ECOBROWNSTONE: The Art of Brownstone Greenovation -
Navigating Green Building Guidelines Part I: LEED® for Homes Guidelines
Noreen Adler
Founder and President, Ecobrownstone

Noreen is Founder and President of Ecobrownstone.  She has been a resident of brownstone Brooklyn (Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens) for over two decades and has planned, designed and managed a wide range of renovation and real estate development projects in Brooklyn and elsewhere. As a developer she is a member of the NYC Committee evaluating the LEED for Homes Guidelines for application in New York.  She also has a personal passion for sculptural relief ceramic tiles and murals which she has designed and fabricated at her studio on the Gowanus Canal. 

By Noreen Adler
Published on 02/20/2008
"Green" building is becoming mainstream. Faced with escalating energy costs, increased awareness of the depletion of our natural resources, and the ill-effects of poor indoor air quality, a movement is growing among building industry professionals and homeowners to approach residential construction with a primary view toward energy conservation, alternative energy generation, and the employment of sustainable, non-toxic materials. This is the first Article of a multi-Article series summarizing the various quidelines currently in the marketplace and analyzing how they can be applied in the context of the renovation of a brownstone or other urban townhouse. 

A LEED for Homes Guidelines Primer - the Lay Person’s Guide

"Green" building is becoming mainstream. Faced with escalating energy costs, increased awareness of the depletion of our natural resources, and the ill-effects of poor indoor air quality, a movement is growing among building industry professionals and homeowners to approach residential construction with a primary view toward energy conservation, alternative energy generation, and the employment of sustainable, non-toxic materials. Within the last four months two major national organizations – the US Green Building Council and the National Association of Home Builders - have formally issued green building guidelines for residential construction that address not only energy efficiency but also a myriad of other green building concerns including water conservation, sustainable products and indoor air quality.

In order to provide guidance through the infant and developing green building industry in the mid-1990s, the U S Green Building Council (“USGBC”), a non-profit organization committed to expanding sustainable building practices, took on the task over a decade ago of creating industry guidelines for “green” building. Dubbed “LEED®”, which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”, the USGBC promulgated its first set of standards, for commercial building, in 1998. Since then it has expanded to various specific sectors of the construction industry, with its latest iterations being LEED® for Homes, promulgated, after a 2-year pilot program, on December 5, 2007, and Regreen, launched in March 2008 in collaboration with the American Society of Interior Designers’ Foundation, to address home improvement projects. This article provides a lay-person’s road-map through the LEED® for Homes guidelines and discusses their relevance to a brownstone or other urban rowhouse renovation.

In general, LEED® for Homes is a voluntary “green” building project certification program developed by the USGBC to promote the transformation of the home building industry towards more sustainable practices. The LEED® for Homes Guidelines are meant to be a set of best practices for building better homes. The Rating System identifies specific measures to be taken in order to design for improved resource efficiency using environmentally friendly material, equipment and systems, and to engage in construction practices that ensure these measures are installed properly with the end result that homes are more energy efficient and healthier living environments. The guidelines themselves rely heavily on standards and procedures already in place under theEnergy Star® for Homes program launched by the Department of Energy.

The LEED® for Homes Guidelines encompass an extremely detailed 120-page document, with varying relevance to brownstones and urban housing generally. This Article is a summary meant to be a lay person’s overview of the guidelines to enable homeowners to understand the important issues surrounding sustainable building practices and the decisions they will make in planning a renovation, and to determine how those guidelines might be applied to the renovation of a brownstone or other existing urban row-house. Click here to see The LEED® for Homes Guidelines on the US Green Building Council’s website. The USGBC website also contains a simplified project checklistthat aids in understanding the guidelines.

Testing and Verification.

One key aspect of the LEED® for Homes program is third-party verification and testing at various stages of the construction process, through LEED® for Homes “Providers”. Providers are specially designated professionals chosen by the US Green Building Council (“USGBC”) who oversee the LEED® certification process for particular projects. Providers manage teams of field professionals, called “Raters” who are the individuals who performs field inspections, including the HERS-related software analysis -- HERS stands for “Home Energy Rating System” promulgated by Energy Star® -- and performance testing, and these individuals often work closely with the design and construction professionals to help define and ultimately meet sustainability goals. At the time of this writing there are only 15 Providers in the country; New York City happens to be in a region with two of them. By the end of 2008 the USGBC hopes to add 20 more Providers across the country.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: You need layers of professionals, and depending on the size of your project you should consider whether the added cost and time involved is worth the benefits you derive from LEED® certification – remember, you can follow the guidelines as much as possible without getting the certification.

