John and Karen Dugan didn't set out to be trailblazers. But the home they built earlier this year in Glastonbury is the first house in the state to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED gold standard.
"It started when we said we wanted to do a geothermal home," says John Dugan, 62, a consulting engineer. He and Karen, 60, who recently retired as a school nurse, were downsizing from a larger home just a few blocks away and looking ahead to the day when they might need a house that was easier to use and less expensive to maintain.
Before long, their architects, Russell Campaigne and Mary Jo Kestner of Campaigne Kestner Architects in Guilford, suggested that the Dugans try to get their home certified through LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Launched seven years ago by a group of architects and building professionals, the voluntary LEED standard for eco-friendly architecture has been a benchmark of green construction - and a major driver of environmental innovation in the building industry. It is a points-based system with independent, third-party tests that rank buildings by such criteria as energy and water efficiency, the use of sustainable and recycled materials, waste reduction and indoor air quality.
According to the Green Building Council, about 400 builders representing 10,000 homes across the country have participated in the LEED for Homes pilot program in the past two years. Among the buildings that have been certified, a few have met tougher silver, gold or platinum standards.
But only one of those homes - so far - has been in Connecticut.
The Dugans decided to go for the gold, and thus far, their home is one of only a dozen gold-rated homes in the country.
Back in the 1970s, building "green" frequently meant making concessions, says Campaigne. It is much easier today to incorporate green features in a home of just about any style without compromising on design or lifestyle.
Seen from the front, the Dugans' shingled house is welcoming, with Craftsman-style eaves, drought-tolerant plantings and a detached garage set at a pleasing angle. The walkway and driveway are in crushed stone, and the front step is a handsome slab of granite.
All these elements are appealing in and of themselves, but they also make the house that much greener: While connected with a screened breezeway, the garage is separate from the house, which helps hold down pollutants. The white cedar shingles are a farmed wood. The crushed stone is local. The granite step came from a quarry in town.
Inside the open, flowing home, the rich-looking built-ins and decorative woodwork all are made of American cherry, a sustainable wood approved by the Forestry Stewardship Council. The flooring is bamboo - again, sustainable.
"As you go along, you just start thinking green," John Dugan says.
It was a learning experience, though: In some rooms, says Karen Dugan, they didn't use the right kind of paint.
And, John says, they had picked out their toilets before the LEED program was on their radar screen, so the toilets aren't dual-flush.
Campaigne says LEED provides a useful format to prioritize and organize ideas and help identify where one's efforts to go green will be best spent.
For example, the Dugans knew they would lose some points on the eight-page LEED checklist because their custom-built house is a bit larger than ideal. But, as Karen Dugan notes, they have big families and typically host about 30 people at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The house is 2,350 square feet, not counting the finished portion of their basement.
And though the architects suggested that the Dugans install a cork floor in the finished basement, the couple decided to use carpet, to make it more comfortable for their four granddaughters to play there when they visit. That meant losing a few points because carpeting has to be replaced from time to time and can affect indoor air quality if it attracts mold or mildew.
AN AIRTIGHT HOUSE
Campaigne says there is no foolproof recipe for how to design a green house, but in the Northeast, energy use is a key consideration.
The LEED certification process involves tests at several different phases of construction, including a blower door test to test the house's envelope, and a pressurized duct test to check for leaks, says Maureen Mahle, a civil engineer with Steven Winter and Associates in Norwalk, which supervises the LEED certification program in several states, including Connecticut. The Dugans' house "was significantly more efficient," she says.
Builder Bob Dykins, who owns Glastonbury Housesmith, says he used construction adhesive to attach the framed walls to the floors, as well as expanding foam, caulk and blown-in fiberglass insulation with a high recyclable content to make the house "as airtight as possible."
The house also has a sophisticated energy recovery system - "the only added piece of equipment you need for a tight house," Dykins says - which replaces all the air in the house 1 1/2 times a day, but recaptures and reuses 80 percent of the heat and humidity that is ex