Like with every LEED-certified project it builds, Bethesda Bungalows began the official construction process for its KellyGreen home long before any equipment reached the site—with a pre-checklist meeting with its green rater, Andrea Foss of EverdayGreen in Washington, D.C. The meeting is a requirement for LEED for Homes certification, but it’s essential for much more than that: It establishes a preliminary rating for the house and allows the team to determine where points are expected, flag areas that could be improved, remind team members of essential steps and documentation requirements, flesh out concerns about subcontractors, and discuss any number of other helpful steps, all in the course of a few hours.
The length of the meeting will vary based on a builder’s experience with the LEED system and with the green rater itself. Bethesda Bungalows has been working with EverydayGreen since its first green home last year, and, as such, has developed an easy, efficient rapport with Foss and her colleagues, who bring with them existing knowledge of how the builder works, its standard construction practices, and its preferences.
Still, every project is different, and many items on the checklist still require careful discussion and scrutiny. At the meeting in late July, the team went through the LEED for Homes checklist point by point, tallying up credits the KellyGreen house will likely receive and the level expected (Silver), discussing additional credits that might be easily obtained, determining which options are not feasible based on budget or other factors, and keeping track of which items will need documentation and verification along the way.
Foss tries to meet with builder clients early in the design phase to go through the energy modeling. “We can sit down in a design meeting and discuss where the best investments might be in terms of energy,” she says. For example, clients often have questions about what type and thickness of insulation they will need. “Using the modeling software helps you make informed decisions.”
This also allows all the players to discuss the various options available—such as geothermal versus a gas furnace—and make final decisions on what’s practical for the project; after that, they can drill down to details such as proper sizing.
For best results, the meeting should include the builder, the architect, and the HVAC contractor, although that’s not always possible. Foss says participants should come prepared with house plans along with decisions on the project’s main achievement goals (e.g., a certification level, budget, etc.).
For Foss, the meetings also provide an opportunity to sort out any misperceptions a new client might have about what is or is not required to build a green home. Other goals for the rater are to determine the final budget and where it needs to be spent and to ensure the home will have an efficient shell, be durable, and have optimal indoor air quality.
It’s also the time to offer advice on working with subs and to emphasize that effective communication is one of a builder’s most important tasks for ensuring LEED certification, she says. “Installation errors are still the most common trip-up we see in terms of affecting the overall performance of the home.”
Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.