What “homes” qualify for the LEED® for Homes program:

LEED® for Homes applies to multifamily and single family homes up to 6 stories. The guidelines fit best with new construction, and although they technically apply to rehabs the project must essentially be a gut renovation. Buildings must be:

6 stories and under
Must be gut rehab, down to the joists and studs
Multiuse buildings must be a minimum 80% residential, 20% commercial

The program applies a home size adjuster which either increases or decreases the number of points needed in each certification category depending on how an individual’s home compares to the national average home size based on square footage and number of bedrooms – 900 SF for 1 bedroom, 1400 SF for 2 bedrooms, 1900 SF for 3 bedrooms, 2600 SF for 4 bedrooms and 2850 SF for 5 bedrooms.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: Brownstones and other vintage 19th and early 20th century urban housing are historic properties with beautiful architectural detailing and flooring, so demolishing floors and walls down to the joists and studs is an unworkable prerequisite unless there are other overriding reasons to do so, such as remedying structural inadequacies, fire damage, mold abatement etc.  Don't be concerned that you somehow can't achieve good energy saving results if you don't do a gut rehab, because that 's not the implication of the requirement.  The requirement exits because the LEED® for Homes Guidelines piggyback off the Energy Star for Homes program that relates to new-builds where the studs and joists will be visible at certain stages and thus testing criteria was designed to inspect those open spaces, and LEED® for Homes Guidelines have adopted that testing criteria by assimilating the Energy Star for Homes standards. 

Brownstones are also often occupied as single family homes or large owner-occupied units (2 to 4 story) over a garden floor rental, which may require an increase in the number of credits needed due to the application of the home size adjuster.

How to begin.

To embark on the LEED® certification journey, first a Provider must be contacted, and although the system assumes that a construction professional would engage the Provider, it is possible for homeowners who act as their own general contractors to do so. Second, a team with knowledge of the 8 resource categories in the LEED® rating system must be put together to design the project, layout the sustainability goals and plan how to meet them. Third, you must actually get the work done to specification, keeping in mind that you might be dealing with trade professionals who may be new to the materials and construction practices of green building. Last, certify the home, which involves inspections and testing. For things that can’t be tested, such as the drought-resistant nature of plants and VOC emissions, the process requires the submission of accountability forms and attestations from a professional (such as a landscaper) or manufacturer (for such things as warranties regarding VOC’s).

The Nuts and Bolts Criteria
LEED® for Homes has 8 categories in which credits toward certification are earned. The system has 136 maximum total points from which to choose, and certain categories have “prerequisites” meaning measures that must be taken and which do not earn points. Overall, approximately 22% of all possible points deal with water-related issues during construction and in the finished home, and 28 % deal directly with energy-related issues, which is indicative of the high importance placed upon these attributes in the rating system.

There are four levels of certification:
Certified: 45-59 points
Silver: 60-74 points
Gold: 75-89 points
Platinum: 90 points

The 8 point categories are:

1. Innovation and Design Process
2. Location and Linkages
3. Sustainable Sites
4. Water Efficiency
5. Energy and Atmosphere
6. Materials and Resources
7. Indoor Environmental Quality
8. Awareness and Education

Let's explore each in detail  . . .

1. Innovation and Design Process

Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 3
Minimum Points - 0
Maximum Points - 11

This category seeks to achieve an integrated, cost-effective plan for green design and construction by promoting a durable, moisture resistant and high performing building envelope(the frame and its components and systems) by means of integrated design, materials selection and construction practices, including incorporating necessary measures beyond those in the guidelines due to regional or local climate issues.

Prerequisites/mandatory measures have the result of requiring expenditure on administrative functions:

1. Conduct a preliminary rating meeting between the team and the Provider to identify the targeted LEED® award level, the credits that have been selected to reach that goal, and the party accountable for meeting the selected credits. Points can be earned for putting together a project team that includes professionals proficient in at least three of the following skill sets, and at least one of the professionals must be LEED® accredited; beyond the prerequisite one point can be earned by conducting a full day design workshop with the team:

i. architect or residential building design consultant
ii. mechanical or energy engineer
iii. building science or performance testing expert
iv. green building or sustainable design expert
v. and civil engineering, landscape architecture, habitat restoration or land-use planning.

Additional credits can also be earned by designing to orient the building for solar design -- to meet these criteria for a renovation project would require a great deal of serendipity given that the orientation of an existing building can’t be changed. Special planning and implementation measures must be put into place regarding durability and moisture control measures, which are prerequisites as described below.

2. Engage in Durability Planning prior to construction which involves identifying all moderate and high risk durability issues for the building enclosure. The focus here is primarily with issues of moisture and water resistancy for kitchen, bathroom, laundry and entrances.

3. Put into place a “Durability Management Process” to ensure execution of the durability measures. Three points can be earned by having the Rater inspect and verify each measure set out on the durability check list.

The typical cost for a Provider is $7,000 for all the technical services, including the Rater, or $13,000 if the Provider also handles all the paperwork.

The guidelines also contemplate the ability to earn up to 4 points for unspecified “innovations” (1 point for each innovation) – good ideas that you/your team thinks of that haven’t been included in the LEED® for Homes guidelines. These must be put forward in a documented proposal.

2. Location and Linkages

Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 0
Minimum Points – 0
Maximum Points – 10

This category strives to promote the building of homes in a dense, neighborhood manner with local services so that the use of vehicular transportation can be reduced.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: This category is an ace in the hole for urban projects. Being in an urban area we can achieve the full 10 points simply because of our location – brownstones are located in a densely populated city (preferred locations: 2 points) with an existing infrastructure for sewer and water (infrastructure: 1 point), a vast and widely used public transportation system, and local services and public open spaces that we can walk to (community resources: 3 points; access to open space: 1 point). It is likely that brownstones and urban townhouses would also earn the 2 possible points in the site selection sub-category because existing buildings in cities are typically not near protected animal habitats, wetlands, land formerly used as a public parkland, nor located on land containing “prime soils”, “unique soils”, or “soils of state significance. Alternatively, homes located in a LEED® for Neighborhood Development-certified development also earn the maximum10 points.

