Posts Tagged ‘LEED certification’

With water a VERY hot topic in California right now, I thought I’d make an Encore post of a Blog I wrote on water back in June 2012. Enjoy.

Water Efficiency – An interesting aspect of the “green” movement.

Today I’m going to talk about Water Efficiency.

I find water efficiency one of the more interesting aspects of the “green” movement. First, unlike coal, natural gas or most other natural resources, the supply of water is actually unlimited. And it keeps getting made every day. Second, and probably most important, we actually NEED the stuff to survive. You could make an argument that we couldn’t “survive” as a modern society without the other supply-limited natural resources we’ve grown to rely on in everyday life, but without water we actually CAN’T survive. Our bodies need it to function.

So why do we need to be efficient with an unlimited resource?

The answer to that question is its the procurement and delivery of water that causes the issue. As I said, there’s enough water on the planet to take care of our needs… plus more gets made every day. Actually it recycles itself in a never ending circle whereby even the water we use today ends up falling out of the sky at some point in the future, available to be “used” again. The crux of the issue is it doesn’t always fall out of the sky or end up in the places where we need it the most. At least not today. Before modern civilization, humans ALWAYS chose to live where there’s water. After all our bodies need it to survive and before modern technology made it possible to get water where we want it, if you weren’t close to it, you didn’t last very long. Now that we’ve figured out how to procure and deliver it pretty much wherever we want it, we’ve been able to live in areas of the world that actually have no source of natural water, or a source so small it limits how much growth can occur without modern technology.

At the end of the day the simple answer is that growth of any kind is limited by the amount of water, or more realistically the access to an amount of water, necessary to sustain the population. Especially since the population NEEDS the water for their own biological survival. The more efficient we are with the use of water, the more growth that a given city, state, nation, whatever, can support. As the population grows and the demand for water increases, it’s obvious that if you don’t become more efficient with the use of that water, over time that population will need more water. The cost of procuring and delivering water to a given population, especially one where water isn’t naturally abundant, can be enormous. And sometimes physically impossible. Becoming more efficient with the use of water becomes a necessity, not an option.

Until next time


The first sub-category in the “Sustainable Sites” category of the LEED certification process is called “Site Stewardship”.

The intent of this sub-category is to minimize long term environmental damage to the site during the construction process.  It’s actually kind of a “duh” aspect of the process because it’s so obvious to builders in California.  The extensive Storm water laws in California mandate that we protect the site during the construction process. I built in Texas for many years and there were no laws whatsoever aimed at limiting environmental damage to the site during construction.  In California you can face some serious fines if you ignore the law.

From the LEED perspective, Site Stewardship, has only two components to it; Erosion controls during construction and minimize disturbance to the site.

Erosion control during construction is kind of self explanatory but this is the one that can get you in big trouble in California.  There has to be a plan in place so that NOTHING from the site erodes off the site. In other words if it rains for 3 days straight, or 30 days straight, not one grain of dirt from the site can end up in the storm drain system.  Protections must be in place to safeguard anything on the site from ever leaving the site.  Sounds pretty onerous, I agree, but in reality if every construction site had no protections in place, then the storm drain system would be overrun with sediment during any kind of rain event.  The only way to fix that is every so often someone has to pay to go clean out tons and tons of sediment from the storm drain system, which is exactly what the State of California was doing for years and years.  Billions of dollars were spent dredging all this dirt from storm drain channels until someone finally figured out that if we make laws forcing all construction sites to make sure nothing erodes from the site we wouldn’t have to clean out the storm drain channels so often.  LEED awards points for doing just that, but in California you don’t have a choice.

The second component has more to do with design than construction but LEED awards points if those decisions “steward” the site towards minimizing disturbance of the site.  If the site was NOT previously developed, and you leave 40% of the buildable area completely undisturbed, you can get points. If the site was NOT or WAS previously developed and you develop a tree or plant preservation plan for the site, you can get points.  The best part of this component is if you design with a density of greater than 7 per acre you can receive all the points in this component without doing any of the other things. Being an infill builder, we rarely ever build anything at less than 7 units per acre so that part is easy to achieve.

To sum up this component, we’re an infill builder in California.  Those two aspects alone make getting these LEED points almost impossible NOT to get.  By law we have to implement erosion controls during construction, and we wouldn’t even consider an infill project that yields less than 7 units per acre.

Next time let’s talk about the “Landscaping” sub-category of “Sustainable Sites”

Until then


This blog will finish up the discussion of Water Efficiency as it relates to LEED certification. This, the third and final component, deals with Indoor Water Use.

Indoor water use efficiency differs from the previous two components in a way that up until now we haven’t had a chance or need, to talk about. Marketing. If you’ll remember the first component had to do with water REUSE. Other than infrastructure changes, for the most part this very green aspect occurs with little or no notice from the occupant. Even the second component, outdoor water use efficiency, can be implemented in a very green way without compromising anything in the how the property looks or functions. To be a successful green builder, you have to walk the fine line between being green and doing what’s best for the planet, and providing a product that the modern homebuyer has come to expect from a new home and how it lives. The reality of green building is that almost everyone SAYS they want to be green, but if they have to pay extra for it or it changes their way of life in a dramatic fashion, they’ll opt out of being green in a heartbeat.

Which gets us back to the Indoor Water Use efficiency component of LEED.

