Portland green building expert discusses LEED

Portland green building expert discusses LEED

Brian Emerick holds a degree in architecture from the University of Oregon and has been working in the profession in Portland for 15 years. He and his wife, Melody, cofounded Emerick Architects P.C., now in its ninth year.

Their award-winning work has been published in magazines such as Sunset, Better Homes and Gardens, Oregon Home and Portland Spaces and has been featured in the Portland AIA Gallery.

How interested in green design are home builders and buyers?

"It's a pretty big cultural trend in the Portland area - we're definitely big on sustainability and green living here. On the residential side, you see [green building in] a limited sector of the market. A lot of the projects are higher-end homes. Most people say they want to build green, but everybody has a budget, so there are different levels of commitment."

What special challenges face green designers in your area?

"One challenge is trying to stay educated. In some ways, green is so popular that it's a buzzword, but finding out if something's really green or not is sometimes more challenging.

"Another problem here is that, although building codes and regulations are getting better at keeping up with green building and remodeling, the code is kind of relegated to the minimum. Oregon is one of the more forward-thinking states in the area and is currently reviewing code revisions to make new housing up to 15 percent more energy-efficient. Many of these changes, however, are already being practiced in Energy Star and other green-building programs, so the codes are lagging behind our existing potential."

What green building standards do you follow?

"I'd say LEED is kind of a benchmark. It's a much deeper and more comprehensive program, which starts with site selection and goes all the way through indoor air quality. There are other programs, such as Energy Star, which I don't think are as in-depth as LEED, but each has their place.

"It'll be interesting to see how much traction LEED for Homes gains in the market. It's definitely gained ground in multifamily housing. These types of projects include architects who often are familiar with LEED, whereas single-family housing is largely done by builders and designers who may not have the training or experience to take on LEED. With single-family homes, you have to have a client who wants to do it and is dedicated."

What would you suggest to a homeowner or buyer who wants to build or remodel green?

"There's so much to research, so if you can find an experienced architect, they're the best person to call on for help. They're central to the process of generating the design. It would probably cost $2,500 to $5,000 extra to hire an architect to design a decent-sized, single-family LEED home or do a remodeling project.

"The other key is to get a builder who's willing to come on board. They've got to be accountable for putting it together, and it represents a little more time on their side."

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Green building for new homes

The LEED for Homes rating system, which officially launched in November, promotes the design and construction of new houses that use less energy, water and natural resources, create less waste and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

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