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What Is LEED Silver Affordable Housing?

By Camille LeFevre Home Features Editor
Feb 25, 2021

From Renaissance style to Gothic Revival to Mid-Century Modernism, Grand Rapids is well-known for its storied architectural history. The Michigan city is also where such design-industry innovators as Steelcase and Herman Miller (now closed), the West Michigan chapter of the United States Green Building Council, and the sustainability-oriented Wege Foundation are located.

Western Michigan has always been progressive in its design thinking and application of sustainability concepts. "Everyone here knows what LEED is," says Brett Little, program manager, Green Home Institute in Grand Rapids. "West Michigan, at one point," he argues, "had the most LEED buildings per capita until several other states came online."

Today, in Grand Rapids, LEED is still a way of ensuring buildings are sustainably constructed. But, certification isn't just for homeowners who are perceived to able to afford it.

LINC Up Logo

In 2020, LINC UP, a nonprofit that creates affordable housing in Grand Rapids, collaborated with the Grand Rapids Affordable Housing Program, the GreenHome Institute. With support from a Wege Foundation grant, the team finished a 2,320-square-foot, two-bedroom house in Grand Rapids' Seeds of Promise neighborhood on the city's southeast side. The home earned LEED Silver certification under the US Green Building Council's version 4.1 rating system for a single-family residence.

LINC Up LEED Silver Certification Certificate
LINC Up LEED Silver Certification Certificate. Photo Credit: GreenHome Institute

What Were the Goals of the LINC Up Project?

"In working on this home, our goal was two-pronged," Little says. "We wanted to show affordable-housing developers that what they're currently building is getting most of the way to LEED. We're not asking developers to do anything crazy or break the budget. We want to demonstrate how we can work together to get affordable housing LEED certified. We wanted to show how, by focusing on two or thing sustainably aspects, they can adjust systems, products, or materials and move the needle on sustainability."

"Second," he continues, "we wanted to show, with our success, how the next time they can aim higher and build better. This project will help us identify developers that are trying to build sustainably, where we can move the needle on them, get those projects LEED-certified to build more LEED-certified inventory, and build appraisals in the area. Even if this project wasn't the most technologically advanced house on the block."

LINC Up Basement
LINC Up Basement. Photo Credit: Matterport 3D Tours

Sustainability and Durability 

Durability and low maintenance, in addition to sustainability, were vital in building the home. Materials used for the wood-frame building were, according to certification standards, "non-tropical, reused or reclaimed, or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or USGBC-approved equivalent." Fiberglass batts were used for wall insulation.

Cellulose Insulation
Cellulose Insulation

"It's not the worst as far as materials go," Little says. "Fiberglass has some of the best air-quality ratings and recycled content in it. We made some tradeoffs to keep the home affordable." Blown-in cellulose—made locally, with recycled content—insulates the roof. The exterior cladding is vinyl.

The team installed water-resistant flooring in the kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry area, as well as in entryways. A single fiberglass insert for the shower and tub is free of paper that might get wet. The clothes dryer has outdoor venting with a rigid duct. Window and entry overhangs keep water and excessive sun in check. The home has ENERGY STAR appliances and a traditional, high-efficiency gas furnace.

LINC Up LEED Scorecard
LINC Up LEED Scorecard. Photo Credit: GreenHome Institute

Achieving LEED Silver 

During a Green Rater test midway through construction, says Adam Vanderlaan, LINC UP's construction manager, the team learned the home needed improved ventilation. According to Little, "The ERV was sized to meet the code, but didn't have enough power to get the house to the LEED standard." The solution, says Vanderlaan, was to convert the upstairs bath fan to run more consistently; in doing so, they met the LEED requirements.  

The LEED certification process also requires a Home Energy Rating System Score (HERS) to determine the home's energy efficiency compared to other houses. The score includes air-leak testing and water-conservation reviews. The home was also inspected for durability. LEED now also includes a point if a building qualifies as affordable housing, which helped the house earn Silver Certification.

Grand Rapids View

The project earned 10 of 10 location and transportation (LT) points with two bonus points in Exemplary Performance. Better LT scores reduce mean fewer costs for the homeowners, as they don't need to drive everywhere. For example, the project isn't in the 100-year floodplain, and the project was built on developed land. The house is also within a half-mile of a public park near existing sidewalks, seven community resources, and public transit. 

Want a look? Take a virtual, self-guided tour of the house here.

Awards and Equity 

LINC UP's first LEED-certified single-family home wasn't without other challenges. Working with contractors who were knowledgeable and willing to properly install the heating and cooling system meant "getting the specifics into the contract. You need to make sure the right installation processes are in place," Little says. The contractor "ran a small portion of the return duct to the furnace through a wood joist and didn't hard-duct the whole thing, which is required for LEED and is just a good practice," he adds. The contractors rectified the problem.

The project received LEED Silver certification and an Honorable Mention Award from Western Michigan's USGBC chapter. 

Isaac Norris of Isaac V. Norris & Associates, PC, provided design and architectural services. "The design and construction of sustainable, affordable housing addresses the concerns and challenges of environmental stewardship while also promoting a higher quality of life for everyone," Norris says. 

Everyone, no matter their income, race, gender, deserves a place to live, says Little. "We also believe everyone deserves a sustainable home because of the low utility bills, the low maintenance, and healthier indoor air."

"The strategies to get to a sustainable home aren't unreachable," he adds. "We have people across the county who, just because they don't have enough means, are living in spaces that exacerbate their economic and health challenges. That's not right. Moreover, on the equity-building side, there are a lot of underserved people in the United States who don't have generational wealth."

LINC Up Bedroom
LINC Up Bedroom. Photo Credit: GreenHome Institute

"Homeownership helps build equity," he continues. Because LINC UP sells the homes it constructs to people with varying income levels, LEED certification is poised to "add to the homes' equity based on several studies around the country of green-certified homes and their value. When that happens, having a sustainable home increases its value and a family's generational wealth."

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-01T19:54:21+0000
Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.