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The New York Post

Making A Fresh Start

By Tina Traster

April 17, 2008 -- Etta Kantor and her husband, Nate, are going for the gold. No, they aren't training for the Olympics. They're hoping to get Gold LEED certification for their under-construction, $1.5 million, four-bedroom, 4-bath Adirondack-style house in New Canaan, Conn.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national voluntary rating system that recognizes energy-efficient, healthy homes. Some 500 newly constructed homes nationwide have been LEED-certified, and another 11,400 are awaiting designation.

There are no medals awarded by the US Green Building Council (GBC) to LEED certificate holders (though there can be tax writeoffs); it's more about being a part of a growing movement of homeowners who want to live healthier and do their part to save the planet.

"As a mother and a grandmother, I feel worried that we're not leaving a healthy planet for future generations," says Kantor, who has three grown children and five grandchildren and has been fueling her car with vegetable oil. "I thought the least I could do was to build a sustainable house."

It's not as simple as heading to your local Home Depot. To build a LEED-certified house, you must use LEED-certified builders and architects. Kantor enlisted BPC Green Builders of Connecticut and architect Jim Edgcomb of Edgcomb Design Group of Vermont.

Homeowners must also hire one of about 20 designated LEED "providers." These eco experts handle the LEED applications and paperwork, and they score the project on the basis of eight categories.

"If you want to undertake LEED status, you need a qualified team, or else you need to quit your day job and become an expert," says Mike Trolle, co-owner of BPC Green Builders.

Typically, fees for a LEED provider range from $500 to $5,000. LEED provider Steven Winters Associates is charging the Kantors $17,000 because the scope of their two-story. 5,000-square-foot project on 4 acres is vast.

Homeowners can score up to 136 points on the LEED-certification scale: 58 points earns basic LEED certification, 73 gets silver, 88 grabs gold, and 103 or more wins platinum.

The Kantors, who are aiming for a total of 89 points, chose their raw plot of land with LEED status in mind. The wooded parcel has open meadows, so the project will require minimal clearing. Points will be gained because the couple is not planning to have a large lawn. They will be using indigenous and drought-resistant plants, not invasive species, thus reducing the need for watering.

Though the couple is building a swimming pool, they will use a rainwater-harvesting system, which collects rain in underground cisterns, to top off the pool and irrigate the grounds.

A LEED-certified house also must be Energy Star-rated, which means that it must operate at least 15 percent more efficiently than the building code requires.

The Kantors are vying for 25 out of 38 points in the "Energy and Atmosphere" category by using a nontoxic spray-foam insulation that seals off air penetration better than fiberglass. They will install triple-pane windows and an Energy Recovery Ventilator, which is a $2,000 little black box that brings in fresh air and distributes it through the house. LED and fluorescent lighting also helps rack up points. And solar panels will heat their home and water.

Under "Water Efficiency," the Kantors will likely score 12 out of 15 points. They will install low-flow showerheads and four Kohler dual-flush toilets, which only use one gallon per flush.

"Water will be the oil of the 21st century," Kantor says. "We pollute it and privatize it. It's crazy."

It took some persuading, but Kantor convinced her husband that they should include a $5,000 Phoenix Composting toilet in their master bathroom.

"After you make your contribution, so to speak, you have to throw wood shavings and beneficial bacteria into the toilet," Kantor explains. "The waste then goes into a tank that's in the basement, where there is a bed of peat moss and more wood shavings.

"Over time, it transforms to compost, which can be used to fertilize the grass or the vegetable garden. The toilet . . . is its own ecosystem."

For the category "Materials and Resources," the Kantors are aiming to pull down eight out of 16 points for using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) woods, recycled glass countertops from IceStone in Brooklyn and low-VOC paints.

When completed, a final two out of three points should be awarded for "Awareness and Education," which means the Kantors will be trained and given an owner's manual on the mechanics of their house. (This newspaper story might also help them with the "Awareness and Education" scoring; see "LEED the Way" sidebar.) And when the home is completed in the summer of 2009, the couple will hold an open house to educate the public on green building.

"When it's finished, I will open up this house so other people can learn how to think about living in harmony with nature," Kantor says.

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