LEED points vs behaviour modification


Last spring I wrote about our decision to work with Wakefield (our builder) on making our house a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) qualified build.

I like to think that our approach to the LEED rating system is different from most. We’re really aiming to stick to our values rather than competing for bragging rights, but sometimes it’s a slippery slope.

Understandably, the LEED rating system can’t give credit for modifying behaviours, since those are user-dependent and not usually unique to a home or property. This is where we find our ideals and the rating system the most challenging.

We’re pretty committed to behavioural changes that reduce our footprint. For example, we have modest commutes for work, let yellow mellow, don’t shower daily and hand water our garden. Sure there’s room for improvement but neither of us are big consumers either, choosing to repair our clothes and make things from scratch when possible. We also like to repurpose things and buy second hand when it makes sense.

Since we’re building a new house the incremental cost of an energy efficient appliance or fixture is often inconsequential. We chose to go with new:
– water efficient shower heads (you wouldn’t believe how many months it’s taken to get a 1.5 gpm shower head, but it works!)
– water efficient toilets (3 Lpf, discussed here)
– water efficient faucets
– water and energy efficient clothes washer
– energy star fridge (options for our size that met this criteria without a lot of extra cost were limited)

In some cases though, it didn’t make sense for us to try and chase points. For example, we found a dishwasher that will do the job for $25 and it’s not energy star rated. Given that we prefer to hand wash most of our cook ware though, it seemed better to save the money and give this old dish washer a new life.

Currently there’s no credit in the Canadian system for having a vegetable garden and for most of the landscaping areas to gather points you need to have an irrigation system. I’m not really keen on irrigating period, probably because there have been times when I’ve had to haul my own water. Rather than cover our property in grass and other plants that don’t belong here, we’ve gone with a mix of native species and drought-tolerant plants. We’ve also made heavy use of mulches, with some of that yet to be done.

As far as our footprint and piece of mind go, growing our own food is still really important so we’ve built the beds in the front and extended the original garden patch in the back. That will still need watering so we’re working on installing a rain water harvesting system to help with that. Last weekend we finally put the tank into position and by next week we should be able to hook it up. The plan is to use a gravity feed system to irrigate the vegetable gardens in the front and back yard. It’ll be low-tech for sure, but then it won’t require additional energy inputs either.

Sept 13 - the rain water harvesting system set-up

Building a new home and navigating LEED has been quite the learning experience. It’s taken us a while to wrap up the details but we’re hoping to get there soon!


beating the budget

We finally did it. We compromised so we could bring a line item in under budget. Our project manager has done this where he can, but when it came to appliances the ball was firmly in our court and we did it!

Admittedly we didn’t take such a long view when we opted for the less expensive appliances, but then again, these choices weren’t as important to us as the windows and the mechanical system, which are a little harder to replace down the line. Besides, it doesn’t seem like anyone is building appliances to last like they did when our grandparents were making these decisions!

Before we’d even hired our architect we’d made some decisions on appliances. We were thinking of small, streamlined appliances in line with small dwellings we’ve been in but given the demographics where we live we didn’t want to stray too far from the norm around here. We opted to design our space for:
– a tall, narrow, counter depth fridge so we could see everything and avoid rotten surprises
– a narrow dishwasher since we hardly used our full-sized ones before and narrow ones are far less pricey than drawer ones.
– stacking front load laundry set to save space, and
– a standard 30″ wide glass-top electric stove with convection so that we can still cook a turkey and do more dehydrating.

We have very limited choices for buying appliances in town and while we did look at stores in the city, we quickly learned that it would be easier to get what we could locally. I really don’t mind having the decision making made easier, especially since our options weren’t more expensive!

At the laneway house tour in 2012 we noticed that laundry spaces were either really tight, such that the only option was 24″ wide units or folks had full-sized pairs. We decided to have our house accommodate a full-sized pair since we didn’t have such a space crunch and know other folks that have come to regret having tiny laundry facilities.

Then, which units to buy. Oh my, the choices seemed endless. For the first few months I restricted the laundry choices to the 24″ variety (since the two of us hardly make a mountain of clothing). To my disappointment I couldn’t find a single reputable pair that we could even get. Even the Bosch, Asko and Miele units had a mix of good and really, really bad reviews. Given how quickly the options change I decided to put off further research until it was actually time to buy.

