A Return to the First LEED-Certified Home in the United States

How propane still plays a role in this energy-efficient Maine beauty.

There's nothing quite like being able to say that something you produced is a "first," but that's what Peter Taggart can claim with sure authority when it comes to a house his company designed and built in Freeport, Maine. It was the first home in the United States to gain LEED certification: In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) even touts this "first." And propane definitely played a part in that.

"It all began back in 2005, when the LEED program was just getting started," says Taggart, owner and president of Taggart Construction, Taggart Realty, and Freeport Woodworking. Evelyn and Mort Panish wanted to build a "green" home on a hilltop lot so they turned to Taggart, a Freeport builder with a long track record of designing and building sustainable houses. "We always thought we were building green so we said, ?let's put it to the test,'" says Taggart. "The house and the site lent themselves well to meeting the LEED guidelines. We got a Silver [rating] almost without putting any effort into it."

Propane was the energy choice for the 2,250-square-foot home's hot water and heating systems. There is radiant floor heat on the first floor—tile over concrete—which, except for an upstairs bathroom that has its own radiant floor heat, keeps the entire house warm in the winter. Propane also provides energy for the home's cooktop.

Propane was one of the many unseen factors in getting the home its LEED certification back in 2007. "Some of the most important details of green construction will never be seen," says Taggart. "LEED certification recognizes the value in those choices and rewards you for making them."

In fact, propane has become the energy of choice in many of the homes that Taggart's company designs and buildings. "We haven't installed an oil boiler in five years," says Taggart. "We switched to propane because we think it's cleaner. It's become our primary fuel source. If we can get a gas cooktop, a gas generator, and gas heating and cooling, that's great. We've also done a lot of propane conversions."

Interestingly, the Panish family chose not to have their propane tank buried. Rather, it's camouflaged within a ventilated box on a porch enclosure. "Here in Maine, if you want to bury a tank you have to buy it," Taggart explains. "If you don't buy it the gas company provides it. If you can hide the tank in some way our clients are usually comfortable with that."

Construction of the Pleasant Hill Home was part of a LEED pilot program, so Taggart's been able to watch the LEED program grow from a front-row seat. "I think it's a good process," he says. "I like the idea that it evolves and responds to feedback from folks who have participated in the program."

When it comes to manufacturers and the introduction of new, greener products, Taggart gives the LEED program especially high marks. "I think LEED has transformed the market, starting back with LEED for commercial," he says. "All of a sudden window companies and carpeting manufacturers [for example] realized that if they weren't compliant with LEED criteria they were definitely going to move down in the purchasing priorities of homeowners, builders, and architects. It changed everything."

As a prime example, Taggart points to FSC-certified lumber. "When we built our first house in 1995, certified dimensional lumber was readily available and reasonably priced," Taggart remembers. "But it turned out the market wasn't ready for it and by 2000/2001 it wasn't really available anymore. But by 2004, as many of us were getting involved with the USGBC, there was a push—from customers, designers, and builders. Paints are another area. Now four manufacturers make zero or very low VOC paints. I can go to the lumberyard and get [off the shelf] what I used to have to special order."

For more information and free online training courses on how to incorporate propane into highly sustainable building projects and to earn third-party green certification points, go to www.buildwithpropane.com/training. The topics mentioned in this article are explored in the following courses:

Go Green With Propane

Hydronic Heating and Rural Residential Applications

Water and Energy Efficiency with Tankless Gas Water Heaters

See how to specify propane applications to earn points under the NAHB's National Green Building Standard

Download the project profile for this home from the USGBC Web site (PDF).

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