We have a LEED construction planning kick off meeting with the team (owners, architects, contractors, landscape architect and LEED provider.) We run the entire LEED for Homes requirements and points list and set goals for each one. It really does become clear through this process of reviewing the LEED point system, that the clients major concerns do lean toward healthy, clean, green living a bit mroe than they do towards energy efficiency- and as said before there is a high concern for energy efficiency, it's just that health concerns seem to be a bit higher still.
What do I mean by energy efficiency vs. health. Well, experientially, as an architect who is heavily involved in the building of a house I pay attention to what is current practice in the world of building. (Some architects only ‘design’ - without too much concern for how a thing is constructed. I happen to be one of the ones who design with a very integrated approach- taking in all aspects of constructability and an awareness of structure and systems as we go.) I have been attending ‘green building conferences’ for 12 years. In all of those years I can easily say that the vast majority of papers given and discussions had have been about the energy efficiency of buildings. The envelope design, the mechanical systems, heat gain and loss, cooling loads, window technology, geothermal systems and solar, embodied energy in production and transportation, return on investments, etc.
Another aspect of green building is, of course, the sustainability factor. You can read about this in almost any magazine you pick up- it is everything from bamboo floors, no voc paints, locally sourced stone, fsc certified wood, water barrels, natural fiber carpets, etc etc. The public is more aware of these things because they are more interesting to talk about and easier to do. The public also is aware of things like cfl light bulbs and low flow shower heads, etc. These are all of the things people talk about at cocktail parties. The ‘u’ value of your wall assembly is not so easy to toss around.
Both energy efficiency and sustainability offer opportunities for improving the overall ‘health’ of a house and its occupants. The better a wall is built the less likely it will be to have mold and mildews. The more properly sized and integrated an HVAC system is the better the indoor air quality will be. No VOC paints and formaldehyde free millwork will limit air pollutants, getting rid of petroleum based products wherever possible (lie foams and vinyls) will not only greatly improve the health of the people who manufacture and install these products but it is proposed that is will also reduce the risk of asthma and other adverse effects in the long term occupants of a building.
So, many builders of production houses will build a VOC laden, foam insulated vinyl box that not only has very little aesthetic appeal but would also probably fail a lot of health tests. They usually put in a super high efficiency forced air system that turns the air over a lot and the comb of that with a really well insulated, well-sealed wall can go a long way in making up for that but it really ignores a lot of the deeper aspects of long term health for occupants. Our clients did not want their long term health to be ignored.
LEED Thoughts (I will use this to reflect on the pro's and con's LEED system as we go)
LEED addresses energy efficiency, sustainability and health in its point system. It could be said that even LEED leans toward energy efficiency and sustainability and leans less toward health but if you simply understand that if you build a house correctly, many health benefits will be integral in the house already you see that the health aspects are actually addressed. To truly make an optimally healthy house however you have to try harder. You have to figure out a way to build a very efficient wall without using foam for example. You have to work harder to find low VOC glues and adhesives. You have to think about indoor air quality when the power is out for a week. You have to think about every single thing that is going into the house. It’s a lot harder to make an efficient, sustainable house that is also very, very healthy.