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Building The Totally Efficient House

I plan to design and build a new house, and I want it to be energy efficient. I hear LEED-certified houses can qualify for reduced property taxes: what is a LEED house, and is it energy efficient?—Clara C.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a certification procedure developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to promote environmentally responsible and sustainable housing.

In addition to energy and material efficiencies, LEED houses offer lower operating costs and increased value at resale. During construction, waste is reused or recycled. The houses conserve water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

LEED-certified homes generally cost more to build. But the energy and water savings, and possible tax abatement benefits, quickly make up for the higher initial cost. Contact your local tax authorities to see what tax abatements apply in your area.

To build a LEED house, you or your builder must apply for certification through the U.S. Green Building Council. The registration fee for a single-family house is about $150 to $225. You must be able to verify the types of materials, equipment, and appliances used throughout the house. It will help to select a contractor who has built LEED houses before.

Green points
You’ll have to find a certified inspector to visit your house during construction to determine the points you get toward certification. A house gets points for various material and conservation criteria—something as simple as using screws made partially from recycled metals may gain a LEED point. For a residence, there are a total 108 possible points. At 30 points, it is a “certified” house. At 50 points, it is certified “silver,” at 70 points “gold,” and 90 points “platinum.”

Energy-efficiency features gain the most points. These must be extremely efficient, not just what the manufacturers call their “energy efficient” product line. For example, extra-heavy insulation—higher than code standards—earns one point. Reducing air leakage from 0.35 air changes per hour to 0.15 yields two points. Installing windows 20 percent more efficient than Energy Star requirements provides two points. A better furnace gets three points.

These water conservation measures yield one point each: capturing rainwater for irrigation; installing a graywater recycling system; and installing low-flow showerheads, toilets, and faucets.

Homebuilding help
There are a couple dozen third-party “LEED for Homes” providers (usually part of the Residential Energy Service Network at across the country that work with the U.S. Green Building Council. They contract with qualified local inspectors to follow and rate houses registered for LEED certification.

For more information about LEED certified homes, visit

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