What Does a LEED Home Look Like? In Cincinnati, It's Smaller But Wow!

Feb 11, 2018 11:15:32 PM / by Chuck Lohre

Lohre Marketing and Advertising Design Author Graphic

Custom Builder Sees Homes Shrink from All-time Massive 14,000 sf in Suburbs to More Modest-Sized LEED Homes within Cincinnati City Limits

The 2007 economic downturn as well as the growing popularity of urban living with walkable neighborhoods and smaller lawns caused the migration.

What does a LEED home look like? - Exterior

Another important catalyst was Cincinnati’s 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 $565,000, and it’s unlimited if the home achieves 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. The standard has become even more difficult with the U.S. Green Building Council’s increased requirements for measurable environmental benefits in Version 4 of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) launched in 2015.

In January 2018 I interviewed Jim Carroll, 36-year owner of Carroll Custom Builders, Inc., about the three homes he is building to LEED standards. “We were already building ‘green’ before getting involved with LEED,” Carroll says. He likes the fact that LEED requires contractors to “build to a higher standard.” Initially it was hard to find low VOC paints and caulks, but the manufacturers have caught on quickly, Carroll recalls. He has sold all of his LEED homes in Cincinnati within a few weeks of completion. “The Cincinnati LEED tax abatement has stopped people from moving out of the city and improved the housing stock,” Carroll explains. “You get points for infill lots and being close to shopping. It’s a good thing to build to a higher standard,” he explains, “The owners will save in the long run and Cincinnati will be more viable long term.”

What does a LEED home look like? - Great Room 2

Owners understand higher efficiencies in HVAC and the better health effects of using lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints, carpets and caulks. Carroll Custom Builders included a geothermal heating system in the homes even though the Federal tax abatement was scheduled to end in 2016. Carroll was hopeful it was going to be reinstated, and it was retroactive to January 1, 2017; "Great News!!!" Jim emailed. The super high efficiency of geothermal is one of the primary reasons his homes can achieve LEED Platinum without a rainwater holding tank. There wasn’t enough room on the three-story 3596 and 3598 Handman Avenue infill sites for a storm water holding tank, but there is an elevator going to the top floor master suite. The 5120 Shattuc Avenue site is going for LEED Platinum and does have room for a rainwater tank as well as geothermal HVAC.

Carroll learned energy efficiency back in the 1980s when he quit his desk job and started working for a custom builder in Vail, Colorado, constructing earth berm homes. He got the building bug as a newly minted Notre Dame graduate with a finance degree working for Fahlgren & Ferris, a Cincinnati advertising agency. He was working on a homebuilding supplier’s ad campaign when Carroll had an epiphany, realizing: “I can do this.” And has never looked back.

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 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.

What does a LEED home look like? - Kitchen

Innovation and Design Process

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.

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.

A big help with this is that at least one principal member is a Professional Credentialed with respect to LEED for Homes.

Successful solar home design begins with the building orientation and layout. Proper roof orientation enables photovoltaic and solar hot water systems to function optimally. Proper window orientation, together with shading designs, can help reduce cooling loads in the summer and heating loads in the winter.

What does a LEED home look like? - Garden

Builders and designers are encouraged to adopt other passive solar techniques to reduce energy use and improve occupant comfort. Homes with passive solar design elements can earn additional points by incorporating these designs into the energy simulation model under Energy and Atmosphere 1.2.

The location on the site and the orientation of the home should be chosen during the earliest phases of the project because they affect all other aspects of design and construction. Where possible and appropriate for the climate, plant deciduous trees around the home to provide valuable shading in the summer but allow sunlight through in winter. Shading can be provided by vegetation, exterior shading devices (overhangs and awnings), or integral window-shading devices. Temporary shading, such as indoor blinds and shades are not acceptable for this credit.

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.

What does a LEED home look like? - Dinning Room

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.

LEED encourages the building of LEED homes near or within existing communities. Select a lot such that at least 25 percent of the perimeter immediately borders previously developed land. Some of the projects were infill sites, 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.

Highly desired urban locations encourage walking, physical activity, and time spent outdoors. These projects were located within ½ of a ¾ 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.

What does a LEED home look like? - Elevator

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 homes reduce Local Heat Island Effects by locating trees or other plantings to provide shading for at least 50 percent of sidewalks, patios, and driveways within 50 feet of the home. Shading should be calculated for Noon June 21, when the sun is directly overhead, based on five years’ growth. Or install light-colored, high-albedo materials or vegetation including white concrete, open pavers (counting only the vegetation) or any material with a solar reflectance index (SRI) of at least 29.

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 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.

What does a LEED home look like? - Master Sitting Room

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 Medium Density of seven or more dwelling units per acre or 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 percent 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. Third party inspection was performed.

High-efficiency fixtures and fittings were selected for indoor water use. Average flow rate is 1.75 or 2 gallons per minute, and 1.10 or 1.30 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 percent more efficient than a typical home in Cincinnati. No ozone-damaging HCFC refrigerants are used in the air conditioning system.

What does a LEED home look like? - Master Bath

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.

Framing order waste factor was limited. Waste factor is defined as the percentage of framing material ordered in excess of the estimated material needed for construction.

Materials and resources included framing efficiencies and off-site panelized construction leading to 88 percent 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.

What does a LEED home look like? - Master Balcony View

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.

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. 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.

Contact Jim Carroll at 
Carroll Custom Builders, Inc.
7720 Hopper Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45255
Phone: 513 314-8800
Email: info@carrollcustombuilders.com

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 about What a LEED Home looks like?


This article was picked up by:

Sustainable Carbon Neutral Shuttles, 2/12/18


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Topics: Green Building Marketing, Green Marketing, Green Building, Featured, Business to Consumer Advertising, Cincinnati LEED home, LEED, What Does a LEED Home Look Like

Lohre Advertising, Graphic Design, and Website Design Author Photo

Written by Chuck Lohre

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