.
A house can be energy efficient and Earth-friendly without officially being designated a LEED home. But a home cannot be certified LEED unless it is green through and through.
WHAT LEED OFFERS YOU, THE HOMEOWNER
LEED-certified design and construction offers the public numerous advantages which can be categorized as savings, value, and well-being.
Savings: It is difficult to quantify the monetary benefits of LEED construction, as the LEED standards are designed primarily as an environmental tool, not a money-saving one. (A LEED certified home with a large solar panel array will generate more savings than a LEED home with a composting toilet installed, although both measures are highly-regarded LEED measures.)
However, some numbers. The average New Mexico household spends about $1,500 a year on residential energy bills, not including gasoline, according to one study based on Federal government statistics. LEED certified homes are built to substantially reduce annual energy expenditures by applying construction techniques that increase energy efficiency and minimize air leakage.
For instance, the following is the average energy savings a homeowner can expect within each level of certification:
Using these numbers, an average-sized LEED Platinum home can return as much as $18,000 in energy savings over a 20-year period. For those owning larger than average-sized homes, the savings can be even more. And a structure remains part of the civic fabric for decades, if not for a century or more, paying benefits far beyond our lifetimes.
Energy efficiency becomes even more attractive should the current era of relatively cheap energy come to an end. If the cost of energy significantly outpaces inflation as the years go by, an energy efficient home will become an ever smarter investment and an extraordinarily attractive asset.
As for water consumption, LEED-driven water savings can also make a significant dent in monthly utility fees. Santa Fe water users pay the second highest water rates in the western United States, according to one study. The era of scarce water is already at hand, so water-efficiency is a favor not only to our watershed but to your pocketbook as well.
Value: Green homes typically sell at a higher premium than non-certified homes. In one study, more than 50% of consumers ranked green features as a top consideration when looking for a home. This often means green homes spend less time on the market and enjoy a higher resale value.
Well-being: Residents of LEED-certified homes enjoy interior air quality superior compared to occupants of homes designed with little or no attention paid to green construction. Green homes take into consideration toxic outgassing of building materials and implement measures to limit the use of such materials. Additionally, ventilation issues are addressed up front to ensure quality of life inside the home is up to current standards.
In addition, the LEED homeowner enjoys the satisfaction of knowing their house is designed to minimize stress on the environment. LEED standards dictate durable construction techniques to reduce the waste caused by building materials that deteriorate prematurely.
The neighbors of a LEED structure enjoy these benefits as well, as do all of us living on planet Earth. Santa Fe City and County authorities are now requiring minimum green building standards for construction, metrics that most assuredly will become more stringent as the years pass. Your LEED home will be situated well ahead of the curve of rising standards in years to come.
WHAT MAKES A HOUSE A LEED-CERTIFIED HOME
Two PRAXIS projects have applied for, and received, LEED Platinum certification. The first, the Rothstein/Meckler Residence, received this distinction in 2011. The other, the Summers/Render Residence, won its Platinum designation in 2014.
Each of these custom homes won points for green characteristics that, when tabulated, determined its level of certification. Behind the numbers are real Earth-friendly design elements and construction techniques that set these homes apart from non-LEED homes. The owners of these homes derive tangible and financial benefits, as does the surrounding community and the planet we all inhabit.
NOTE: Items scored as prerequisites in the table below are qualities inherent in the home which award no points, but permit subsequent points to be earned.