Volume 47, Issue 3 - April 2008

In the LEED
Why Distributors Are Using the LEED-for-Homes Program
by Tara Taffera a contributing editor for Shelter magazine.

If there is a silver lining to the state of the housing market, it is this: the slowdown is enticing members of the building industry to promote energy-efficient “green” products. 

“Our office is busier than ever,” says Arlene Stewart of AZS Consulting. “Now that there is a slowdown people are focusing on efficiency. Everyone wants to market efficiency and green building.”

A Green Home Defined
A green home uses less energy, water and natural resources, creates less waste and is healthier for the people living inside compared to a standard home, according to the USGBC. 

For more information (including the 114-page guideline list) visit www.usgbc.org.

John Sasseen, the owner of a Pella distributorship in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, says he knows his competitors are talking to homeowners about energy savings.

“In Texas, we’ve seen the energy improvement ratings improve year after year,” he says.

However, what window material is used to improve those ratings varies. What also changes is the opinions various industry professionals have regarding these materials and what criteria might be used to achieve certification as an energy-efficient home. There are various green building programs across the country, including local and regional ones. In this issue we take a look at a national program introduced recently. Interviews with builders, designers and architects give insight into what these professionals look for when choosing windows for these and other energy-efficient homes. 

How it Works
LEED-for-Homes Certification Levels Number of LEEDPoints Required
Certified  45-59
Silver  60-74
 Gold 75-89
Platinum  90-136
 Total available points  136
Source: USGBC

Introducing LEED-for-Homes 
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) launched its Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-for-Homes program at the organization’s annual Greenbuild conference in Chicago in November 2007. A nearly two-year pilot program to adapt the LEED rating system to residential building ended this spring, but USGBC says it waited until the Greenbuild show for its official debut so the program could be balloted with the organization’s full membership.

The program incorporates results from the LEED-for-Homes pilot program that began in 2005 and will be expanding into more areas of the country. During the pilot phase alone, more than 8,000 homes across the United States have been part of the program, with more than 300 gaining certification.

According to USGBC, the builders or project team (composed of architects or design professionals) decide what products will go into the home. Approximately 336 houses have earned LEED certification since USGBC began piloting the residential ratings program in August 2005, and 8,000 more are in the pipeline. The USGBC says LEED can be applied to single- and multi-family homes and is intended for both market-rate and affordable housing.

There currently are more than 70 local or regional green home building programs in the United States, according to the USGBC. The organization adds that LEED is the only national home rating system that clearly defines and establishes benchmarks for green homes. When LEED-for-Homes was launched it may have been the only national program, but that was not to be true for long. Shortly after the USGBC announcement, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) announced that it would unveil a similar program. The NAHB also launched its National Green Building Program at the International Builders’ Show on February 14. (Look to the May 2008 issue of Shelter for details.)

“I think the industry will favor the NAHB program at first because the slant is more builder-oriented. [The association is] more knowledgeable about the builders’ needs,” says John Tremble, engineer for Milgard Windows and Doors. Tremble is familiar with both programs and the company has provided windows for LEED-for-Homes projects. Stewart agrees, saying, “Builders are apt to go with their own program.”

“I’ve seen a draft [of the NAHB program] and it definitely has teeth,” she says. However, she points out that the two programs don’t have to be viewed as being in competition with one another. “I’ve heard USGBC officials say they welcome other programs and say any program that promotes green practices is good for the industry,” Stewart says. Whatever the vehicle used, the industry is definitely poised to continue driving toward green-building initiatives. “The major contribution to a home is the energy,” Stewart says. “It all comes down to energy. This is the anchor.”

In the case of LEED-for-Homes, there are specific criteria to be met in terms of the energy-efficient windows used (see box below).

But the program also looks at other factors, such as recycling methods used on the jobsite and close proximity to local services (thus saving fuel and transportation costs and reducing carbon emissions). It also offers points for items such as using a manufacturer less than 500 miles away from the jobsite. The program is a series of trade-offs depending on the green practices used for that particular job.

Energy Star® Requirements 
for Glass Doors and Windows

Metric Northern North Central South Central Southern
U-factor <0.35 <0.40 <0.40 <0.55
SHGC Any <0.45 <0.40 <0.35
U-factor <0.31 <0.35 <0.35 <0.55
SHGC Any <0.40 <0.35 <0.33
U-factor <0.28 <0.32 <0.32 <0.55
 SHGC Any <0.40 <0.30 <0.30
Source: USGBC

Chris Miles, owner of GreenCraft Builders in Lewisville, Texas, worked on a LEED home in which he chose windows from Pella Windows and Doors. Miles says he received points because Pella, as a company, embodies green principles such as recycling, etc. “But where we lost Pella a little bit was in the location,” he says. “Pella, Iowa, is unfortunately more than 500 miles away from here (though the distributor was only a thee-mile distance).

