Traditional facades give way to superhero residences.
Imagine a Batcave in OTR complete with a collection of chase vehicles and solar power on the roof. Or a three-story historic stone façade rowhouse that opens up onto a 320-degree deck view of Cincinnati, all very sustainable LEED Platinum and Gold.
Chad Puckett and Jerry Reeves are principals and partners in Fold and Form. They cut their teeth on another very famous LEED project, the Christian Moerlein Lager House at The Banks. They worked at Tilsley Architects (Moerlein’s architectural firm), Chad for 15 years and Jerry for eight, when they decided to join forces creating Fold and Form, an architecture and construction firm. The name comes from the way origami folds to create a three-dimensional form from a two-dimensional piece of paper. Fold and Form targets LEED Platinum for all its projects, so they’re prepared for whatever LEED level the homeowner wants to go for (Christian Moerlein Lager House is the first LEED project involving the Cincinnati Park Board, which owns the lease on the property.)
Fold and Form’s latest projects consist of two homes on Mulberry Street and a third on Corwine Street. The Mulberry Street pair are multi-story rowhouses across the street from one another. One is dark gray brick with black mortar, a modern twist on the traditional red brick in OTR. Every structure in the historic districts of Cincinnati needs to be approved by the preservation board. It wasn’t too hard to get them to approve the dark brick or the more traditional stone look of the home across the street, but it was harder to get the board to see that many of the homes on the hills surrounding the downtown flood plain had their backsides blown out into floor to ceiling glass to show off the incredible views. They got those features approved for both projects. One is LEED Platinum pending, and the other is LEED Gold Certified, but the owners might go ahead with more improvement to achieve Platinum within a year.
The home on Corwine is a different story. I spoke to Tony Alexander, the owner, about the project that has been going on for three years. It’s going for LEED Platinum because of the unlimited tax abatement on the structure. Tony is putting more than $563,000 into a home with a glass wall between the living space and his car collection. The Cincinnati LEED tax abatement is in tiers. As you achieve higher levels of LEED, you get more tax abatements on the value of the structure. The property tax on the land isn’t abated. If you achieve LEED Silver the tax abatement is on the first $285,000 of the structure, LEED Gold is $563,000 and for LEED Platinum it’s unlimited. That price doesn’t include his car collection! Tony’s building a home with his car collection as part of the architecture! The very large first floor has a glass curtain wall that allows the showroom area to be visible from the living room when the traditional overhead garage door retracts into the ceiling.
Tony likes the idea of very efficient home that’s capable of living off the grid. He’ll have a Tesla Powerwall that will store the excess power generated by the 32 solar panels on the roof. “It Looks Nice,” Tony said about the Tesla Powerwall battery for the planned 65 HERS score residence. HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System, used by the U.S. Green Building Council to third party verify LEED homes. HERS 65 means it will be 35 percent more efficient that a typical home in Cincinnati. The biggest hurdle Tony had to overcome was the appraisal of the project so he could get a construction loan. Initially, there were no comparables. When he started out the typical home in the neighborhood was $20 per square foot, now it’s not uncommon to find $400 per square foot projects in the works.
Since 2002, the city of Cincinnati has granted 10-year tax abatement on structures. In 2007, the city added an additional five years to the tax abatement for those receiving LEED Certification. In 2011, the LEED tax abatement became tiered for Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of certification. Because of the tax abatement, nearly every new home in Cincinnati is LEED Certified and builders have become quite familiar with how to do it cost-effectively.
LEED for Homes Certification level credit decision story
The LEED for Homes Rating System provides a basis for quantifying the benefits of green homes, thereby facilitating the widespread construction of more sustainable homes. One of the first steps in planning a LEED home is to adjust the certification thresholds based on the material and energy impacts. All else being equal, a large home consumes more materials and energy than a small home over its lifecycle. LEED compensates for these impacts by adjusting the thresholds for each award level. Thresholds for smaller-than-average homes are lowered, and thresholds for larger-than-average homes are raised. A home’s threshold for LEED Gold may be 72 points. A 4,500-sq.-ft. home with five bedrooms would be about 85 points.