3. Sustainable Sites
Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 2
Minimum Points – 5
Maximum Points - 22

This category focuses on minimizing or eliminating adverse affects on water and land. 14 of the possible 22 points in this category deal with water-related issues, which is indicative of the high importance placed upon it in the rating system.

1. Put erosion control measures into place during construction, but as erosion is not usually an issue in an urban renovation, or even an urban new build for that matter, this criteria is easily met.
2. Do not introduce invasive plants into the landscape. Invasive plants vary by region. The easiest thing to do is to use only local/native plants, however not all non-native species are considered invasive so it is possible to use non-native plants and still meet this prerequisite; check the US Department of Agriculture Invasive Species Information Center.  

The possible points in this category are divided into 6 sub-categories:

Site Stewardship (maximum 1 point) guidelines seek to minimize long-term environmental damage to the building lot during the construction phase with a focus on eliminating erosion and soil compaction.

Landscaping (maximum 7 points) guidelines focus on minimizing water consumption and synthetic chemical use by specifying the use of noninvasive and drought-tolerant plants, and/or the reduction of irrigation by at least 20%.

Local Heat Island Effect (maximum 1 point) guidelines strive to reduce the phenomenon that urban and suburban temperatures are hotter than nearby rural areas, sometimes by as much as 2 to 10°F (1 to 6°C). (see the EPA Information sheet on Heat Island effect).   Elevated temperatures can increase cooling loads and consequently increase peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality. The guidelines deal with the placement of trees and plantings to shade hardscapes (sidewalks, driveways etc.), and the use of lightly colored or reflective materials for hardscapes.

Surface Water Management (maximum 7 points) guidelines deal with minimizing erosion and runoff from the home site. Some credits deal with landscaping which is relevant to a lesser extent in urban environments. Credits dealing with the management of roof runoff is applicable and require either permanent storm water controls such as:

i. vegetated swale (essentially a shallow channel covered with thick vegetation used to convey stormwater runoff and not usually applicable in an urban environment due to space constraints), or

ii. on-site rain garden (a planted depression in a garden that is designed to absorb rainwater runoff from impervious areas like roofs, sidewalks and driveways, thus keeping water out of the storm sewers or, in the case of Brooklyn and NYC, the waste sewers), or

iii. dry well or rainwater cistern (an underground structure that disposes of unwanted stormwater by dissipating it into the ground), or

iv. “green roof” (“vegetated roof”) covering at least 50% - 100% of the roof area

or generally require that the entire landscape design be engineered to reuse water.

Nontoxic Pest Control (maximum 2 points) guidelines aim to minimize the need for poisons for controlling insects, rodents and pests. The measures deal with keeping wood away from the soil, eliminating or sealing all cracks, joints and entry points by using caulk or metal or plastic fasteners or dividers or screens, planning for mature plants to be at least 24 inches from the house, and taking specially defined precautions in moderately heavy and heavy termite infested areas, which includes urban areas like New York City, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco.

Compact Development (maximum 4 points) encourages building homes closer together to promote community development, transportation efficiency and walkability. Urban areas are automatically in the Very High Density category and ought to receive all 4 possible points.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: The guidelines in the Landscaping, Heat Island Effect and Surface Water Management subcategories above are directly applicable in an urban environment. Planting for shade, and the use of green roofs have a two-fold benefit because they help reduce cooling loads and, by eliminating hardscapes, they also help with the Surface Water Management subcategory because it results in exposing more soil to the air which in turn allows for the absorption of more storm water into the soil, consequently putting less strain on the storm water sewers. Stormwater runoff is a particularly difficult situation in Brooklyn where, after only one inch of rain, the storm sewers overflow and mix with the human sewage which then runs untreated into the river and harbor. Even opting for a stone patio on a gravel bed, instead of solid concrete, will allow storm water to seep into the ground and be kept out of the stormwater sewers. Nontoxic Pest Control is also a relevant subcategory in brownstone planning -- we know from experience that termites can attack brownstones! As noted above, being in the middle of a dense urban area should result in a brownstone receiving all possible points in the Compact Development subcategory. Stay tuned for our Upcoming Article on Green Roofs.

4. Water Efficiency
Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 0
Minimum Points – 3
Maximum Points - 15

This category strives to conserve potable water by means of low-use fixtures and reuse of rainwater and graywater. Graywater is any water, other than from toilets, that has been used in the home such as from sinks, dishwashers, tubs and showers, and clothes washers.   

The possible points in this category are divided into 6 sub-categories:

Water Reuse points (maximum 4 points) can come from inclusion of a rainwater harvesting system for capturing and storing rainwater for landscaping and indoor use, and/or a graywater reuse system (1 point) that is serviced by enough water sources to exceed 5,000 gallons per year, or a municipal recycled water system.

Water irrigation system points (maximum 4 points) come from including a newly designed high efficiency system involving such water savings features as drip irrigation, central shut-off valve, timers and high efficiency nozzles; or including a third party inspection of an existing system for efficiency; or reducing overall irrigation demand by at least 45% (maximum 4 points).

