Given all the gloom and doom news involving climate change, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there have been some remarkable societal shifts taking place in an effort to stem the tide.
One of them is the voluntary adoption of green building standards. Building professionals worldwide are now designing, building, and retrofitting residential and commercial projects that significantly lessen their environmental impact. Moreover, building product manufacturers, such as fireplace manufacturer European Home, are staying at the forefront of this environmental shift.
At the helm of this movement is the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This Washington DC-based nonprofit is internationally known for its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program.
Introduced in 1998, LEED is a rigorous four-tier certification standard that has become the recognized emblem of the sustainable building community. It’s not the only standard and not universally viewed as the most effective at reducing a building’s carbon footprint, but it is the one most adopted. There are over 94,000 LEED-certified projects in 167 countries and territories worldwide.
Momentum Is Building For Green Design
You could be forgiven for questioning the value of green building standards when looking at the big climate change picture. How much of an impact can buildings have in contributing to such a monumental problem?
As it turns out, a lot! Over 40% of U.S. energy needs are consumed by buildings, mainly in their heating, cooling, and electricity needs. LEED-certified buildings have an average of 34% less CO2 emissions and consume 25% less energy, according to a USGBC fact sheet.
Between 2015 and 2018, the organization says, LEED-certified buildings in the U.S. saved an estimated $1.2 billion in energy costs, $149 million in water costs, and $715 million in maintenance costs. Of course, that number will rise as green building standards become the norm. Some 40% of all new residential home building in the U.S. will meet green building standards by 2020, according to a U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development report.
Space Heating Is a Major Factor
As a manufacturer and distributor of modern gas, wood, and electric fireplaces, European Home is particularly focused on the heating standards of the four levels of LEED certification. Ascending from the floor-level certified accreditation to the penthouse standards of the platinum level, the program has a credit attribution model of standards dealing with home energy, air quality, water, and waste.
In addition to achieving EPA emission standards and high-efficiency ratings, many of the modern gas fireplaces produced by European Home and Dutch partner Element4 are direct vent and have electronic ignitions, two LEED requirements. This makes them eligible for better practice and best practice credits in line with the LEED fireplace and stove combustion venting requirements.
As intentional space heaters – heating the rooms most commonly used, rather than an entire house – European Home’s modern gas and electric fireplaces offer the perfect heating solution for LEED-certified homes. While individual building products themselves aren’t eligible for LEED credits (instead entire construction projects are scrutinized), manufacturers are increasingly cognizant of the importance of making products that align with the goals of the certification.
European Home President and founder Holly Markham recognize that some customers crave the ambiance of a fireplace, but not necessarily the heat. Rather than provide a “summer heat kit”, which wastefully dumps heat outside, the company and its partners use multi-burners, flame modulation, and other technology to provide a wide range of heat output options. The Element4 Modore 240 for example, offers gas consumption reduction of up to 45% on some E-Save settings and an overall 70% heat output turndown capability.
Alternately, a conscientious homeowner could also choose a modern electric fireplace, Markham says. They produce a realistic flame effect, don’t rely on the combustion of fossil fuels, and offer a completely optional heating feature. What’s more, a majority of electricity consumers in the U.S. have the option of purchasing renewable electricity directly from the supplier, Markham points out.
The USGBC has established different standards for new commercial and residential projects, as well as residential remodeling projects. To date, nearly 35,000 homes in the United States have obtained LEED certification.
While energy usage for space heating and cooling demands for residential homes is significant, it recently slipped to under 50% of a home’s energy demands for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Despite an increase in the use of Energy Star-rated appliances, a parallel increase in the amount of devices in a home demanding electricity has tipped the scales, the agency says.
Cost and Benefit Analysis of Green Building
Despite the rapidly expanding warning signs of climate change inaction, it’s foolhardy to think that there will be a universal acceptance of green building standards.
There’s the cost factor, for one. At a very basic level, many homeowners don’t have the money it cost to adopt the standards. It’s estimated that new residential projects average between 2.5% and 5% above traditional costs. Remodeling costs are much harder to factor, although it’s generally agreed that the benefits for both are:
Despite those benefits, it’s not an easy sell. Humans, after all, tend to favor short-term gain over long-term benefit. Which is why the USGBC and other organizations with programs like Net Zero and Passive House work hard to make architects and homebuilders aware of the benefits.
The USGBC, for example, offers two levels of accreditation to architects – LEED Green Associate and LEED Advanced Professional. Over 200,000 building professionals have obtained its accreditation, the nonprofit says.
Not the Perfect Solution, but it’s a Start
Like one glove doesn’t fit every hand, the LEED program’s rigid and somewhat arbitrary ratings system isn’t a good fit for every project. Leading architecture website ArchDaily published an article in 2014 titled Is It Time For An Anti-LEED?, making the case that there is still structural work that needs to be done to perfect the LEED system.
Claiming “the LEED ratings system has become a symbol of all that is wrong with green building today,” the author went on to say that getting a LEED rating is “slow, difficult and expensive…and ignorant of where the building is being built and for whom.”
Despite its critics, it’s fair to say that the LEED program has helped reduce energy consumption and increase public awareness of the need to take action to mitigate climate change At this point, any contribution is positive.
Robert Conlin is a freelance writer living in Wiscasset, Maine. A former certified chimney sweep and retail stove shop owner, he has returned to his roots as a journalist/writer in producing enterprise reporting and online content for a variety of publications and companies.