To LEED or not to LEED?
When we arrived in the US and started researching how things are done here, and what are the building standards, we were quickly introduced to LEED. When we selected our design/build team, they proposed applying for LEED platinum certification, a standard that had not yet been achieved in Manhattan for a townhouse. This seemed to meet all our needs for creating an environmentally sustainable townhouse, so we went ahead.
I continued talking to people and researching however I could, but never challenged going for LEED certification. Until recently, when the added value of LEED certification was questioned.
Its important here to draw the distinction between doing all the things that would be necessary to get certification, and actually applying for the certification. We are committed to the sustainability, and are interested in adding value to our property, so does the certification add value. This is the question I put to a few people. What I learned was that LEED certification is very beneficial for a commercial property, but for residential properties, there is currently so little awareness among the general public (who are the ones who might pay money for our townhouse) of LEED, and there has been mixed press about it recently, that there is no evidence that it adds value.
When exploring the different standards to aim for, LEED suffers from being broad and vague. It is also a very US standard, rather than an international one. Passive House, on the other hand, is narrow, and specific. Whilst it pays no attention to things like recycling of materials during the construction process (which I think is important, and LEED does), it is easy for people to understand. If a building has Passive House certification, they know it has no energy costs for maintaining its internal environment. Also Passive House is an international standard, and many buyers in New York are not US citizens.
So why is this important? Because it costs in the order of $20,000 to get LEED certification, over and above doing the things that get the points for the test, whereas Passive House costs about $2,000. Why pay out an additional $20,000, when potential buyers of our house will not pay an additional $20,000 for it?
Additionally, our broker has made it clear to us that, currently, there is no system in the property selling business, for buyers to specify sustainability, or air quality, or energy usage, when they are telling their broker what they are looking for. Clearly this is something that will change in time, but lets make it easy on ourselves. If we tell potential purchasers that we have Passive House certification, even if they have not heard of it, we can explain very quickly what are the benefits to them, and how that can be reflected in the price they pay. If we say we are certified to LEED platinum standard, its a lot more difficult to make the case for the benefits to them.
The other standard in this debate, is the Living Building Challenge. Whilst this one is considerably more expensive to achieve, and public awareness is still low, it is very easy to explain that this is a standard by which we know that there is NO impact on the environment by the presence of our building. And by directing the explanation out towards the environment, people can easily relate it to their relationship with the environment, and their concern about the future world their kids will be living in.
So this is the debate we are having. A decision has not yet been made. Any thoughts?
Oh, and by the way, we are still in negotiations with the city, and hoping to get our work permit within a month.