Indoor water use points (maximum 4 points) prescribe the use of water-efficient fixtures and fittings such as low flow toilets, faucets, showerheads and appliances. Note that low flow shower heads also reduce the demand for hot water and consequently the energy load for hot water heating.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: Each of these subcategories has application to a brownstone renovation. See our Article , Water Conservation -- A Holistic Approach that Saves Water and Energy, and stayed tuned for Upcoming Articles on water reuse through rainwater harvesting and graywater systems.

5. Energy and Atmosphere
Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 2
Minimum Points – 0
Maximum Points - 38

This category requires that the project improve the overall energy performance of a home by meeting or exceeding the performance of an Energy Star® labeled home, including third party inspections.

This Category is divided into 11 sub-categories, most of which contain prerequisites, and consequently the summary below will discuss together the prerequisites and possible additional points that may be earned in each sub-category.

Optimize Energy Performance. As a prerequisite, the home must meet the performance requirements of Energy Star® for Homes, which focuses on an energy efficient building envelope, efficient air distribution, energy efficient equipment for heating, cooling and hot water, efficient lighting and appliances, and includes third party inspections. Up to 34 points may be earned by exceeding the performance of Energy Star® for Homes based on a complicated mathematical calculation that effectively compares the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index to a specified number of LEED® points based on how well the home energy’s performance meets or exceeds the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Insulation. As a prerequisite, insulation must be top notch and nearly eliminate air infiltration, leaks and thermal bridging. Specifically, the home must meet or exceed the R-value requirements listed in the IECC and insulation must be installed to meet “Grade II” specifications set by the National Home Energy Ratings Standards, which in plain English means that 90% of insulation defects, gaps around wiring and electrical outlets, vents, plumbing stacks etc. must be eliminated, wall insulation must be enclosed on all 6 sides (all 4 walls, floor and ceiling) and be in substantial contact with the sheathing material on at least one side (either interior or exterior) of the wall cavity (the space, or cavity, between the wall of the room and the exterior building wall). 

Two (2) points may be earned for enhanced insulation – insulation that exceeds the prerequisite R-value level by at least 5% and is installed to meet the more stringent Grade I specifications of the National Home Energy Ratings Standards.

Air infiltration. Minimize energy consumption due to uncontrolled air infiltration – leaks -- into and out of heated/cooled spaces. Air leakage tolerances under the LEED® for Homes guidelines for the building envelope (the building's roof, walls, windows, and doors -- the envelope, or separation, that controls the flow of energy between the interior and exterior of the building) depend on the climate zone in which the home is located, and must be tested by a Rater. Consult the Energy Star® website to look up your zone by map and/or zip code.

Houses leak air because of the difference between indoor and outdoor air pressure- hot air usually leaks outward from the top of the house and cold air usually seeps inward from the bottom of the structure. To measure leakage the house is subjected to a blower door test. The blower door test places a home under a known pressure by placing a large sealed fan in an exterior doorway that blows air out of the house to create a vacuum; in brownstones it may, instead, be optimal to instead do a “blower window test” which in essence places to large sealed fan in a window instead of a door, enabling the homeowner to test each floor individually simply by closing the ubiquitous doors to the stairwell, making it easier to pinpoint the exact location of leaks. Instruments then measure how much airflow is required to maintain the pressure difference between indoors and outdoors. The tighter the house, the less air the blower door must move to maintain a given pressure. Besides measuring the airtightness of the house, a blower door test also helps to pinpoint the location of specific air leaks using a smoke puffer or infrared imaging, or the simple old-fashioned way of feeling for draughts with a hand. The LEED® for Homes prerequisite for IECC climate zone 4 (where New York City is located), for example, is a maximum air leakage rating of 6.0 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals – a Pascal is a unit of measurement for air pressure, and the LEED® guidelines use the standard pressure difference of 50 Pascals between the inside and outside of the house. Reducing the air leakage to 4.25 times per hour earns 2 LEED® points, and to 2.5 times per hour earns 3 LEED® points.

Windows and Glass Doors. Maximize the energy performance of windows and glass doors by specifying and installing windows that meet certain minimum Energy Star® requirements for U-factor and SHGC (“Solar Heat Gain Coefficient”) factor depending on the climate zones in which the house is located.

Northern Climate (including NYC, Boston and Chicago): Select windows with a U-factor of 0.35 or less and any SHGC.

North/Central Climate (including Washington DC): Select windows with a U-factor of 0.40 or less and SHGC of .45 or less.

South/Central Climate (including San Francisco): Select windows with a U-factor of 0.40 or less and SHGC of .40 or less.

Southern Climate: Select windows with a U-factor of 0.55 or less and SHGC of .35 or less.

LEED® points can be earned by installing enhanced windows (2 points) or exceptional windows (3 points) that exceed by specified amounts the prerequisite standards for your climate zone. For example, triple-pane windows exceed the basic requirements and will also provide more sound insulation from busy city streets.

Heating and cooling distribution system must be optimized to minimize thermal bridges (when materials that are poor insulators come into contact, allowing heat to flow through the path created) and leaks. For forced air systems this means any leakage around ductwork must be outside the building envelope and ducts cannot be installed in exterior walls unless extra insulation criteria is met. For non-ducted HVAC systems (i.e. hydronic systems, meaning hot water heating and chilled water cooling) it means using a high-value insulation around pipes that are in unconditioned spaces. Up to 3 LEED® credits can be added if air leakage is reduced more than by the prerequisite amounts.