In the end, the homeowner will have a well built and third-party certified home. Passing the blower door test alone is significant. Blower door tests are used to prove the air sealing quality of the construction. During the test the home is depressurized to -50 Pascal and measurements are recorded throughout the home to verify that outside air isn’t leaking into the home at a rate higher than required. It proves the home won’t be drafty and uncomfortable. Contrary to those builders who tell home owners that homes need to breathe for fresh air, it is much better to control the ventilation rather than allowing shoddy construction of leaky vapor barriers to supply fresh air to the home.
The LEED Certification system is broadly categorized into five equally important parts that demonstrate measurable environmental benefits: Site, Water, Energy, Materials, and Indoor Environment Quality. The following is a review of the features of these homes according to the LEED for Homes system.
Prerequisites include building above the 100-year floodplain, not habitat for endangered species, built no closer than 100 feet to water or wetlands, land that wasn’t a public park and land that doesn’t have prime, unique or soils of state significance. Excavated topsoil was reused; runoff was controlled, so it didn’t contaminate storm water sewers or erode hillsides.
The Innovation and Design Process section of LEED includes Integrated Project Planning, which maximizes opportunities for integrated, cost-effective adoption of green design and construction strategies. A Preliminary Rating is arrived at as early a practical, they conducted a preliminary LEED for Homes meeting, with the participation of the key members of the project team and Green Building Consultants (the LEED for Homes Certification Provider) to target the level of LEED, select credits and assign the parties accountable. Typically this includes holding monthly meetings to review project status, introduce new team members to the project goals, discuss problems encountered, formulate solutions, review responsibilities and identify next steps. The Integrated Project Team is formed to maximize the opportunities for integrated, cost-effective adoption of green design and construction practices.
A big help with this is that at least one principal member is a Professional Credentialed with respect to LEED for Homes.
The Innovation and Design Process section also includes the Durability Management Process, which promotes durability of the high-performance building enclosure, its components and systems through appropriate design, materials selection, and construction practices. Prior to construction, the project team will identify risks, responses regarding pests, storm damage and moisture control measures.
The home’s plans include the following features: No paper-backed backer board or carpet in tub, shower and spa areas, no carpet within three feet of the entryway, drain and drain pans for tank water heaters and clothes washers in or over living areas, and exhausting conventional clothes dyers directly to outdoors.
Durability Management requires that the builder have a quality management process in place to ensure installation. A third-party verified these durability conditions.
Innovation or regional design incorporates additional green design and construction features with measurable environmental benefits.
Location and Linkages include site selection, which is a very important aspect of sustainable homes. This home isn’t in a floodplain or built within 100 feet of water or wetlands. The infill site with existing infrastructure didn’t replace prime farmland or parkland and build on habitat or threatened or endangered species. Excavated topsoil was reused; runoff was controlled, so it didn’t contaminate storm water sewers or erode hillsides.
Preferred location guidelines encourage the building of LEED homes near or within existing communities. This project was an infill site, which means at least 75 percent of the perimeter immediately borders previously developed land. It was built on a previously developed lot and uses Existing Infrastructure because it is within a half mile of existing water and sewer lines.
Community Resources / Transit require it to locate close to basic resources such as arts and entertainment center, bank, convenient store, daycare, fire station, cleaner, library, pharmacy, places of worship and schools. This home achieved Outstanding community resources / transit because it is within one-quarter mile of eleven, one-half mile of 14 and 60 transit rides per weekday. The highly desired urban location encourages walking, physical activity, and time spent outdoors; it is located within one-half mile of a three-quarter acre of a public open space.
Although the focus of green building is typically on the built structures located on a site, the design of the site and its natural elements can have a significant environmental impact. Site clearing and earth moving can contribute to considerable runoff, leading to soil erosion and alteration of natural drainage patterns both on and off-site. The home utilized Erosion Controls During Construction.