This geographic constraint also was an issue for Chris Kellogg, an architect with Steele Kellogg Design House in New Jersey. When working on a LEED-for-Homes project in Madison, N.J, he says he “blew” the geographic restrictions. His final selection came down to two Canadian manufacturers, neither of which was in a 500-mile proximity. 

Tremble says he enjoys the flexibility of the tradeoffs offered in the program. “They give choices—you can offer better insulation or better windows,” he says. While everyone we spoke to had mainly positive things to say about the LEED program, it should be noted that when so many variables are involved when building a home, many also note that it can be a cumbersome procedure. “It’s a hugely bureaucratic process with a lot of paperwork,” Kellogg says. 

This is no surprise as the LEED-for-Homes guidelines are 114 pages long. Kellogg also notes that the USGBC “takes a very hard-line approach to the size of the building.” “They assume that big is bad and small is good and I don’t think this is necessarily true,” he says. “You can build big houses very efficiently.”

As with any program, there are associated costs. Stewart works with builders to ensure homes are built to LEED standards, and deals with them from the plans to final inspection.

“My opinion is that builders are eating the costs, as that’s the only way they can sell them. But, it’s still worth it to them as consumers are looking for green homes,” she says. 

Insights into the Window Selection Process 
Some building product manufacturers may not even be aware of the LEED-for-Homes program. However, with more than 300 houses completed and more in the pipeline, manufacturers indeed are providing the windows. But, builders or architects are the ones making this decision and many times working through distributors. A manufacturer may not even know its product is going into a LEED Home.

So, as it is the architect or builder selecting the windows, how do they make this decision? They definitely do a thorough review of different products before making a decision, though in some cases it comes down to relationships already formed. This was the case with Tom Kelly of the design/build firm of Neil Kelly Co. in Oregon. When working on the Kelly-Woodford House (see sidebar below), he went to the two manufacturers with whom he had relationships—Milgard and Marvin. He says that when choosing a window for a LEED project he looks at energy efficiency, price and design.

“A big piece of the home is the amount of fenestration in the house,” he says. “We do extensive energy modeling and consider the glazing, U-values, etc.”

Kelly says in terms of offering the best energy efficiency he groups windows as follows: wood, fiberglass and vinyl.

“In my opinion when it comes to energy efficiency, fiberglass always will win over vinyl,” Kelly says. He adds that if price is an issue, as it was in the Kelly-Woodford house, fiberglass is chosen over wood. When considering wood, Kelly takes it a step further, and will look at whether the wood is grown in a sustainable environment. “We’ll smile upon that wood,” he says, while adding that, “The major manufacturers have yet to come out with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified windows.” So why fiberglass over vinyl?

“Fiberglass is silica-based, which is less intrusive [than vinyl] on the environment,” Kelly says. Others seem to agree with that assessment, including one window distributor who did not want to be identified as he distributes all varieties of windows, everything from full aluminum to steel, wood, aluminum clad/wood, fiberglass and vinyl windows.  “We find it hard to understand how vinyl windows can even be a part of this [green equation], especially since their petroleum-based and they’re not biodegradable,” he says. Kellogg puts it simply, “I will not specify vinyl based on toxins alone.”

However, builders like Miles disagree, as he says he is always looking for low-maintenance products. When asked if he would look at vinyl, he says, “Yes, absolutely … The next LEED project we do will be vinyl or fiberglass.” 

Sasseen says that when choosing any window it all comes down to what you are trying to achieve. “A lot of people love vinyl as you don’t have to paint it, stain it, etc. Some people don’t like it for those same reasons,” he says. 

“From my perspective, people are using vinyl [in Texas] due to energy improvements we’ve had to make over aluminum windows, as it keeps the costs closer to that of an aluminum window [than wood, for example],” he adds.

But that’s not to say that finding the best vinyl window is an easy task. “It’s kind of tough to find a good vinyl window to perform like we want,” says Miles. “Here in Texas, the vinyl window manufacturers have made builder-grade windows.

“Builders here in Texas only look at cost, but I look at performance.”

Stewart also comes to vinyl’s defense, citing a USGBC five-year study that was published in February 2007, which concluded that the framing material didn’t matter. “Wood came up slightly better if it was grown in a sustainable forest, but that was the only difference,” she says. “All were equally bad for the environment.”

She adds that windows are complex products and that it’s difficult to track recyclability, as the frame makes up only 25 percent of the window.

Stewart says for this reason manufacturers should focus on making a durable window. “If it lasts 40 years, then it’s environmentally sound [as windows are going back into the environment less frequently],” she says. “The best thing you can do is have a certified IG product.”

Choosing the Glass Package
From the manufacturer viewpoint, Milgard’s Tremble says it’s all about the glass package. “Wood, fiberglass, vinyl—they all can offer good U-values,” he says.

