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Experienced Builder's Critical Eye of the LEED Home Cincinnati Process

Feb 11, 2018 9:32:51 AM / by Chuck Lohre

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Charles Soucek is a very experienced developer and builder who has been responsible for entire neighborhoods in Anderson. The recent increase in building inside the City of Cincinnati in part caused by the generous tax credits offered has given him quite a bit of experience with the LEED system.

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Front

He has always built very energy efficient homes that normally score 50-53 on the HERS rating scale. HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System and is the equivalent to Energy Star in the commercial building world. A score of 50 means the home is 50% more efficient than a typical home in that specific region. This article is about nine LEED homes Charles is building in Hyde Park, Pleasant Ridge and Mt. Lookout neighborhoods of Cincinnati. The photos are from Ault View Avenue - LEED Home Cincinnati.

3235 Beredith Pl. 45213

3615 Archer 45208

3617 Archer 45208

3446 Ault View 45208

1347 Observatory Dr.

1285 Morten St.

3301 Claramont.

Two on Russell Ave

 CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Great Room and Kitchen

LEED stand for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ and is the brainchild of the U.S. Building Council. It’s meant to change the way we build within a generation to preserve the environment and improve occupant comfort with better HVAC and indoor air quality. Cincinnati is one of the few metropolitan cities that uses it to verify construction for tax abatements. That’s why Cincinnati has more LEED building per capita than any other city.

Good builders follow the trends in homes and the latest open style, great room, trend causes problems with the HVAC. There’s no place to put the duct work! One solution Charles implemented in the Ault View home is to increase the space in between the floors to allow for the ductwork. It’s a great solution that seamlessly joins the inside living/kitchen area to the outdoor living/grilling area. Large screen media in both areas just screams “Game Day!” But the third party inspection required of LEED Homes isn’t perfect and one home built exactly as another doesn’t score the same. “Why is that?” Charles, speculates. At least the wealth of testing technology can uncover the inconstancies and verify performance. From repeat blower door tests, infra-red temperature measurement guns, to smoke testing of duct work, the tools to find the inconsistencies exist. You can’t change what you don’t measure. Holistically, one good place to start in Cincinnati is to submit your energy and water data to a clearing house that takes heating and cooling degree days, home use and energy sources into account and compares your home with your neighbors. Our local energy company mails a comparison chart but doesn’t take into account other energy sources such as wood stoves or solar panels. Contact me if you would like more information, learm more. Normally, it’s the homeowner that enjoys continual improvement. A builder needs to get it done, approved and move on. LEED might not be perfect but it does use repeatable methods to verify performance, if you have the time to do some detective work.

Cincinnati history of tax abatements

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 tax abatement for LEED became a bit more layered and difficult. Now, owners must achieve LEED Silver to receive a tax break on the first $285,000 of the structure’s value. LEED Gold has a limit of $563,000, and it’s unlimited if you achieve LEED Platinum. 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.

Certification level decision story of the LEED Credits for these homes

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.

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Outdoor Fireplace

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 this home 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.

Innovation and Design Process

  1. Integrated Project Planning

Maximize opportunities for integrated, cost effective adoption of green design and construction strategies.

1.1p Preliminary Rating

As early a practical, conduct 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 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.

1.2 Integrated Project Team

To maximize the opportunities for integrated, cost-effective adoption of green design and construction practices the builder/developer assembles an integrated project team and all team members involved in various project phases.

1.3 Professional Credentialed with respect to LEED for Homes

At least one principal member is a LEED for Homes Accredited Professional

  1. Durability Management Process

Promotes durability of high performance of the building enclosure and its components and systems through appropriate design, materials selection, and construction practices.

2.1p Durability Planning

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 ft. of the entryway, drain and drain pans for tank water heaters and clothes washers in or over living areas, exhaust conventional clothes dyers directly to outdoors.

2.2p Durability Management

The builder has a quality management process in place to ensure installation.

2.3 Third party durability management verification

A third-party verified these durability conditions.