Space heating and cooling equipment must meet the following criteria:

(a) Equipment must reduce energy consumption by properly sizing the systems using calculations specified by ACCA Manual J (the Air Conditioning Contractors of America) or ASHRAE 2001 Handbook (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers). In other words, care must be taken not to oversize the systems by taking into account the excellent insulation, air leakage minimization, windows and other energy saving measures already put into place, and your mechanical engineer must be able to adjust the load calculations accordingly. Check back for Upcoming Articles on Heating and Cooling.   

(b) Equipment must be installed to meet the Energy Star® Builder Option Package which is a set of very specific performance requirements, based on climate zone, for central A/C and hot air systems, furnaces (gas, oil or propane), boilers (gas, oil or propane), and ground source heat pumps (geothermal) systems. A/C and air source heat pumps systems must meet a minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) level of 13 SEER and Heating Season Performance Factor (HSPF) level of 8.2 HSPF. Levels of 14 SEER and 15 SEER are considered enhanced levels that earn more points, however for the best performance (efficient and quiet) you may want to consider going as high as 18 SEER.

Fossil-fueled furnaces must meet a minimum Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) level of 90 AFUE, with 92 and 94 AFUE considered enhanced levels that earn more points. Fossil-fueled boilers must meet a minimum AFUE level of 85, with 87 and 90 AFUE considered enhanced levels that earn more points, but we note that currently available high efficiency condensation boilers can be as high as 97% efficient. (Stay tuned for our Upcoming in-depth Article on heating systems.) Ground source heat pumps must meet specified Energy Efficiency Ratios (EER) for cooling and Coefficient of Performance (COP) ratios for heating. 

(c) Equipment must include installation of Energy Star® programmable thermostats except for heat pumps and hydronic systems.

Up to 4 LEED® credits may be earned by exceeding the prerequisite performance standards at specified levels.

Water Heating - No prerequisites; maximum 6 points. The goal is to reduce energy consumption associated with the hot water system, including the efficiency of the heater and the layout of the fixtures. There are specific requirements related to the amount of insulation on the hot water pipes, and the length of pipes from the hot water heater to the various branches depending on whether the plumbing system is a structured plumbing system which is based upon the recirculation of hot water, or a central manifold distribution system in which hot water enters a kind of small holding tank near the hot water heater from which many small lines go out directly to each hot water fixture in the home, or a compact design conventional system in which the hot water line runs as a main line (no holding tank) from the hot water heater then branches to the fixtures, and in most cases, the branches are short and the main hot water line is long.  This system, if not designed well, can lead to long waits for hot water the further the fixture is from the hot water heater, and a lot of wasted cold water flows down the drain as the user waits for the hot water, a common problem in brownstones where water has to travel vertically several floors from a single heater in the basement.  Refer to our Articles Water Heating - Understanding Water-Saving and Energy-Saving Measures and Water Conservation --A Holistic Approach that Saves Water and Energy.  Additional points may also be earned depending on the efficiency rating of the chosen equipment, and the use of solar hot water equipment earns more points.

Lighting. The goal is to reduce energy consumption associated with interior and exterior lighting.

Prerequisites: Install at least four Energy Star® labeled light fixtures or Energy Star® labeled compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in high-use areas such as the kitchen, living room, family room and hallways. Up to 3 LEED® points can be earned by installing more Energy Star® labeled fixtures or CFLs indoors, and either motion sensors or integrated photovoltaic cells outdoors, or by installing the Energy Star® Advanced Lighting Package which is comprised of a minimum 60% Energy Star® hard-wired fixtures and 100% Energy Star® ceiling fans, or 80% Energy Star® labeled lamps or Energy Star® CFLs.

Improving lighting efficiency can also further reduce energy consumption by reducing cooling loads.

Appliances. The goal is to reduce energy consumed by appliances. There are no prerequisites. Up to a total of 3 points can be earned for high-efficiency appliances: up to 2 points for refrigerators, ceiling fans, dishwashers and clothes washers, and an additional point can be earned if the clothes washer also meets water-efficiency standards set by Energy Star® being the MEF (Modified Energy Factor) of at least 2.0 and a water factor of less than 5.5.

Renewable Energy. Up to 10 points. The goal is to reduce consumption of nonrenewable energy sources by encouraging the installation and operation of renewable electric generation systems. Energy modeling must be done to estimate the energy supplied by the renewable system and the annual reference electrical load. There are no prerequisites, and up to 10 points may be earned, 1 point for every 3% of the annual reference electrical load met by the renewable system. This measure contemplates solar, wind and passive solar, but not solar hot water which is covered in a separate area of the guidelines. Stay tuned for our Upcoming Article on Renewable Energy in an Urban Environment.

