Green Points Matter; and They Don’t

During Qualified Remodeler’s annual awards ceremony in Chicago in October, I engaged in a conversation with Bill Norwood of Norwood Builders in Bentonville, Ark., who won a Master Design Award in the Green Remodel category. Norwood told me his project could have achieved LEED Platinum status, but he and his client were satisfied with Gold. Going for Platinum didn’t make sense, he said, because the costs to add the products that would qualify the space for Platinum would not have improved its performance to a level that justified the expense. A wise and enlightened decision, I thought.

This logical approach to green design is shared by Iris Harrell of Harrell Remodeling in Mountain View, Calif., who designed and built the project on the cover of this issue (page 24). Harrell did not replace the 1986 furnaces nor did she use LED lighting for the home’s art displays. “We boosted the furnace performance to 93 percent efficiency by duct-sealing. We opted for the MR16 bulbs because we wanted to show our art literally in the best light. When we sell the house, we’ll upgrade the furnace, and when LED technology is as good as the MR16, we’ll replace those, too. Just not right now, and that’s OK,” she told me.

Back to our awards ceremony in Chicago, the keynote speaker that night was Peter Pfeiffer, FAIA, president of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects in Austin, Texas, who noted during his presentation, “Be leaders instead of LEED point chasers.” In a separate conversation he provided me with an example of what he meant. “Check out low-flow showerheads, front-loading washers and efficient dishwashers to cut water-heating costs in half rather than buying an expensive tankless water heater just for the LEED points.”

Pfeiffer continued: “Too many builders and designers are taking LEED points too literally and are not seeing the bigger picture of what they’re trying to accomplish. What I don’t like is that points will be given for an efficient water heater rather than for using imagination to figure out other ways to save water. Take the Steve Jobs approach and cut out the crap to get to the essence of what you’re trying to accomplish. Once you’ve done that, then you can look at going green by gizmo.”

I love Pfeiffer’s practical approach, and I suggest taking his advice to trace a problem to its root cause; then use your imagination rather than program points to fix it and accomplish your goal. All this said, neither Norwood, Harrell nor Pfeiffer is knocking LEED or other green programs and standards.

Harrell clarified her position; “LEED points are valuable where they make sense, but they’re not the sole factor for doing or not doing things. You have to customize a project to align with the specific needs of your clients.” She adds the opportunity to advance green design resides in educating the clients in the “moveable middle” who, with a little guidance, can move in any direction toward or against green ideals.

I’m not picking on LEED or green building programs in general. My point is that certification whether by LEED, Energy Star or any other green program still matters and always will. These programs employ valid products and methods, but they’re not always the only option for achieving the goals of green design. |

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