The choice of glass is important.

“I don’t hesitate to ask a window company whose glass is in a window,” Miles says. “Windows and doors are the vulnerable parts of a house. You want [them] to perform as well as a wall.”

Tremble says he has heard companies talking about offering U-values ranging from .35, .32 and even .28. Regarding the latter he says, “That’s a tough one.”

He gives the example that a U-value of .32 would require an argon fill while a U-value of .28 would require triple-glazing. “That’s a major difference.” When Kellogg designed a LEED Home currently in progress in Madison, N.J., he knew he wanted a triple-glazed product and says that limited his options.

His final selection came down to two Canadian manufacturers, one who offered a fiberglass product and Loewen. He says it was a close decision that ultimately came down to aesthetics, and a choice of a wood interior with a clad exterior window from Loewen as opposed to a fiberglass window. “The fiberglass window was ‘stock-looking’—off the shelf,” he says. “It looked kind of basic in terms of the overall look and feel … The fiberglass window looked like vinyl to me—it has no nuance of detailing.”

Others agree that aesthetics play a huge role in the window decision. “I take what the homeowner likes in terms of looks and then I take it from there and look for high-performing products,” Miles says. 

The Road Ahead Many people in the building industry are familiar with the USGBC’s commercial LEED for Buildings Program as that has already gained widespread acceptance. And on the residential side, many builders are members of the NAHB, so it will be interesting to watch these programs (and others like it) as they evolve. “2008 will tell,” Stewart says. “We won’t know what the market penetration is of LEED-for-Homes until the NAHB unveils its program.”

“In four to five years I think LEED-for-Homes will be fairly common in the residential industry,” Kelly says. But whatever program is cited or window material is used, one thing is certain.

“Participation in any program is good for the industry as it will increase awareness of environmental initiatives and offer better performing windows,” Tremble says. 

Case Study
Shining Example of LEED Silver

The Kelly-Woodford home in Parkdale, Ore., is so green that it was the first LEED-certified residence on the West Coast and only the fourth in the nation. The home utilizes doors and windows from Integrity® from Marvin Windows and Doors. 

The two-story, 2,000-square-foot home is built to get the most out of the available space. The windows are placed to help the house stay cool during the warmer months. The home’s length runs east to west, in part to provide a broad southern exposure for the mountain view and for passive solar warming, but also to take advantage of prevailing winds from the west. When awning windows in the west wall and the high clerestory windows in the north wall are opened, a steady flow of air passes through the house to draw cooler air in and push warmer air out. 

Sloping sills in the thick walls allow the light coming through the awning windows to spread throughout the rooms. A bank of casement and awning windows along the south living room wall provides a magnificent view of Mount Hood as well as a passive solar heat source. 

The windows, oriented to take advantage of a south exposure, use low-E II with argon technology that works with the seasons to keep the home comfortable. All windows meet and exceed NFRC and Energy Star® requirements. 

During the home’s design phase, LEED-certified architect Liz Olberding worked closely with the Oregon Department of Energy. “Using Department of Energy software, we could determine what kind of performance we needed to get from the exterior wall and the windows to keep the mechanical systems working as little as possible. We needed those walls to perform thermally to the highest degree. It seemed crazy to build a superbly high-performance wall and then use inadequate glass,” she says. Integrity’s Wood-Ultrex windows have a low U-value of .32. 

Olberding adds that Integrity’s signature Ultrex® pultruded fiberglass material was a strong selling point. “I have become convinced that fiberglass windows are the way to go, due to thermal expansion issues and finish problems with aluminum,” she says, while adding that the wood details were important to warm things up.

Olberding says Ultrex fiberglass is environmentally friendly as it contains no volatile compounds and is manufactured not from petroleum and other hydrocarbon-based materials, but from silica sand. 

Ultrex fiberglass is made from 10 percent recycled materials, and has about 80 percent less embodied energy than aluminum and 39 percent less than vinyl. To see more LEED-for-Homes case studies and even entire LEED neighborhoods visit www.usgbc.org.

When Remodeling Think Re-Green
USGBC is preparing to launch its re-green program that applies to existing homes. However, according to USGBC, this differs from LEED-for-Homes in that these serve as guidelines only, thus are not as stringent as LEED certification. The guidelines include suggestions such as:

The 140-page document includes numerous specific recommendations for doors and windows as well as case studies. Scott Widmer, engineering manager for ProVia Door in Sugarcreek, Ohio, says he looks forward to the launch of this program. “The re-green residential remodeling program is probably more closely suited to our business model and target customer,” he says. 

“We would like to encourage our customers to promote this program locally when materials become available. I think training the best-practices guidelines need to become part of our customer relationship. That would be consistent with our Energy Star message and our product performance.”

For more info on re-green visit www.regreenprogram.org. (The final guidelines were due to be posted in March.) 

 


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