If you’re planning a new cabin project, going green makes a lot of sense. Not only will having a more efficient home be better for the planet, but it will likely save you a boatload of money as a homeowner as well.
But building an energy-efficient home can be confusing. With so many different green-building organizations and regulations out there, it can be difficult to figure out what path to take toward building a greener cabin.
Luckily, the process is easier than you think. Plus, the building organizations that will help you “go green” tend to work together more than they work apart. Here, we walk you through what LEED, Energy Star and National Green Building Standards are, and how each one can impact the construction of your log home.
What It Is: First approved in 1998, LEED was the first system used to ensure that a residential home, a commercial office or another building project was built to a specific environmental standard. Since then, the LEED system has been used for more than 14,000 projects in the United States and 30 other countries.
Essentially, LEED is a points-based system that grades the greenness of your home according to a number of variables, including the home site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, the type of materials used, air quality and several other factors. Depending on how many points your project receives, it can be rated Certified (40 to 49 points), Silver (50 to 59 points), Gold (60 to 79 points) or Platinum (80 points or above).
How It Affects Your Build: To build a LEED-certified cabin, you’ll want to work with a builder, consultant or architect who is familiar with the LEED certification process. That builder, in turn, will need to work with one of 38 LEED for Homes Providers to ensure that the project will meet LEED certification and approval. Find one in your area at usgbc.org.
A log cabin can absolutely be LEED certified, possibly even receiving extra points because of the high thermal mass of log walls. One thing you can expect, however, is for your upfront costs on some materials, fixtures and other components of the home to be a bit more expensive than they would be in a standard build. For example, you may want to choose FSC-certified wood, which has been approved as renewable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), for your build. A recent study showed that building for LEED certification raised costs an average of $2.50 per square foot in the home.
What’s In It for You: If you build to LEED standards, you have the peace of mind in knowing that your house is truly green and built to the highest standards permitted in the industry. A recent study showed that annual savings ranged from almost $5 to $15 per square foot of floor space in the home than a non-LEED-certified home.
What It Is: Finding Energy Star-rated products is easy: When you’re shopping for home appliances and materials, just look for the Energy Star label. Energy Star is used to rate things such as home appliances and electronics, HVAC systems, plumbing, lighting, fans and even building products such as siding, insulation, windows and doors.
How It Affects Your Build: If you’re interested in making Energy Star products an integral part of your home construction process, simply make a conscious effort to choose Energy Star-rated products in the categories mentioned above or tell your builder that you’d like to do so. You can expect to pay a little more upfront when choosing Energy Star-rated products throughout your home.
What’s In It for You: If you choose Energy Star products, you can expect significant cost savings in the long run. The efficiency of Energy Star-rated products generally means that you’ll realize the extra money you spent upfront in anywhere from a few months to a few years. Although Dec. 31, 2010, marked the close of several tax rebates, some Energy Star-rated product installations are still eligible for tax breaks. Find out what tax credits are available at energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index.
What It Is: While LEED certification was established by the U.S. Green Building Council, the National Green Building Standard was developed by the National Association of Home Builders. One feather in the cap of the National Green Building Standard, however, is that it has been approved by the American National Standards Institute; LEED certification has not.
Like LEED, the National Green Building Standard is a points-based system that rates your home based on how “green” it is, with four possible certification levels — Bronze, Silver, Gold or Emerald. The National Green Building Standard will rate your house and award points based on the areas of site development, water conservation, energy conservation, resource conservation, indoor air quality and homeowner education. A home that uses 15 percent less energy than what is required by the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code can receive Bronze certification; a home that uses 65 percent less energy qualifies for Emerald certification.
How It Affects Your Build: Although it’s a slightly different system, building according to the National Green Building Standard really is not much different than building to a LEED certification. You’ll need to find a builder who’s certified and expect to pay more upfront to build a home that meets this standard.
Because it’s a relatively new system compared to LEED, it may be more difficult to find a builder who can construct a home compliant with the standard. However, the National Association of Home Builders provides a handy tool for finding a compliant builder on its web site at nahbgreen.org/certification/findparticipatingbuilder.aspx.
What’s In It for You: You’ll get many of the same benefits of LEED, and really, most experts don’t see much distinction between the two. Although LEED has been around longer and is more established, some experts feel that the National Green Building Standard is a little more flexible and easier to implement. Either way, you’ll get the assurance of a home built to green standards that will save you money in the long run.