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Kitchen

  1. Innovation or regional design

Incorporating additional green design and construction features with measurable environmental benefits.

Location and Linkages 

  1. Site selection

Site selection is a very important aspect of sustainable homes. This home isn’t in a floodplain or built within 100’ 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.

  1. Preferred locations

Encourage the building of LEED homes near or within existing communities

3.2 Infill

At least 75% of the perimeter immediately borders previously developed land.

3.3 Previously Developed

Build on a previously developed lot.

  1. Infrastructure

4.1 Existing Infrastructure

Select a lot within ½ mile of existing water and sewer lines.

  1. Community Resources / Transit

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.

5.2 Extensive community resources / transit

Within ¼ mile of seven, ½ of eleven and 60 transit rides per weekday

5.3 Outstanding community resources / transit

Within ¼ mile of eleven, ½ of 14 and 60 transit rides per weekday

  1. Access to open space

6.1 Access to open space

The highly desired urban location encourages walking, physical activity, and time spent outdoors. Locate within ½ of a ¾ acre of a public open space.

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Master bedroom

Sustainable Sites

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.

  1. Site Stewardship

1.1p Erosion Controls During Construction

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.

1.2 Minimize Disturbed Area of Site

This credit is automatically granted to high-density construction, in recognition of the fact that compact development enables communities to set aside land for conservation. Place the home to minimize drainable pattern changes, schedule construction in phases to minimize disturbance and clearly marks areas that not to be disturbed. Maintaining vegetation in those areas.

  1. Landscaping

2.1p No Invasive Plants

2.2 Basic Landscape Design

2.3 Limit Conventional Turf

2.4 Drought Tolerant Plants

The Sustainable Sites category of credits includes landscaping, 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.

  1. Surface Water Management

4.1 Permeable lot

4.2 Permanent Erosion Controls

4.3 Management of Run-off from 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.

  1. Nontoxic Pest Control

5.1 Pest Control Alternatives

The home integrated nontoxic pest control methods by sealing external cracks, joints, etc. with caulking and installed pest –proof screens. There are no wood-to-concrete connections. Typically all cellulosic (wood type) material is treated with borate product to 3' above foundation as an additional pest control measure.

  1. Compact Development

Make use of compact development patterns on buildable land to conserve land and promote community livability, transportation efficiency and walkability.

6.1 Moderate Density

Average density of seven or more dwelling units per acre.

6.3 Very High Density

Average density of 20 or more dwelling units per acre.

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Wardrobe, Washer & Dryer

Water Efficiency

  1. Indoor water use

3.1 High-efficiency fixtures and fittings

Average flow rate is 2 gallons per minute, and 1.30 gallons per flush

3.2 Very high efficiency fixtures and fittings

Average flow rate is 1.75 gallons per minute, and 1.10 gallons per flush

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 5 times more energy that the average global citizen, 10 times more than the average Chinese person, and nearly 20 times more than the average Indian.

  1. Optimize energy performance

Improve the overall energy performance of a home by meeting or exceeding the performance of an Energy Star labeled home.

1.1p Performance of Energy Star for Homes

Meet the standard.

  • Exceptional energy performance

Exceed the Energy Star standard by reference to the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) analysis verification of the energy efficiency of the home. A rating of 35 will mean that a home is 65% more efficient than a typical home in Cincinnati.

  1. Water heating

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.

7.1 Efficient hot water distribution

7.2 Pipe insulation

At least an R4 on the hot side.

Typically the total length of the circulation loop must be 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.

  1. Residential refrigerant management

11.1p Refrigerant charge test

11.2 Appropriate HVAC refrigerants

No ozone damaging HCFC refrigerants are used in the air conditioning system.

CFS Homes - Stairs

Materials and Resources

The choice of building materials in 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% of the total solid waste stream in the United States.

  1. Material-efficient framing

1.1p Framing order waste factor limit

Waste factor is defined as the percentage of framing material ordered in excess of the estimated material needed for construction.

  • Framing efficiencies

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.

 CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Back Porch

  1. Environmentally preferable products

Increase demand for environmentally preferable products and products or building components that are extracted, processed, and manufactured within the region.

2.1p Forest Stewardship Certified tropical wood

The country of origin was requested for each wood product. A species is considered tropical if it is grown between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

  • Environmentally preferable products
  1. Waste management

Reduce waste generation to a level below the industry norm

3.1p Construction waste management planning

Investigate and document local options for diversion and measure

3.2 Construction waste reduction

Divert a least 25% or more from landfills

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Master 2

Indoor Environmental Quality

Americans spend an average 90% of their time indoors, where levels o 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.

  1. Combustion venting

Limit the leakage of combustion gases into the occupied space of the home

2.1p Basic combustion venting measures

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.

2.2 Enhanced combustion venting measures

Typically no fireplace or wood stove or design one with back-draft prevention, behind glass doors, or catalytic converters.

  1. Moisture control

Control indoor moisture levels to provide comfort, reduce risk of mold and increase the durability of the home.

  1. Moisture load control

Install dehumidification equipment capable of maintaining humidity at or below 60%.

  1. Outdoor Air Ventilation

Reduce occupant exposure to indoor pollutants by ventilating with outdoor air.

4.1p Basic outdoor air ventilation

Prerequisites included bathroom and kitchen exhausts meeting ASHRAE Standard 62.2 airflow requirements, air is exhausted to outdoors and an Energy Star labeled bathroom exhaust.

4.2 Enhanced combustion venting measures

4.3 Third-party performance testing

  1. Local exhaust

Reduce moisture and exposure to indoor pollutants in kitchens and bathrooms

5.1p Basic local exhaust

Meet ASHRAE Standards and only exhaust air to the outdoors, not the attic or interstitial spaces.

5.2 Enhanced local exhaust

Use occupancy sensors, automatic humidistat controller, automatic timer or continuous fan.

5.3 Third-party performance testing

  1. Distribution of space heating and cooling

Provide appropriate distribution of space heating and cooling in the home to improve thermal comfort and energy performance.

6.1p Room-by-room load calculations

Perform design calculations and install ducts accordingly.

6.2 Return air / flow room-by-room controls

A typical home has improved the distribution of space heating and cooling including a return air opening of 1 sq. inch per cfm of supply and continuous supply airflow rates in each room tested and confirmed.

  1. Air filtering

7.3 Best filters


  1. Contaminant control 

8.1 Indoor contaminant control during construction

8.2 Indoor contaminant control

Contaminant control includes design for shoe removal and storage space near the primary entryway.

8.3 Preoccupancy flush

Performed a preoccupancy flush to rid the home of contaminants that built up during the construction process.

  1. Radon protection

9.1p Radon-resistant construction in high-risk areas

  1. Garage pollutant protection

10.1p No HVAC in garage

10.2 Minimize pollutants from garage

Garage penetrations and floor and ceiling joists connections are sealed to prevent pollutants from getting into the home.

CFS Homes, LLC - LEED Home Cincinnati, Left Front

Awareness and Education

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.

  1. Education of the homeowner or tenant

1.1p Basic operations training

The homeowners will receive an operator and training manual as well as a one-hour walkthrough. Provide the home’s occupants with LEED checklists and forms, manufacturer’s manuals, and cleaning and maintenance guidance.

1.2 Enhanced training

Provide two hours of training in addition to 1.1.

1.3 Public awareness 

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.

Contact CFS Homes, LLC:
Charles Soucek, 513-512-2374, Email: cfshomes@fuse.net

This article was written to achieve the LEED for Homes Public Awareness Credit for CFS Homes. By Chuck Lohre, CPSM, LEED AP ID+C; chuck@lohre.com, 513-260-9025

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Topics: Green Marketing, LEED, Green Building Marketing, Green Building, Business to Consumer Advertising, Featured, Cincinnati LEED home

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Written by Chuck Lohre

Owner of Lohre & Associates Marketing Communications. The company celebrated their 80th Anniversary in 2015, his 38th.