The Green Housing Privilege? an Analysis of the Connections between Socio-Economic Status of California Communities and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification

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This statistical analysis investigated the socio-economic patterns of current residential Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in California cities and towns. Specifically focusing on the LEED certification process, this analysis assesses the correlation between the percent of residential buildings with LEED certification in California places and the socio-economic characteristics of those places. The pre-analytic hypothesis was that wealthier cities and towns would have a greater number of LEED certified homes with higher levels of LEED certification.

The results of Pearson correlation testing using the statistical software R showed no statistically significant relationship between the total number of LEED certified homes or at any level of certification and the socio-economic characteristics of the places in question. One very influential factor in this finding is the lack of available data-of the 1466 places in California treated as distinct by the U.S. Census with available economic information, only 75 of them had at least one LEED certified home.

Another important factor is the role of community development organizations in constructing LEED certified homes. 99.9% of the affordable homes considered in this report were part of large developments (2458 out of 2460 affordable homes), 76% of market-rate homes (anything outside of the "affordable" category) were part of large developments (238 of 314 homes), and 97% of all homes considered (2696 out of 2774) were part of large developments. This analysis of LEED certified homes in California at the admittedly early stages of implementation raises further questions about whether the LEED program can function as a tool for the private homeowner and whether a process currently influenced largely by developers can serve the needs of communities and homeowners.

Keywords: energy and environmental design, certification, socio-economic, green building, affordable homes, community and real estate development

1. Introduction

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program was established in 1998 as "a voluntary, consensus-based national standard to support and validate successful green building design, construction, and operations" (ICF Consulting, February 2003). This national green building certification system was formed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and is designed to offer third-party building certification and professional design guidelines and accreditation services (ICF Consulting, February 2003). LEED takes an "integrated design approach," which examines the potential of the site itself, water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy, selection of materials, and indoor environmental quality. Once certified, a building can be classified into one of four tiered levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The LEED certification program requires more "green elements" for higher levels of green building certification, with platinum certification being the highest level. A building is awarded points based on the number of elements it includes, thereby determining its certification level. According to a report on green housing standards, higher levels of certification can include stormwater retention through landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies, reflective roofs, energy generating sources, personal comfort controls, certified woods, low-emitting materials, and advanced monitoring systems (ICF Consulting, February 2003).

LEED for Homes is a particular LEED rating system for residential building projects. This program was officially launched in 2008, and it is intended to be a green building certification system for market-rate and affordable homes. At its earliest phases now in implementation, the LEED for Homes building program is designed for new construction projects, not home renovations (USGBC, 2012). According to the LEED Rating System Selection Guidance (USGBC, September 2011), this rating system is appropriate for low-rise residential buildings of 1-3 stories or mid-rise residential buildings of 4-6 stories. …