LEED for HOMES: An analysis for Toronto Renovations By: greening homes

June 16, 2013
LEED for Homes

by Connor Malloy

An introduction to LEED for Homes
As one of 2 LEED for Homes accredited professionals located in the Greater Toronto Area (1 of 5 in Ontario), I am often asked about the LEED for Homes rating system. Due to the brand equity of the parent rating system and its creator, LEED for New Construction (LEED NC) and the USGBC/CaGBC, the rating system has the highest awareness level in the city. Other rating systems are being used in Toronto, Passive House most notably, yet the details about how this and the LEED for Homes rating system works is a mystery to most of our clients.

I find that the bulk of the consumer knowledge around LEED for Homes (or any other LEED rating system) is concentrated around the Material and Resources credit category. We can thank the marketing departments of national building product companies for that one. For instance, our clients may know that the bamboo floor they have selected would qualify for a LEED credit, but product-marketing materials typically fail to mention which credit (Material and Resources Credit 2), or explain the intent behind the product’s eligibility.

The second area responsible for the high level of brand awareness of the LEED rating systems can be attributed to the marketing of newly certified buildings. These LEED NC projects are typically found in the form of commercial office buildings, large retail outlets, or newly constructed institutional buildings (for universities, governments, etc). For all of the aforementioned, the rating system provides a vehicle for proving (and advertising) the importance of sustainability for the organization housed within.


LEED for HOMES & your residential renovation
Consider you are a passionate Torontonian who considers living responsibly to be one of your core values. Naturally when you think about renovating, you might look for an environmentally conscious designer and builder to help realize your project. You may also think about finding some way to prove that your project is truly sustainable, responsible, or green. Enter LEED for Homes.

The first challenge with working with the rating system – is that the rating system was not designed for renovations! Well, not most renovations. The LEED for Homes rating system had been created to tailor a LEED rating system specifically to new residential construction market. A new home build has the ability to carefully consider the building’s orientation, location, window specifications, heating/cooling system efficiency, and so much more. Thus the LEED for Homes rating system is a comprehensive design tool to minimize your homes impact on the planet.

In addition to some of the building related credits, other credit categories gear towards site stewardship and connection with the community – something difficult for a small to mid-sized renovation to address. Renovations deal with a multitude of existing housing stocks (of varying ages and site conditions), and the projects often only involve part of the home.

LEED for Homes will work if you are completing a ‘full-gut’ renovation, where clients have the ability to control and adhere to the credit categories and list of prerequisites the LEED for Homes rating system includes. This extreme level of renovation is necessary to comply with some of the prerequisites such as ‘Good Windows’ (Energy and Atmosphere Credit 4.1), where all of the homes windows must meet or exceed Energy Star requirements. If you have ever been inside a downtown Toronto century home, you know their original windows will not comply! Other prerequisites in the Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) credits list that all combustion space and water heating equipment be of closed combustion, which in the HVAC world means high-efficiency. Further, the walls in your entire home must be insulated to meet or exceed U 0.051 for our climate zone (which is R19 – but must actually be R24 to comply with OBC SB-12 requirements). So, now that you need to upgrade that old mid-efficiency furnace, change all of your windows and fully insulate your home to meet R24 in the walls alone – the renovation must be extensive to work with LEED for Homes. This short list does not even mention one of the toughest prerequisites for old homes, air tightness. The LEED for Homes EA Credit 3.1 requires the air leakage (or amount air infiltration) to be below 5.0 ACH @ 50kpa. This is not tight compared with the average new home in Toronto (3.14 ACH based on a 2009 study) but much tighter than your non-insulated and non-air sealed 1950’s bungalow.

For 95% of Toronto’s residential renovations, which include kitchens, bathrooms, basements, additions, exteriors, and partial interior renovations, achieving a certification under the LEED for Homes rating system is not possible. What a shame. With these types of renovations representing the majority of renovation work in the city, responsible builders have no way to prove their environmental efforts (and cut through the green washing). So, no matter how impressive your air sealed ICF addition might be (even with it’s FSC and NAUF wood window boxes that trim out the locally-produced fiberglass windows!), the old house it is attached too starts looking like a in-efficient ball and chain, in the eyes of LEED for Homes anyways.


REGREEN and LEED for Homes
Around the same time of the LEED for Homes rating system release (2009), the USGBC released another new program called REGREEN to address the residential remodeling market in the US. The program is not a rating system like LEED, but merely a series of guidelines for different residential remodeling (renovation) projects.

“The guidelines address the major elements of any green renovation project, including the site of the home, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, material and resources, and indoor environmental quality. The guidelines blend product selection, building systems integration and proven technologies into a seamless compilation of green strategies and case studies for the homeowner, builder and design professional. The REGREEN guidelines can be applied to a variety of home projects, from remodeling a kitchen to adding a major addition, from redoing a back yard to executing a gut rehab.”

At the time of this writing, the CaGBC website does not offer the REGREEN guideline download but the 180 page document is available for free here (from regreenprogram.org).

Where the LEED for Homes rating system fails the small to mid-sized renovation project, the REGREEN program really excels. Any Toronto renovation can learn and apply green building strategies from the guidelines. Also, as the guidelines are not a rating system, the REGREEN program does not certify or stamp a project upon completion for marketing or awareness purposes – it merely aids homeowners and builders along the way. So, without a green badge when the project is done on the quiet merits of the project are left for the homeowners to enjoy.

So, perhaps this is how the small to mid-sized renovation project market should look to LEED for Homes – as a series of guidelines only. Once you remove the confines of attempting certification and meeting of the category prerequisites, the rating system seems all shiny and new!


LEED for Homes strategies can be used for any Toronto renovation
As a LEED for Homes Accredited Professional, I have chosen to look at the rating system predominantly as a series of guidelines. I have consulted on few potential LEED for Homes registered projects but none have been certified to date. But why despair? Once you remove yourself from pursuing a LEED certification project badge, individual strategies of the rating system can be incorporated into any project. Further, construction companies can use the LEED for Homes rating system to inform their internal company policies. Greening Homes specifically, has used the Materials and Resources category to inspire our Waste Diversion Policy and Informed Material Policy.

So, despite the LEED for Homes rating system not being applicable for 95% of Toronto’s renovation market, this does not mean that you shouldn’t have a copy of the rating system in your truck (or bicycle panier!).


Connor Malloy, LEED AP for Homes