When we went out shopping at the end of the holidays we were drawn into looking at the big units again because some are half the price of what we’d been looking at. There were some from a year or two ago that are a bit smaller than the newest models but as far as our needs go they already offered more than enough. We really only wanted something that cleans well, has a hand wash cycle and gets the energy star label. Really, that’s it!

We were very pleased to be pointed in the direction of the 4-4.6 cu ft LG washers and have ordered one, along with a bigger dryer to go with it. To my surprise the online reviews were fantastic! It doesn’t hurt that we’re paying less than half of what we had been prepared to spend on a smaller stacking pair. Plus, we still get the LEED point for the energy star washer.

This is a tough one and I’m still not totally set on our decision given the lack of reviews, but we opted to go with what best fit our desires and if we have to mix it up down the road, the unit we went with gives us the most flexibility.

There are a number of 23.5″ wide units available and the selection keeps growing. When we first bought the lot there was the budget friendly, energy hog LG unit. It had good reviews, was available everywhere we looked and was thousands of dollars less than the alternatives.

After a search of the NRCAN database I learned that we could find an energy star model somewhere in the middle price-wise so we continued our design with the Moffat MBC12GAZ in mind.

Wouldn’t you know, that now, 9 months later there are even more options! Electrolux looks to make one that’s the same as the Moffat but because Sears carries it locally and they’re a bit better with their warranties than the competition, we opted to go with that model from them. I’m still a bit nervous about it’s reliability but at least if it doessn’t work out, we’ll still have space for the slightly smaller LG or the deeper models that are now more available. And we’ll be in the position to capture another LEED point with the choice we’ve made.

As mentioned, our requirements for the stove were pretty modest.
I remember when we bought our Sherwood Park house, and I researched the appliances that the previous owners had selected. I was shocked that someone would spend as much money on a dishwasher as a stove, given how much more frequently we used the stove. It seemed like someone had taken a lot more time to select the dishwasher (which fit our dishes amazingly well) than the stove.

Imagine my surprise when the stove became the item we spent the least effort deciding! There are no LEED points to try and get so it really came down to our preference for knobs over buttons for the elements and what was on sale after boxing day. I was happy with the Kenmore stove in Sherwood Park so we started there, refining our choices so that the elements matched our pot diameters. (That was one really big advantage with shopping on-line since most stoves have big elements that are so oversized that I imagine few cooks ever get to take advantage of the higher wattage.)

I shared our amazing deal in the spring. We’re losing out on half of a LEED point but for $25 I think we’re still ahead overall.

Two weeks ago we were sure we would be exceeding the budget so would have to make do with the little freezer from our first house. (It’s by no means a bad freezer, it’s just so hard to keep a chest freezer organized and freezing is about the simplest way to keep summer fruits and veggies on hand for the winter.)

Thanks to the savings from changing to full-sized laundry and getting everything on sale, we now have room to spare so will be getting a nice energy star upright. We have picked a model but I’m still waffling on how important a temperature alarm is.

Discussing Dishwashers

Ah, the joys of machines that do the work for us.

I must admit that unloading a dishwasher is one of those tasks I loathe and after 3 years of living without one,  I’m so accustomed to hand washing that I don’t miss the dishwasher.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I still prefer washing things by hand to the task of unloading a fully loaded full-sized dishwasher. That is part of why we designed our kitchen with only an 18″ wide dishwasher. (There was also the issue of space.)

Back in the days when we had a full sized washer it took a week for us to fill it because we continued to choose daily hand washing for so many things (lunch containers,  pots, cutting boards etc.).  Plus, cupboard space is at a premium in a not-too-big kitchen.

We had given some thought to forgoing a dishwasher for the first year as friends of ours did when they built there place. Then, the dishwasher we’d picked out went on a super sale for Mother’s Day so I bought it on Friday.   And wouldn’t you know, two days later we chanced upon the Re-Build Centre in Whistler and there were multiple 18″ wide dishwashers for $25, fresh out of a hotel remodel.  I never, ever would have expected this to be something we could find second hand.

It’s white and it’s not so energy efficient but it’s pretty hard to go wrong for $25.  I can’t wait to test it out in a year or so!  Now I just need to go back and “return” the fancy shmancy dishwasher that’s still sitting in a warehouse somewhere.