LGA Studios could not be more proud to be part of the project featured in this post: a stunning modern home in Mountain Shadows that was just awarded LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, developed by USGBC, is the foremost program for buildings, homes, and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained, and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. A home can achieve LEED certification under the LEED homes program after undergoing a technically rigorous process, including the incorporation of green strategies to achieve efficiency and healthy indoor environments. The sound design and operation of the home is tested and measured using tools like a home energy (HERS) rating and onsite inspections. 

LEED is the foremost program for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings, and this project joins the 121,900+ certified LEED for Homes residential units across 165 countries and territories.

The green housing market is growing. LEED-certified homes are healthier places to live, produce lower utility bills, have better air quality and leave a smaller environmental footprint behind.
— Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO, USGBC

Sustainable design has long been a passion for us at LGA Studios, with several of our associates going through the additional training to become LEED Accredited Professionals, and it is a hallmark of our business to continually educate ourselves and our clients so that we can design homes that are both beautiful and efficient.

Dawn Streb has been with LGA Studios for over 25 years and served as Team Leader for this project. For her, the reasons for pursuing the challenge of LEED certification are clear: “it’s better for resale value and better for our planet—we’re preserving our resources for the kids down the line.” She went on to say, “the key part is the efficiencies. Using our resources responsibly. They don’t last forever, there’s only so much water, only so many trees. We need to think about that when we’re building to make sure the practice is sustainable.”

In order for a residential project to be LEED-certified, it must meet or exceed rigorous standards in a variety of categories, from Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere, to Sustainable Sites and Innovation in Design. Projects are scored based on a point system and must be monitored and inspected at every stage. This home is Platinum certified—the highest possible level—meaning it had to score between 90-136 points. Phil Drotar of EnergyLogic was the Green Rater for this home, and he was instrumental in bringing new ideas and streamlining the process. 

In the Colorado Springs market, Dawn reports that there are typically a handful of people every year who come into LGA Studios interested in the LEED process, but “they often get scared off by what they perceive as cost issues. Some things do cost more upfront,” she continues, “but it’s kind of a tradeoff. For example, a lot of contractors are still doing an 80% furnace. For LEED, you want to be around 95% or so, and the cost may be a little bit more, but if you say to yourself, I’m going to own this house for 10, 15, or 25 years, the cost of that goes down over time and it will pay off.”

Our client for this project, Damon Winters, knew he wanted to pursue LEED-certification from the start. As the owner of Winters Electric, Damon brought a tremendous amount of his own expertise on energy efficiency, and he knew he would be able to accrue points using innovative options like solar energy and a thoughtful mechanical design.

Damon pulled triple duty on this project, serving as the homeowner, contractor, and electrician. This meant shouldering much of the responsibility for installing efficient wiring and maintaining the integrity of the construction site, all the way down to his vigilant monitoring of the waste bins to make sure nothing that could be recycled was going to the landfill.

Smaller homes score better points on the certification scale, as they require fewer resources. This project is a bit larger and more spacious, making it more of a challenge, but it made up for that in many other ways.

This home was built on a site in the Parkside neighborhood of Mountain Shadows where the previous home had been destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012. This allowed us to score a few points in the Sustainable Sites category, as it was a smaller lot in a higher density area, and also because it was an existing infrastructure site. The site was not as favorable from a connectibility standpoint, however, as there are not as many walkable community amenities in that area. 

Figuring out where a project can score best is a complicated process unique to each home and requires strategy. Based on Damon’s expertise in the field, “the solar and mechanical design really helped with the points for the Energy & Atmosphere category in this specific case, but each project must at least meet a basic standard in many categories,” said Dawn. “For example, Water Efficiency needs a minimum of 3 points, so if a project can’t meet that, you may as well not go for LEED.” This ensures balance and forward-thinking across all categories, as you can’t overcompensate in one area, and you also can’t double up on points. Dawn explained how you may have doors that are both made of sustainable wood and reused from another project, but you can’t use them in two categories. “It really is a challenge.”

Meeting the standards required for LEED-certification can be complex, but often in the most rewarding way. Because the standards are so strenuous and stretch across a project from beginning to end, the process works best when the entire team can collaborate and work together. This means sitting down with the owner, the architect, the contractor, the project manager, the HVAC and landscaping designers, the LEED certification team, etc. and coming up with ways to solve problems creatively and push for responsible and innovative solutions at every level. 

Sustainable design sacrifices nothing to style, as it suits any floor plan type or architectural design. Hard materials are preferable because they don’t trap contaminants the way carpets do, so LEED favors hardwoods and tile for flooring. Better doors and double-paned windows are also key, along with high-quality insulation that is correctly installed. “The good thing about green design,” Dawn explains, is that “a lot of it is inherent to good building practices. Weatherproofing, flashing details, keeping water out of the house, that’s just responsible building.”

Educating the trades is also central to the mission of USGBC, and they are changing the industry, slowly but surely. “Insulation is a good example of how LEED is teaching better practices,” Dawn says, “because if you scrunch the insulation or stuff it in carelessly behind wires, you’re losing the value of it.” Another example of an improvement is seen in something as simple as paint. “Low VOC paint used to be something you could get points for in LEED, and it used to be that no one had access or no one wanted it, but now it’s available everywhere and has become pretty standard, so you no longer get points for that.” 

The key part is the efficiencies. Using our resources responsibly. They don’t last forever, there’s only so much water, only so many trees. We need to think about that when we’re building to make sure the practice is sustainable.
— Dawn Streb, LGA Studios

The innovative thinking and conscious and responsible design methods continue to push our standards even further, though for any client wishing to pursue LEED certification, Dawn advises patience above anything else. “It’s a long process, and for this project especially I felt it took longer because I was inexperienced, so that had some extra lag. I’ve heard it typically takes about a year or two, though this one took longer. The process of the paperwork is long, and everything has to be verified, from the initial framing through the final landscaping, so that does take a few seasons, at least in Colorado.”

For Dawn, despite the time this project took, it’s been rewarding to be so entrenched in deeply sustainable design, and also to be able to witness the shift in general awareness. “We have more and more clients who are interested in LEED-oriented ideas,” she says. “They like solar, for example, or want to make sure their mechanical plan is efficient, so they pick and choose, and at least they’re thinking about it. To me, I’m just as happy when I hear a client say ‘I want to make sure my house is insulated properly and I’m not wasting materials.’ That’s the best part about learning these principles.”

For more information about USGBC and LEED-certification, visit http://www.usgbc.org/leed