By Trish Holder
(To the tune of What I Did For Love….)
Kiss the fees good-bye
The checklist and green rater
I am done–I’m CER-TEEE-FIED!
Though I may regret
What I did for LEED, What I did for LEED!
It’s this bittersweet song from A Chorus Line that comes to mind as I stare at my recently delivered certificates from the USGBC, signifying my LEED Silver Certification of my green home. Certification is sweet; but I’m a little bitter. Today, I want to explain why, and I think the best way to do that is share a true story about my geothermal heat pump. We’ll call this story the “The Closet within a Closet LEED Fiasco.”
We were already building the Greenspiration Home when we realized there was really no good location to install the geothermal unit. Unlike conventional heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps cannot be installed outdoors. They must be protected from the elements, so they typically go in the basement, crawlspace, garage, or attic. Clearly, a basement is the ideal solution, but we didn’t have a basement; we had a crawlspace, which unfortunately did not have enough vertical space for the 5 ft. unit. We didn’t want to install it in the attic or eave storage for fear that the unit might create too much interior noise.
We had no choice but to install the geothermal unit in the corner of our slightly oversized 2-car garage. But there was a problem. LEED says that absolutely no HVAC equipment shall be installed in the garage, the reason being that somehow car exhaust could get pulled into the house.
Okay – I got that – and while we hadn’t exactly budgeted for a special closet inside our garage just for our geothermal unit, that is exactly what we built, per the advice of my Green Rater.
The Green Rater is the liaison between you and your USGBC Provider. The USGBC Provider is who looks over all your paperwork for LEED, checklist, etc. and submits it to the USGBC for final approval. So there are my contractors, my green rater, my provider, the USGBC, and I. That is a fairly lengthy chain of people with lots of opportunity for miscommunication and misinterpretation of the LEED guidelines. While my green rater was under the impression that this closet would suffice (and insisted the USGBC Provider told him it would) that proved not to be the case. Technically, the geothermal unit has to be within the “envelope” of the house, meaning that it is located within fully insulated exterior walls.
Hmmm. THAT was a problem. Because the little closet we built consisted only of studs, sheetrock, and a door.
A Closet Around a Closet
By this time, we were already living in the house and just want all this to be over. We’d come too far to give up, but this issue was a deal breaker. If we didn’t get this worked out, we might as well kiss LEED good-bye, a shame since I’d already paid my registration fee, my Energy Star fee, and incurred any number of other costs all for the sake of certification. As you can imagine, I’m seeing RED by now….
So, we built a closet around the closet. Oh—and we had to have an expensive exterior door which opens into this exterior closet. All of this probably cost an additional $1500.00 or so. It would have been more had my dear friend, Charlie, who also happens to be an excellent renovation contractor, charged me what he should have for the job. God, I love Charlie….
On the bright side, the closet, which actually forms an enclosed area to the garage entry to the house, is not a bad thing. It is actually a nice space to remove muddy shoes and drop stinky soccer gear before you enter the house. Charlie even built in some accessible storage beneath the space, which is about 3 feet above the garage floor.
THINK Before You LEED!
This is the sort of thing that makes me tell homeowners to think long and hard about seeking LEED certification. There isn’t a tremendous amount of LEED expertise in the current residential industry and the experience may end up feeling like the blind leading the blind. I’m grateful for the experience, which serves me well as the publisher of this blog and even as a writer for the HVAC industry, but most homeowners are not in my professional situation. Their house is simply a home.
I, on the other hand, might just spin my LEED story in a Broadway musical….