Air conditioning refrigerant systems must be selected and tested to ensure performance and to minimize ozone depletion and global warming. Prerequisites involve providing proof of proper “refrigerant charge”, which means it is necessary to have the correct amount of refrigerant in the system otherwise A/C systems can use up to 30% more energy. One point can be earned for a cooling system that does not use refrigerants at all (such as proper ventilation, dehumidifiers and whole-house fans), or has an HVAC system that uses a non-HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) refrigerant which is a substance that is known to cause depletion of the ozone layer. Currently the EPA limits the amount of HCFC that may be produced, and intends to prohibit its use by 2030, and the LEED® for Homes guidelines contemplate use of the substitute refrigerant R-410A. Alternatively, another refrigerant can be used if it passes a complicated mathematical analysis of its characteristics based on its ozone depletion potential, its global warming potential, its leakage rate, the refrigerant charge and the equipment life.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: The guidelines can be generally applied to a brownstone because efforts to create a tight building envelope, efficient heating, cooling and water heating systems, and low-energy lighting have universal application, however the choices to be made in each category may be dictated by the nature of a brownstone. For example, it may be more practical to use blown-in insulation rather than blanket roll insulation if you’ve got existing walls with the result that you may need to deal with the uncertainty of ending up with a few pockets of air in the wall where the insulation cannot make its way through the uneven wood or metal lathe and plaster; or, for instance, the type of hot water heating system you choose may be dictated somewhat by pre-existing pipe arrangement, etc. We will be analyzing the individual aspects of these elements in separate, in-depth Articles.

6. Materials and Resources
Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 3
Minimum Points – 2
Maximum Points - 16

This category aims to eliminate waste and to encourage the use of materials that are environmentally friendly and produced near the home.

This Category is divided into 3 sub-categories, each containing prerequisites, and consequently the summary below will discuss together the prerequisites and possible additional points that may be earned in each sub-category.

Material Efficient Framing (maximum 5 points) prerequisites require that the waste factor (materials ordered in excess of the estimated needed amount) for framing materials be less than 10%. One point can be earned if, prior to construction, a detailed framing plan with architectural details is produced showing the specific location, spacing and sizes of all framing materials in the walls, floors, roof and ceiling (if different from the roof). An additional point may be earned if a detailed cut list and lumber order is produced that corresponds directly to the framing plans. Also, up to 3 additional points can be earned if certain specified materials-savings design features (such as pre-cut framing packages, specified wider spacing of studs and joists etc.) are built into the plans. Alternatively to the potential for additional points stated above, using off-site fabrication of wall, roof and floor components, or a modular prefabricated construction, earns 4 points.

Environmentally Preferable Products (maximum 8 points). This category promotes an increased demand for environmentally friendly products or building components that are extracted, processed and manufactured within the region. The prerequisite is that all wood product suppliers must be given a notice (i) that your preference is to use tropical wood (defined as grown in a country that lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) only if it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC-certified), and (ii) that you want a list of the country of manufacture of each product supplied and a list of all FSC-certified wood that the vendor is able to supply. If tropical wood is intentionally used it must be FSC-certified, however reused or reclaimed materials are exempt.

Up to 8 points can be earned, 0.5 points for each building component material – such as exterior and interior walls, floor, foundation, ceilings, millwork, landscape materials, roof, counters, cabinets, adhesive and sealants, window framing, insulation, sheathing – that meet the following criteria (0.5 points for each criteria per component): the component a) is made up of an environmentally preferable material by at least 90% by weight or volume, or uses a specific environmentally preferable material denoted in the guidelines for each component (for example framing be FSC-certified or reclaimed, cabinets be of recycled content or FSC-certified or reclaimed AND composite materials must not contain urea formaldehyde resins, etc.), and/or b) uses products that meet the low VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions specifications set out in the Guidelines, and/or c) uses products that were extracted, processed and manufactured within 500 miles of the home, which reduces the embedded transportation energy associated with construction.

Waste Management (maximum 3 points). This category requires the reduction of the amount of waste generated to below the industry norm. As a prerequisite there must be planning for construction waste disposal that identifies all local options for recycling and reusing all major constituents of the project (including cardboard and household recyclables). You must also document the rate (by weight and volume) at which objects are diverted from landfills and trash separately for each of the demolition phase and the building phase. Up to 3 points can be earned by either reducing construction waste or diverting waste by levels exceeding the prerequisite amounts. 

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: The Material Efficient Framing spec to reduce the waste factor to under 10% is admirable but may require that you spend a little more on drawings and planning. Criteria contemplating pre-cut packages and framing may be more applicable to a new-build where you are not dealing with the ubiquitous a non-square nature of a creeky old house.

The guidelines dealing with Environmentally Preferable Products can be easily incorporated into your renovation decision-making process and we highly recommend that you do so because it will result in less harm to the natural environment, healthier indoor air quality and lower embodied energy in the products you use.

Reducing demolition waste is also a very important goal for urban renovations, however the Waste Management criteria require a lot of statistical documentation which complicates the process.  We note that applying the LEED® for Homes guidelines may actually increase the amount of demolition debris for a given project because it requires that all existing floors and walls be torn out to the joists and studs. Our Article on Demolition Debris in an Urban Environment can help guide you to make smart, eco-minded decisions about what not to tear out, what to reuse and where to send your discarded stuff so that others may reuse or recycle it, including a survey of New York City salvage yards and other resources.

