When is Green Really Green?

by Chicago Agent

By Stephanie Sims

With Silver, Gold and Platinum LEED certifications becoming considerably popular, and “green” environmentally conscious features becoming affordable through programs such as CNT Energy’s Green and Healthy Homes (see p.14), the homes, developments and features that fall into these categories are becoming increasingly desirable to homebuyers. However, the distinction of what green features constitute a home’s “green” label are still somewhat of a gray area, even for those who are most familiar with environmental efficiency.

Brian Goldberg, partner in LG Construction + Development, brushes the surface, saying that green features focus on “a general consideration for the environment,” and LEED-certified is less broad, with concerns regarding energy efficiency, intelligent building orientation, the maximum amount of solar power in the winter, etc. Despite the stricter guidelines to label a building LEED-certified, Goldberg says that a lot of the features and definitions of the two are overlapping.

“The term green applies to so many different aspects of construction, and because of these differences it is almost impossible to truly monitor or evaluate the level of green of each component,” said Goldberg. “There’s a lot of differing opinions on what’s ‘truly green.’”

Goldberg is currently four months into working on a single-family home renovation on N. Honore Street in Bucktown, which will be a Platinum LEED-certified property when completed in about eight months. This property will be “the greenest” of all properties Goldberg has worked on, but he has been active in the installation of various green features in the past. Goldberg describes the home as “fantastic, modern and super efficient.”

“Silver, then Gold, then Platinum at the top, represent varying levels of green,” explains Goldberg. “There are an enormous amount of options that are available to an owner that constitute green features. Each feature is worth a series of points. The more features you incorporate into a home, the more points you receive. Then certain benchmarks of point totals are established at each level, Silver, Gold and Platinum,”

Goldberg notes that popular products such as tropical hardwood and bamboo flooring are most likely not “truly green.” While these products are grown in a way that does not harm the rainforest, they are also not grown locally, which in turn, negates the eco-friendliness of the product as it is flown and driven here—leaving behind a trail of gas emissions. Goldberg compares this to organic foods, saying “there isn’t really a standardized way to calculate that.” It’s a topic that allows some room for debate.

“Similarly, locally harvested lumber is considered green for simply being sourced and shipped locally, but if it has compromised the natural environment in which it is grown then the green value is lost,” he said. “So anyone can call their hardwood floors green, but you’d have to actually check where it came from, how it was milled, and what chemical finishes were actually used.”

Goldberg adds that for this reason, some products (such as FSC certified lumber) come with paperwork verifying their authenticity.

Other products that seem essentially sustainable may have similar issues, but there is no consensus of “where to draw the line” when it comes to naming green products – at least not yet. The interest is there, however, with features such as low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and floor coverings, Energy Star-rated appliances, and formaldehyde-free wood standing out as popular choices, all of which Goldberg finds to be very valuable additions to a property.

“We’re talking about homeowners and their comfort level,” said Goldberg, adding that parents of asthmatic children are one group that can especially benefit from going green, especially with the installation of a feature such as an energy recovery ventilator and a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration system.

“Energy recovery ventilators very simply perform two tasks at the same time; they bring in fresh air from the outside and exchange it with inside air, and as this is being done, energy is exchanged between the indoor and outdoor air,” Goldberg explains. HEPA filtration takes this one step further, purifying even the most polluted outdoor air to rid it of allergens, toxins and chemicals, creating the “optimally clean indoor environment.”

As with any renovation, cost is a factor when considering installing green features or the development of a LEED-certified property. However, many experts say benefits outweigh the price. “Some people want to be off the grid. They want solar panels and they don’t care what it costs,” said Goldberg.

The demand for eco-friendly features really escalated about two to three years ago, according to Goldberg, and it’s gaining momentum. “Everybody is waking up and starting to understand. Like any trend, it may take another 10 to 15 years for people to truly understand, but we’re making progress,” said Goldberg.

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