Alliance Lands Coveted Role
In LEED For Homes Pilot

March 27, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Alliance for Environmental Sustainability is one of only 12 "providers" nationwide tapped by the U.S. Green Building Council to pilot test its new LEED for Homes rating system. LEED for Homes is the latest, most comprehensive green rating system for residential construction, developed by USGBC and industry experts with the goal of propelling mainstream homebuilders toward more sustainable practices.

The national council introduced the LEED for Homes rating system last August. The dozen providers are all local and regional organizations that were chosen to provide technical support, marketing support and certification services to home builders within their housing markets. They are the only organizations presently eligible to work with builders in the delivery of LEED for Homes during this first phase of the pilot program.

Two hundred organizations, many of them in concert with one another, submitted a total of 55 applications for the provider designation. The Green Building Council said each one of the 12 selected to carry out the pilot program had "demonstrated outstanding abilities and have a proven record of supporting builders in the construction of high performance, sustainable homes." Each provider selects its own projects and verifies that the homes are built to rating system requirements. The pilot began last August and runs through early 2007, at which time the full-chartered version of the LEED for Homes rating system will be completed.

"We got that designation last July and we put on the first training seminar in September," said Alliance Executive Director Jeannine Reynolds. "The response has been phenomenal."

Alliance President Mike Halcomb, owner of Home Inspector General Inc., said the provider designation is really a feather in West Michigan's cap. It wasn't just the ripple effect of the phone calls that came in after the announcement was made regarding selection of the providers; calls started to pour in from everywhere right after the USGBC posted a little blurb about the pilot on its Web site, he said.

"The council asked us to do at least four projects over the next year and maybe as many as 12, with at least one of them being a nonprofit project," he said. "We already have almost 60 projects going right now. The council would have been happy if they had gotten 40 home projects across the country. They have actually been overwhelmed by this."

The Alliance has projects in cities such as Louisville, St. Louis, Dayton, Chicago, Cleveland, Evansville and Minneapolis. It has trained a group of "raters" to do the rating and verification work out in the field. Halcomb said the Alliance took on out-of-state projects along with its local projects because it didn't want to curb anybody's enthusiasm about green building.

Among the local projects in the pilot are a 44-unit affordable housing development for Genesis Nonprofit Housing Corp.; a home for a nonprofit organization being built by Grand Valley State University's engineering department to teach its students green building and energy efficient principles; and a Habitat for Humanity home that Grand Rapids Community College is building. The pilot includes projects by custom home builders, as well.

The Genesis residential project, for instance, is incorporating several optional measures to get additional credits, said Project Manager Derrick Schabbel of Triangle Associates. They're seeking a "smart site" selection extra credit since the project is on the abandoned site of a former nursing home, so it could qualify as an adaptive reuse. Because the site is within the vicinity of so many transportation options, they're also seeking a community resources extra credit. Additionally, they're seeking a sustainable site credit for storm water system management.

"We have a terrific underground cistern that's going to be used to facilitate landscape irrigation; we're taking all the storm water from the site and we're storing it in an underground cistern, so there's a chance we'll get the surface water management point, as well," Schabbel said.

As far as the energy efficiency of the residential units, they're going for a high-efficiency furnace and direct-vent hot water heater and foam exterior wall insulation. They also hope to gain additional points and a recycling credit for the mass amount of recycling they're doing on the job.

"As much as we can, we are recycling product. For example, underground there were, from existing foundations, parts and pieces or cement structures, and we have hauled all that product out to a processing plant, and they are using that as crushed road substrate."

The Alliance for Environmental Sustainability is barely three years old. A group of local green-minded builders formed the organization because they felt there weren't enough educational resources in Grand Rapids for builders and general consumers who were interested in green building.

"When we compare ourselves with the other providers selected, we're really pretty humbled," Halcomb remarked. "One provider in the northeast area of the country is actually made up of 11 state organizations. Another provider is the Southface Energy Institute in Georgia  We're talking about some huge, huge organizations that have been around forever, are nationally known and have big budgets. I kind of felt like the kid at prep school on scholarship."

While some of the other providers can boast $1.5 million budgets, the Alliance is successfully keeping up its end of the bargain on a $12,000 budget, Halcomb said.

Any builder whose project is selected for inclusion in the pilot program has to participate in an eight-hour training seminar that outlines LEED for Homes principles, then USGBC representatives take them through the pilot program line item by line item, he said. The Wege Foundation contributed funding for additional seats, tables and equipment for seminars because of the number of projects and the training involved on the Alliance's part. So far, the group has held four seminars in Grand Rapids and one in Minneapolis and trained some 90 individuals.

The Alliance helps them with the design phase, the planning and the scoring phase, and does the energy analysis in the field and the site verifications and inspections, Halcomb noted. There are mandatory measures for earning LEED for Homes certification and optional measures the builder can choose to pursue to earn additional LEED credits.

"Michigan has the weakest energy code in the nation, and when we start talking about building to a standard like this, homebuilders' customers are not only going to see the projected 30 to 40 percent energy savings that Energy Star talks about, but there isn't any reason why we can't get some of these homes up to 70 percent energy efficiency," Halcomb said. "On top of that, the houses are more comfortable, less costly to operate, and they're healthier, so it becomes a win-win situation for everybody."    

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