7. Indoor Environmental Quality
Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 7
Minimum Points – 6
Maximum Points – 21

This category aims to improve the air quality inside the home. Indoor air can be as much as 10-times more polluted than outside air, even in industrialized cities. According to the EPA, pollutant levels from individual sources inside the home (such as adhesives, composite furniture, chemicals in carpeting, paint, sealants, cleaning products, combustion etc.) may not pose a significant health risk by themselves, but most homes have more than one source that contributes to indoor air pollution. There can be a serious health risk from the cumulative effects of these sources. See our Article on Indoor Air Quality for a thorough analysis of the sources and effects of indoor air pollution, and how to eliminate risks.

This Category is divided into 10 sub-categories, most containing prerequisites, and consequently the summary below will discuss together the prerequisites and possible additional points that may be earned in each sub-category.

Energy Star® with Indoor Air Package (maximum 13 points). There are no prerequisites. If the home completes the requirements in the Energy Star® with Indoor Air Package then it will receive 13 points. The Package is an extremely detailed set of building guidelines that involve the entire building process – in essence, it is a complete set of building guidelines juxtaposed onto the LEED® for Homes guidelines, and the USGBC, in creating the LEED of Homes guidelines, did not isolate specific components of the Energy Star® with Indoor Air Package that deal with indoor air quality. Perhaps the reason that the entire building package is incorporated by reference into the LEED® for Homes indoor air quality guidelines is because many aspects of construction (such as building envelope decisions regarding windows, ventilation, type or insulation, water and moisture control measures, radon elimination, pest barriers) collaterally impact on indoor air quality in addition to those aspects that obviously primarily deal with air quality such as ventilation and ductwork, combustion sources, carbon monoxide safety and low-VOC materials. Because the Package is a complete set of building guidelines, meeting the requirements will coincidentally lead to points in other categories including the durability issues in the Innovation and Design Process; Sustainable Sites non-toxic pest control; Energy and Atmopsphere HVAC design and installation; and Materials and Resources use of environmentally preferable materials.

Combustion Venting (maximum 2 points) strives to minimize the leakage of combustion gases into the occupied space. Prerequisites include ensuring that a) no unvented combustion appliances (i.e. decorative logs) are installed, b) carbon monoxide monitors are installed on each floor, c) all fireplaces and wood stoves have doors, and d) space and water heating equipment that use combustion must either be designed and installed with closed combustion (sealed air supply and exhaust ducting), or with power-vented exhaust, or be located in a detached utility shed or in the open air. Up to 2 points may be earned if fireplaces and woodstoves are eliminated entirely or are installed in conformity with criteria set out in the Guidelines.

Moisture Control (maximum 1 point) aims to reduce indoor moisture levels for comfort, decreased mold risk and increased durability. There are no prerequisites. A point may be earned if the home is in a locale where humidity is an issue and dehumidification equipment is installed.

Outdoor Air Ventilation (maximum 3 points) strives to reduce exposure to indoor pollutants by ventilating with outdoor air. There is a delicate balance between over- and under-ventilating – from a health perspective it is important not to under-ventilate, but from an energy perspective it is important not to over-ventilate. Keep in mind that some inevitable leakage from the building envelope contributes to the overall ventilation of the building.

The prerequisites involve ensuring a minimum acceptable level of outdoor air ventilation according to ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers) Standards for the geographic location of the home. 2 points can be earned for exceeding these standards by employing such measures as a whole-house ventilation system, or in cold climates a heat-recovery ventilation (HRV) system or an energy-recovery ventilator (ERV) that provides heat transfer between the incoming outdoor air and the exhaust air stream, both of which work on the principle that heat or energy can be reclaimed from exhaust airflows. HRVs use heat exchangers to heat or cool incoming fresh air, recapturing 60 to 80 percent of the conditioned temperatures that would otherwise be lost and making your heating system work less hard to heat the warmer incoming air. Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) exchange moisture between the two air streams, typically from the incoming humid air in the summer to the exhaust stream but they cannot be relied upon for total dehumidification needs. In addition, one point may be earned for third party testing and verification.

Local Exhaust (maximum 2 points) aims to reduce moisture and indoor pollutants in bathrooms and kitchens. The prerequisites require that all bathrooms and kitchens be ventilated according to ASHRAE standards, that the fans and ducts be installed according to ASHRAE standards and be vented to the outdoors, and that Energy Star® labeled bathroom exhaust fans be used (except for exhaust fans the serve multiple bathrooms). In the kitchen the minimum air flow rate is 100 cfm (cubic feet per minute) and a vented hood is required if the exhaust fan flow rate is less than 5 kitchen air changes per hour. Bathroom minimum air flow rate is 50 cfm.

One point can be earned if every bathroom has an occupancy sensor, or an automatic humidistat controller, or an automatic timer to operate fans for a timed interval after the occupant leaves, or a continuously operating exhaust fan. An additional point can be earned for third party testing and verification.

Distribution of Space Heating and Cooling (maximum 3 points) strives to achieve uniformity of heating and cooling throughout the house.

Forced Air Systems: Prerequisites require room by room load calculations, using ACCA and ASHRAE methods, to determine the proper amount and location of ductwork. One point can be earned by providing for adequate return air flow in every room by meeting specified duct size requirements or prescribed air pressure differentials between closed rooms and adjacent spaces. Two points can be earned by third party testing.