When it comes to indoor water use, its pretty simple. Wherever it comes out, try and make LESS of it come out, yet still accomplish its purpose. That’s the purest definition of efficiency…accomplishing the same with less. Showers, faucets, toilets, washers & dishwashers are pretty much the extent of our indoor water use, but can you think of five more important aspects of every day life in our modern society? Indoor water use efficiency is achieved by installing faucets and fixtures that lower the output of water to its designated use. Low flow fixtures and faucets definitely accomplish the goal of being efficient but this is where the tricky part of being a green builder in this aspect comes into play. People love their long luxurious showers, they want their dishes sparkling and their clothes soft and clean….and there can be nothing more annoying than having to flush a toilet twice to achieve its intended use. In other words purchasing low flow faucets and fixtures based on cost alone without researching which ones accomplish the goal of efficiency WITHOUT sacrificing function needs to be the absolute goal in this component. Being penny wise and pound foolish here can actually turn out to be very costly to a builder from a customer satisfaction standpoint. That’s why this aspect needs to be carefully planned out and implemented.

The very best low flow faucets and fixtures are NOT inexpensive. That makes this component of LEED a costly green aspect. As with all other products, I imagine the evolution will continue and low flow items will get better and cheaper. The Green Builder will continue to monitor the progress of this evolution but until function and cost become more realistic in how they can affect marketing and customer satisfaction, this expensive aspect of green building will have to be implemented with great caution.

Next time we’ll begin our discussion of another of LEED’s eight categories. We’ve discussed energy and water efficiency over the last several blogs.

Next we’ll tackle “Sustainable Sites”

Until then


So last time we talked a little about water efficiency. I talked about how water is an interesting natural resource because we definitely need to be efficient in its use, but not because of its scarcity. In fact water is basically an unlimited resource. We need to be efficient in its use because it’s a pain in the ass and costly to procure, treat and distribute. Especially if you live in an area where it doesn’t naturally exist… most of the southwestern portion of the United States. Of course that’s ironic because MOST of the growth in this country in the last 50 years has occurred in the southwest portion of the United States.

Remember I also said last time that growth can be severely limited by access to water. As a region tries to grow, if it can’t get water, it won’t grow for long. As the costs of getting MORE water to an area increase, it will eventually become a situation where those costs will exceed the ability of that region to grow. If the costs of getting MORE water are prohibitive, then the only way to grow is to use the water that you ARE getting more efficiently.

LEED awards points in their certification process for building new homes and neighborhoods that use water more efficiently. There are three areas points can be earned.

First is the reuse of water. And there’s three ways points can be earned there. First we can capture and reuse rainwater. Obviously it can’t be used for everything as it isn’t treated for drinking or bathing purposes, but it can certainly be harvested and used for landscaping. Of course it’s a little expensive and impractical to try and harvest rain in an area that has little or no rainfall so we haven’t looked at this option very seriously.

Second is the use of “gray water”. Gray water is untreated household wastewater that has not come into contact with toilet waste, kitchen sinks or dishwashers. It includes used water from bathtubs, showers, bath sinks, and clothes washers. Toilet waste and used water from kitchen sinks and dishwashers is called black water. It cannot be reused. Gray water absolutely can be reused for landscaping purposes. A sewer system must be devised that separates black and gray water and diverts them to different areas. This is where the cost comes in. In most communities ALL wastewater goes into the same sewer system and ends up in city treatment facilities. LEED will award points for a project that devises a system to separate and capture gray water so it can be reused.

Third is utilizing a Municipal Gray Water system. Some forward thinking cities have their own systems in place that separate gray and black water. Building a project that hooks into that system gets LEED points as it helps use water more efficiently.

The other two areas LEED awards points for has to do with outdoor and indoor use. I’ll address them next time

Until then


So last time we talked about Sustainability.

If the energy required to operate the homes in our neighborhoods actually came from our neighborhoods, then we can call those neighborhoods “Sustainable”.  They “sustain” themselves without the use of any “natural resource produced energy” to operate.

But is the energy to operate the homes we live in the only aspect of homebuilding that requires the use of natural resources?  And therefore the only way we define whether or not a home is “Sustainable” or “Green”.

Of course the answer is no.  In fact there are several natural resources used not only in the production and operation of homes and neighborhoods but also used as an indirect result of WHERE homes and neighborhoods are produced.

Gee, what we need is a way to measure how “Green” a home is and use that standard of measurement as a means of letting the public know which homes are green.  It turns out we do!  Its called LEED certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  It’s a point system that encourages the production of “Green” homes by awarding different certification levels.  The levels are basic LEED certification, LEED silver, LEED Gold, and LEED Platinum.  Obviously the higher the certification level, the “Greener” the home.

There are two  reasons a homebuilder would seek LEED certification.  First, it’s the right thing to do.  I know that sounds pretty new-agey.  But we can’t keep building homes/neighborhoods/cities the way we always have.  It’s not only  irresponsible but it’s about as shortsighted and selfish as it gets.  It unnecessarily wastes future natural resources for present economic gain.  That’s just wrong.  Secondly, and as I said earlier, it lets the general public know that the home they’re purchasing is green.  For the same reason homebuilders need to stop building homes that aren’t green, the public needs to stop buying homes that aren’t green.  It’s just wrong and it will get more wrong as time goes on and the battle of demand of natural resources versus the supply will inevitably push the equilibrium price of all natural resources beyond what anyone can afford to pay.  Until they’re gone….and unavailable at any price.

That’s why the future of homebuilding is through green building practices with the ultimate goal of producing net zero energy homes that are 100% sustainable.

The first one to figure it out wins.  And that’s my goal.

Next time we’ll talk about those other aspects that make a home green

Until then




The Green Builder’s Journal is written by Herb Gardner, President of City Ventures Home Building Group. Herb has 30 years experience managing the building of residential and apartment communities in over 60 municipalities in 3 different states.

A big proponent of in-fill communities and the urban lifestyle Mr. Gardner has extensive experience in all aspects of residential home building, ranging from land acquisition to warranty management, he specializes in managing teams of people in delivering communities on time, on budget and to the quality standards the marketplace demands.

For Questions, Feedback or observations you can Click here to Email Herb