The Minimizing Disturbed Area of Site credit is automatically granted to high-density construction, in recognition of the fact that compact development enables communities to set aside land for conservation. They placed the home to minimize drainable pattern changes, scheduled construction in phases to minimize disturbance and clearly marked areas that are not to be disturbed. Maintaining vegetation in those areas.
The Sustainable Sites category of credits includes no invasive plants, basic landscape design, limiting & non-conventional turf, and drought tolerant plants such as Russian sage, lavender, black-eyed susan, hellebore, hosta and arborvitae. Since the provision and distribution of potable water is costly and energy intensive, particularly during dry periods, a more sensible strategy is to design landscaping that requires less potable water.
The permeable lot homes have permanent erosion controls on site and manage run-off from the roof.
The Sustainable Sites category of credits includes prerequisites to prevent construction runoff from damaging sewers and preserve topsoil. An infill site minimized disturbed area of the site.
The homes’ integrated nontoxic pest control methods include sealing external cracks and joints with caulking and installing pest-proof screens. There are no wood-to-concrete connections. Typically all cellulosic (wood type) material is treated with borate product to three feet above foundation as an additional pest control measure.
The Sustainable Sites category of credits includes prerequisites to prevent construction runoff from damaging sewers and preserve topsoil. This is accomplished by managing some of the runoff from the roof with a rain barrel and including a permeable garden on site.
The home’s integrated nontoxic pest control methods include sealing external cracks and joints with caulking and installing pest-proof screens. There are no wood-to-concrete connections. Typically all cellulosic (wood type) material is treated with borate product to three feet above foundation as an additional pest control measure.
LEED encourages use of compact development patterns on buildable land to conserve land and promote community livability, transportation efficiency and walkability. These residences are located in a Very High-Density Average of 20 or more dwelling units per acre.
Water Efficiency is a very important category of LEED. It includes water reuse, which is demonstrated by a rainwater harvesting system, which includes a rain barrel to capture water for landscape use. Water efficiency measures included a high-efficiency irrigation system including drip irrigation for 50% of planting beds, separate zone for each type of planting, timers for each zone, and sensors that recognize it has rained and no irrigation is needed.
Very high-efficiency fixtures and fittings were selected for indoor water use. Average flow rate is 1.75 gallons per minute, and 1.10 gallons per flush.
Regarding Energy & Atmosphere, data from the homebuilding industry indicate that roughly 1.5 million new homes are built each year and that the average size of new homes has doubled in the past 50 years. As a result, total U.S. fossil fuel use in homes has been steadily increasing. The average American consumes five times more energy that the average global citizen, ten times more than the average Chinese person, and nearly 20 times more than the average Indian.
Optimizing energy performance measures improve the overall energy performance of a home by meeting or exceeding the performance of an Energy Star labeled home. A Home Energy Rating System (HERS) analysis verification of the energy efficiency of the home will be performed. One of the homes, for example, has a HERS Rating of 44 which means that it is 56% more efficient than a typical home in Cincinnati. No ozone-damaging HCFC refrigerants are used in the air conditioning system.
The homes reduce energy consumption associated with the domestic hot water systems, including improving the efficiency of both the hot water system design and the layout of the fixtures in the home. Typically the total length of the circulation loop is less than 40 feet in one-story homes; add 2x ceiling height for two-story homes and 4x ceiling height for up to four story homes. Pipe insulation is at least an R4 on the hot side.
No ozone damaging HCFC refrigerants are used in the air conditioning system.
The choice of building Materials and Resources is important for sustainable homebuilding because of the extraction, processing, and transportation they require. Activities to produce building materials may pollute the air and water, destroy natural habitats and deplete natural resources. Construction and demolition wastes constitute about 40 percent of the total solid waste stream in the United States.
