LEED Home Award Winners are Walkscore FAIL

LEED award housing photos keesler

The Keesler Air Force Base project in Biloxi, Miss., by Hunt Yates currently has 792 registered single-family homes pursuing LEED for Homes certification, making it the largest LEED-certified project in the nation and the first Air Force installation to have LEED-certified homes.

I have been gearing up to do a rant about the 2009 LEED for homes award winners. They are, with an exception or two, extraordinarily silly; Steve Mouzon wrote on the Original Green that "I've gotta confess that when I first saw some of these, I checked the calendar to make sure it wasn't April Fool's Day." Like Steve, I was going to look at each of the houses, but over at NRDC, Switchboard, Kaid Benfield did it by the numbers- he Walkscored them.

Walkscore is a terrific tool; the New York Times just wrote about how it is a good indicator of real estate value. TreeHugger has noted that walkable cities are the fittest, and that "a walkable community promotes better health, reduction in greenhouse gases, more transportation options, increased social capital and stronger local businesses." Kaid notes that the opposite is also true:

The added environmental benefit of the residences' laudable green features will be offset by the environmental damage caused by the sites' automobile dependence, poor environment for walking, and relative distance from jobs, shops and services.

The results of the walkscore range from the laughable:

LEED award housing photos habitat house

Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity's Hope Crossing is a 59-acre affordable-housing development that once completed will be the largest LEED-certified Habitat for Humanity community in the U.S. OG&E;, the local energy utility, donated energy-efficient windows, foam insulation, and compact fluorescent lights and ClimateMaster donated geothermal systems for each unit to help achieve an expected 50% reduction in monthly energy bills.

This charmer built by Habitat for Humanity, with a snout garage that I thought was almost illegal everywhere now, got the extraordinary walkscore of 3. ("Car-Dependent/Driving Only: Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car")

LEED award housing photos habitat house site

So for the poor recipient of the Habitat for Humanity house in the middle of nowhere, do they give them a minivan as well as a house?

LEED award housing photos ville trieste

Or how about Pulte Homes' Villa Trieste development in Las Vegas, which has "a roof-integrated solar-electric power system and a wall-mounted touchscreen connected to an energy meter to allow homeowners to see how much energy they are generating and using in real time."

LEED award housing photos ville trieste site

It gets a walkscore of 38. ("Car-Dependent: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must") - the nearest bus stop is over half a mile away.

Kaid looks at the reason location seems to get so little attention as an issue.

The usual arguments in favor of continuing to give location such short shrift are (1) to transform the market, we must meet the market where it is, not where we wish it were, and (2) "but the architect/builder/engineer doesn't choose the site." I'm not persuaded by either. On the subject of market transformation, building site choices are part of the market that must be transformed. We must reward those who make the right choices for the environment much more than we reward those who don't. Besides, the market has changed already, so that these award winners are much less representative of the housing market as a whole than they used to be.

I agree with Kaid's conclusion that LEED and the Green Building Council have done great work, and that they are inspiring architects, builders and the public to expect more. But I also agree with his last line:

It is time to be much more candid to ourselves, the public, and policy makers about the environmental damage done by even good buildings in bad or mediocre locations, and to start doing something about it.

Read it all on NRDC switchboard

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