A Green Home | The Living Building Challenge Inspiration

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In my post A What Is A Sustainable Home? I mention that it takes voluntary green building standards to close the gap between a standard code home and a green home that has a truly positive impact on your wellbeing and that of our environment.

While there are a variety of voluntary green building standards, I decided to focus on two, The Passive House Standard and The Living Building Challenge.

While The Passive House Standard  focuses on the comfort of the occupants and ultra-energy efficiency of the building, the Living Building Challenge has a far wider scope and one of the most rigorous performance standard for this full spectrum of sustainability, as it requires net zero energy, waste, and water at its highest certification level.

Since it is performance-based, the certification is only granted after 12 consecutive month of measured performance. Other programs like LEED focus on a point system based on design and construction choices without much proof how well the green home performs in reality.  

In this blog post I am looking at the Living Building Standard and how I interpret it for my own home remodel project. Read on and see if this is something for you as well.

If you like to look at the Living Building Challenge through your own glasses without my interpretation, you can download the Standard on the Living Future website. There is a ton of other valuable information as well if you like to dive deeper in how to create a green home, which I highly encourage.  

How Can the Living Building Challenge Standard Help You to Create a Green Home?

A truly Living Building is self-sufficient and creates a positive impact on its occupants and natural systems with which it interacts. The LBC framework addresses 7 performance categories called Petals (like the flower). I consider these the Components of Green Building:

  1. Place
  2. Water,
  3. Energy,
  4. Health + Happiness,
  5. Materials,
  6. Equity and
  7. Beauty

Each petal includes specific requirements (imperatives) that the building must achieve. The program can be used for new homes, retrofits (includes changes to the building shell or heating and cooling) and even interior remodels only, such as bathroom, kitchen, or other interior renovations. It can also be used for landscaping projects. LBC sees itself as a philosophy first, an advocacy tool second and certification program last. The program offers multiple levels of certification.

While the Living Building Challenge is a great voluntary building standard for homes, it is used more often for commercial projects.

The standard can be used in any climate and has been implemented all around the world. It provides the opportunity for different kind of certifications, dependent on the goals of a project.

Here is an overview of the different certifications:

Green Home Inspiration

While I think going the route of certification is a fantastic way to ensure we accomplish goals set for our building/renovation project, this blog post does not look at LBC in its role as a certification program.

For my own green home projects I rather look at the philosophical and advocacy role LBC offers. I see it as an inspiration to transform how we think and how we can positively impact the quality of our homes and our environment at the same time.   

In plain English, I am looking at the Living Building Challenge to learn about sustainability and what it means to incorporate it into my home.

I look at LBC to learn about sustainability and what it means to incorporate it into my home. And I see it as a guide to find the best solutions for me and the environment as a true partnership.

As I mentioned earlier, this blog post is my own take on the Living Building Challenge and how it can be implemented for a home remodel project. I am going to look at LBC’s CORE Green Building Certification as a home remodel guide.

The 7 petals and the CORE imperatives

The following list refers to requirements for The Living Building Challenge CORE Certification, adjusted to fit my take on a sustainable home project.

This list is not a comprehensive list of all LBC imperatives. Please refer to the LBC handbook to get the complete list.

The following list as a guide and inspiration for any home project – my next renovation project will certainly benefit from it.

  1. Place

Align how we understand and relate to the natural environment that sustains us.

Consider places that are better acceptable for us to build if we consider building a new home. For a home remodel project, we can take measures to protect and restore the property and its surroundings.

CORE Imperative 01 – Ecology of Place

There are 3 part to this requirement:

  • Not to build on pristine farmland and undeveloped land and rather preserve ecological environments.

Since this blog is primarily targeted at existing homes and renovations we can already pat ourselves on the back for staying in our lane and not expanding into nature further.

  • Document site conditions prior to the start of any work to identify possible habitats of local creatures and plants that should be protected.

This is something we can do even without any remodeling/ building planned. It is a great exercise to go around our property at different times of the day and seasons to learn more about the local habitat on your site.

Are there any nesting birds or other creatures, any plants that serve as feeding or nesting grounds? And so forth. It is a lot of fun to discover your home’s environment this way.

I have been doing it, learned a lot and adjust my garden every year as a result. And I get such a pleasurable payback all year around.

Last year I added some watering places for birds, and I can’t tell you how excited I am watching a variety of birds taking a sip every day. But not only that, they all take extended baths in my little drinking places. Sometime there are 3 birds splashing around at the same time – it’s a mid-morning pool party.

Never misses to put a big smile on my face and uplift my spirit.  

  • Contribute positively to the ecology of our property. Restore or enhance the ecological performance of the site towards a healthy ecological baseline.

I have a great example for this one. I have a massive Elm tree in my garden and wanted to get rid of it because it is close to my patio and makes a huge mess when it loses its leaves over a n extended period of time.

Once I paid more attention to the tree I realized that the tree provides habitat to a lot of birds (and I assume other little creatures). There is a constant coming and going of all sorts of birds and I discovered that it is used as a nesting place as well.

I concluded ‘shame on me for wanting to kill this micro world in my garden.’ – I am able to learn 😊.

Instead of cutting the tree down I hung a little nesting bird house on its trunk. After only one year it got used and now I enjoy the vibrant activity and chirping around the little bird house every Spring.

It is so much fun sitting on my patio and being entertained by the coming and going of the bird family.

Getting the leaves of my patio and veranda is suddenly not such a bad chore anymore. As I like to say – Perspective is Everything.  

Don’t think of this requirement as something to consider for external landscaping projects only. Additions can have an impact and so can interior or any other remodel project, because you will have to store building material on site, you have workers potentially disturbing habitat.

