EnergyStar has been a welcome guest in homes since the labeling for energy-efficient appliances was approved by the government in 1992. Another label that might soon become commonplace in residences is LEED.
For years, architects and environmental designers have been creating "green" buildings - schools, libraries and offices - that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria. Now those same innovative design principles are popping up in single-family houses.
The latest trend is residential buildings with LEED certification. LEED, created by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, is a national third-party certification program for environmentally responsible building. Overlook Clipper Mill, a new development of 38 semi-detached houses in Baltimore, boasts the first private homes in Maryland to be LEED-certified.
"This is really the cutting edge of housing," says Overlook resident Robert Kan, a retired surgeon who moved into his new home in April.
"There was nothing else like it," says Lucinda Rouse, who moved from a 6,000-square-foot house in Federal Hill to her new 2,300-square-foot home in Overlook Clipper Mill in June.
The houses, which range in size from 2,300 to 2,600 square feet, provide eco-friendly amenities that include spacious light-filled rooms that are quiet, thanks to an argon layer between the attached walls and windows, tankless hot water heaters, water-saving shower heads and low-odor paints. Outside, there is an award-winning community pool reminiscent of a Roman grotto. And while the energy-efficient houses are in the city, they offer a sense of seclusion thanks to their wooded surroundings.
"It backs up to 765 acres of Frederick Law Olmstead parkland," says Sarah Taylor, sales manager at Overlook Clipper Mill.
This big chunk of protected green space in Druid Hill Park provides back-to-nature peace where owners can walk or bike. Rouse's home is within spitting distance of the woods that make her east-facing deck feel like a green retreat despite the construction going on next door.
"I can walk out my door and go into this incredible park with huge trees," says Rouse, a musician who loves the juxtaposition of nature with urban amenities. "But I can get to the train station in 12 minutes and I'm 13 minutes from the symphony hall."
The easy access to alternative transportation is a high-ranking element in LEED certification. There are four levels of certification - basic, silver, gold and platinum. Each level is achieved by earning a certain number of points in six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. The categories are further broken down into subcategories, each with its own point value.
"There's a LEED for homes checklist," says Kara Strong, senior project manager with Sustainable Design Consulting in Silver Spring. "It will tell you how many points you need to capture in order to get certified. The more points you get, the higher your certification level."
The sustainable site category begins the checklist. This category's stated objective is to reduce the need for cars and sprawl, reuse existing infrastructure and minimize the impact of development on surrounding areas. Yet even before points can be earned in this first category, a project must effectively address the ability to prevent pollution of the site and its surroundings during construction.
Once that prerequisite has been met, a project can go on to earn points for site selection, development density and community connectivity (proximity to basic services such as places of worship, medical care and banks), storm-water management, light pollution reduction and low-heat generating surfaces like roofing and paving that would otherwise jack up the ambient temperature known as "heat island effect."
The Clipper Mill development, occupied by a number of artists and artisans, is also close to shopping, restaurants and other services that fulfill the criteria. Nearly a third of points awarded in this category are related to alternative transportation. The proximity of various commuter options helped Clipper Mill earn its silver certification.
"Clipper Mill is within walking distance to light rail," says Taylor, who notes that it's also conveniently situated beside Interstate 83.
Another category, materials and resources, offers points for using recycled or rapidly renewable materials in fabrics or carpets and woods harvested from sustainable areas. More points can accrue for the reuse of an existing structure, which the Clipper Mill development achieved with condominiums in the historic mill. The energy and atmosphere category sets standards for the energy systems, including heat and refrigeration. The resulting energy-efficiency is a benefit owners can see in their electric bills.