Materials and resources included framing efficiencies and off-site panelized construction leading to 88% of on-site waste diverted from landfills. Off-site panelized construction is similar to a factory-built home in that the quality of construction may be higher because the construction isn’t subject to the weather and the possibility of less highly trained carpenters.
Environmentally preferable products increase demand for environmentally preferable products and products or building components that are extracted, processed, and manufactured within the region. The country of origin was requested for each wood product.
Waste management practices require projects to reduce waste generation to a level below the industry norm. Construction waste management planning investigated and documented local options for diversion and measured it, which resulted in diverting at least 25 percent or more from landfills.
Americans spend an average 90 percent of their time indoors, where levels of pollutants may run two to five times – and occasionally more than 100 times – higher than outdoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many of the pollutants found indoors can cause health reactions in the estimated 17 million Americans who suffer from asthma and 40 million who have allergies, contributing to millions of days absent from school and work. Indoor Environmental Quality requires combustion venting which limits the leakage of combustion gases into the occupied space of the home. Indoor environmental quality included no unvented combustion appliances, carbon monoxide detectors in rooms that share a door with the garage; all fireplaces have doors, and space/water-heating equipment is designed with closed combustion or catalytic converters are specified.
Controlling indoor moisture levels to provide comfort, reduce risk of mold and increase the durability of the home is part of the moisture load control. They installed dehumidification equipment capable of maintaining humidity at or below 60 percent. They meet ASHRAE Standards and only exhaust air to the outdoors, not the attic or interstitial spaces.
Outdoor Air Ventilation measures reduce occupant exposure to indoor pollutants by ventilating with outdoor air. Prerequisites included bathroom and kitchen exhausts meeting ASHRAE Standard 62.2 airflow requirements, air is exhausted to outdoors by an Energy Star labeled bathroom exhaust. Third-party performance testing was performed to verify proper installation.
LEED Homes reduce moisture and exposure to indoor pollutants in kitchens and bathrooms by meeting ASHRAE Standards and only exhaust air to the outdoors, not the attic or interstitial spaces. Enhanced local exhaust uses occupancy sensors, automatic humidistat controller, and automatic timer or continuous fan. It included third-party performance testing.
Distribution of space heating and cooling provided appropriate distribution of HVAC in the home to improve thermal comfort and energy performance. Room-by-room load calculations ensured ducts are designed accordingly. A typical home which has improved the distribution of space heating and cooling includes a return air opening of 1 square inch per cfm of supply and continuous supply airflow rates in each room tested and confirmed. Very high performance, MERV 13, filters were installed.
Indoor contaminants were controlled during construction, and the design allows for contaminant control, which includes space for shoe removal and storage near the primary entryway.
A preoccupancy flush was performed to rid the home of contaminants that built up during the construction process.
Radon testing was done, and controls put into place if needed.
The homes have no HVAC in the garage to minimize pollutants from the garage, no garage or a detached garage. Attached garage penetrations and floor and ceiling joists connections are sealed to prevent pollutants from getting into the home. When the home does include an attached garage, it includes an exhaust fan.
Some homebuyers may know very little about green home construction. They may be unaware of the green features in the home, or they may be unfamiliar with how to use and maintain them. Without adequate training, the full benefits of the LEED measures likely will not be achieved. These homeowners will receive an operator and training manual as well as a one-hour walkthrough. They’ll also receive the LEED checklists and forms, manufacturer’s manuals and cleaning and maintenance guidance. Finally, they will receive two hours of enhanced training.
Awareness and education requirements include this article as part of the LEED Certification. It will be published online at Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy and the local USGBC’s Chapter site once certified. LEED signage was posted on the site.
Chad Puckett (left) and Jerry Reeves (right) are principals and partners in FOLDANDFORM Architecture + Construction.
If you would like to tour some LEED homes in Cincinnati, we suggest you join the local USGBC Chapter and attend their home tours, learn more at www.usgbc.org/usgbc-ohio.