There will be many different potential site intrusions during any kind of home project and following the three above points is a great way to protect your onsite habitat.

Declaring some areas as off limits and educating your remodeling team about dos and don’t will help a lot.

I have learned that it is a great idea to discuss on site, outdoors storage and working areas (for cutting, painting, etc.) with your project team, before the project starts and monitoring it too!  

CORE Imperative 02 – Human Scale Living

Assess how to reduce our transportation impact. This could be through car sharing, use of public transportation, alternative fuel vehicles, or bicycles. Get social and active!

Can you come up with two or even more strategies to reduce your fossil fuel powered transportation footprint?

  1. Water

Realign how we value water; think about the energy and chemicals involved in transporting, purifying and pumping water.

Start a discussion with our local building and health autorities how we can redefine “wastewater” as a precious nutrient and resource.

CORE Imperative 3 – Responsible Water Use

Treat water like a precious resource! Conserve, capture and reuse water in your home and landscaping. Be strategic where you need to use potable water (drinking water).

Don’t use potable water for irrigation. Find out what the greywater and rainwater capture regulations are in your area and how you can apply them to your home.

Treat all stormwater on site through natural means such as raingardens, swales, and other pervious landscaping and direct downspouts onto pervious areas.  

  1. Energy

Prioritize energy efficiency to reduce wasteful use of energy, resources, and capital. Use new sources of renewable energy that allow you to operate your home year-round in a resilient, pollution-free manner.

CORE Imperative 4 – Energy and Carbon Reduction

Treat energy as a precious resource and minimize energy-related carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Reduce your home’s total net annual energy consumption as compared to a typical existing building with comparable climate and size.

For a remodel, reduce your energy consumption by at least 50% compared to your existing utility bills.  

Monitor your energy use and make adjustments when you find energy waste.

Select interior materials and products with lower than industry average carbon footprint for categories where embodied carbon data is available.

The CORE Green Building Certification does not require that a home be powered by on site renewable energy. It is a requirement by other LBC Certification levels. I am adding the requirement to my list.

This means that the total amount of energy our homes use on an annual basis is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site.

  1. Health and Happiness

Create healthy spaces that allow all species to thrive by creating connections between us and nature.

Ensure that our indoor spaces have healthy air and natural daylight.

CORE Imperative 5 –  Healthy Interior Environment

A healthy interior environment has many different facets. It

  • promotes good indoor air quality.
  • provides views outside and daylight and a direct connection to nature whenever possible.
  • is maintained by an operations and maintenance plan that addresses cleaning, pest mitigation and the use of non-toxic products.
  • provides direct exhaust in kitchen, bathrooms, and workrooms.
  1. Materials

Use products that are non-toxic, transparent, and safe for humans and our eco-system through time.

CORE Imperative 6 – Responsible Materials

Choose materials and products with a transparent ingredient list. Identify any ingredient that is toxic and on the Red List.

The Red List is part of the Living Building Challenge Standard and maintained by the International Living Building Institute.

The list represents the “worst in class” materials, chemicals, and elements known to pose serious risks to human health and the greater ecosystem that are prevalent in the building products industry. 

Find more information about The Red List, an overview of toxic chemical classes and the actual list on the Living Building Challenge website.

Choose mostly wood products that are FSC certified or salvaged.

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.

The FSC Principles and Criteria provide a foundation for all forest management standards globally, including the FSC US National Standard.

Choose local materials and products and support the local community, or as close as possible. Minimize transportation impact.

Divert construction waste from the landfill and reuse and recycle as much as possible during construction and beyond.

Provide means to collect recyclables and dispose of them responsibly. If possible, collect compostable food scraps and dispose in your own compost.

  1. Equity

Living Buildings are meant to be accessible and welcoming to all people, helping us recognize and celebrate cultural richness, while ensuring equitable access to fresh air, sunlight, and clean water and soil.

This petal has been a challenge for me to incorporate into a residential home remodel. Here is how I want to think of it:

Create a home with a universal design that is welcoming to everybody, and that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for all family members and guests.

CORE Imperative 7 – Universal Access

Accessibility of home and all functions for all family members and guests with a wide range of needs.

Anticipate changing needs over time for different generations of the household. Create a home that is easily adjustable for these changes.  

Create a home that enables all members of the household to accomplish their potential no matter their unique current and changing needs over time.

CORE Imperative 8 – Inclusion

Support local professionals and businesses for all home renovation and design needs as well as ongoing operation and maintenance.

Be equally just with everybody we socialize and conduct business with.

  1. Beauty

Celebrate design that uplifts the human spirit.

Recognize the need for beauty and the connection to nature as a precursor for our well-being and to care enough to preserve, conserve, and serve the greater good.

CORE Imperative 9 – Beauty + Biophilia

Embrace our connection to nature and include design elements that nurture our innate desire and tendency to connect with nature.

Nature can be included into our home’s design through environmental features, light, space, natural shapes, and forms.

Use design and artwork to connect our home to the place, climate, and culture we live in and to the place our household originated from or has a meaningful connection.

Incorporate art that delights and uplifts our spirits.  

CORE Imperative 10 – Education + Inspiration

Share our journey and experience to create a sustainable home with our friends, community and everybody interested.

If possible, provide an online website or blog about our home’s transformation.

Participate in green home tours, if offered in our community.

Be a resource for people interested in sustainable homes and lifestyle.

Living Building Challenge in my Tool Box

For my own project I am planning to use LBC as an inspirational guide as outlined in this blog post. I will decide on the petal and performance goals once I am closer to my renovation project.

I think the best approach is to read through the LBC handbook and decide which of the requirements in each petal to accept as a challenge for my project. Once decided on, it has to become part of the agreement with everybody on my project team.

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