Non-ducted HVA Systems, such as hydronic (hot water) systems: Prerequisites require that engineering design calculations, using ACCA and ASHRAE methods, be done for each room.  One point can be earned by including flow controls on each radiator, and 2 points can be added for designing the system with at least two distinct, thermostatically controlled zones.

Air Filtering (maximum 2 points) strives to reduce the amount of particulate matter in the air. For both Forced Air Systems and Non-ducted HVA Systems, such as hydronic (hot water) systems, the prerequisites include installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) at or above 8 and ensuring that air handlers can maintain adequate pressure and are airtight. MERV refers to the rating measurement scale developed by ASHRAE to determine how effective a filter is at removing particles of a certain size -- the higher the rating the better the filter is at removing particles. A rating of 8 or above means that the filter will remove 20-35% of particles that are 3 to 10 microns in size (mold spores, for example vary from 4 to 40 microns, most being less than 10). By comparison, MERV 14 filters are typically the filter of choice for critical areas of hospitals (to prevent transfer of bacteria and infectious diseases). Up to 2 points can be earned for specifying filters with higher ratings.

Contaminant Control (maximum 4 points) strives to reduce the occupants’ and construction workers’ exposure to indoor airborne contaminants by controlling them at their source and by careful removal. There are no prerequisites. One point can be earned for sealing all ductwork during the construction. Up to 2 points can be earned by either furnishing floor mats at each entry, or incorporating a shoe removal storage space near the primary entryway, or installing a central vacuum system with an outdoor exhaust. One point may be earned by flushing the home with fresh air after construction is complete, before occupancy, for at least 48 (need not be consecutive) hours and replacing HVAC filters afterwards.

Radon Protection (maximum1 point) aims to reduce exposure to radon gas and other soil gas contaminants. The prerequisite requires that if the home is in an EPA Radon Zone then EPA radon-resistant construction techniques must be followed, but in a renovation scenario where the foundation and earth is not being disturbed, this may be of little relevance. New York City is in Zone 3, lowest potential. One point can be earned if the house is not within Radon Zone 1 but radon-resistant techniques are still employed.

Garage Pollutant Protection (maximum 3 points) aims to reduce exposure to garage fumes. The prerequisite requires that no HVAC equipment be located in the garage. Two points can be earned by tightly sealing all shared surfaces between the garage and the occupied spaces (such as seal all joins and cracks, floor and ceiling joists, paint walls and ceilings, weather strip doors, install CO detectors). An additional point can be earned by installing an exhaust fan it the garage that runs continuously, or runs off an automatic timer linked to an occupant sensor or garage door mechanism or light switch.

What does this mean for brownstone and row-house renovation: The Energy Star® with Indoor Air Package is, in itself, a complete set of building guidelines juxtaposed on top of LEED®, and as developed by Energy Star were aimed toward the new-build market, not renovations; incorporating them seems to complicate matters in the context of a renovation.  Familiarizing yourself with them, however, is a great educational excercise (as is familiarizing yourself with the LEED® for Homes guidelines) because it will make you aware of a lot of potential areas where you can incorporate green attributes into your project. Understanding the sources of indoor air pollution and how to reduce or eliminate them may be a more workable approach, and see our Article Indoor Air Quality -- Identifying Sources and Making Renovation Choices that Eliminate Contamination for guidance in this regard. The guidelines dealing with combustion venting, outdoor venting, moisture control and contaminant control are workable, often common sense, criteria and provide a good road map for dealing with the issues. Radon is a low risk in New York according to the EPA.

8. Awareness and Education
Prerequisites/Mandatory Measures- 1
Minimum Points – 0
Maximum Points – 3

This category aims to maintain optimal performance of all the features by educating the occupants about operation and maintenance. You will want to understand your systems and how to maintain them, and if you will have a tenants it will be equally important that they understand the systems that impact them and how to use them for optimal performance, whether or not you are going for LEED® certification,  Having an organized approach to learn about and keep the relevant materials, is useful.

This Category is divided into 2 sub-categories.

Education of the Homeowner or Tenant (maximum 2 points) includes the prerequisite that the occupants be given a basic level of training, including a reference manual with the LEED® for Homes Rating Certificate and features list; inspection checklists, all manuals for appliances and equipment, operations and maintenance guidelines for heating and cooling, ventilation, humidity control, renewable energy and irrigation/water harvesting or graywater reuse equipment; guidance on cleaning materials, water-efficient landscaping, lighting and appliance selection; and educational information on “green power” (undefined). A minimum one-hour walk-through is required. On point can be earned for providing two additional hours of training, and one point can be earned by doing three of the following: promoting public awareness through advertised open houses, publish a web site describing the features and benefits of a LEED® home, generate a newspaper article on the project or display a 6-foot LEED® for Homes sign on the exterior of the home.

Education of the Building Manager (maximum1 point) has no prerequisite but offers the ability to gain one point for taking the building manager through the same training that is the prerequisite for the homeowner/occupant.

Useful Links
Further study: The USGBC offers an inexpensive ($25 at this writing) online introductory course covering green home building basics, the LEED® for Homes Rating System, roles of the home Provider and the basic steps required to build a LEED® home.

Useful Links: 


USGBC LEED® for Homes homepage

LEED® for Homes Guidelines

Environmental Protection Agency Infomation Sheet on Indoor Air Quality

Graywater information website

Forest Stewardship Council