The Living Building Challenge

Intermediate

Inside this Article

The zHome project
The zHome project, a 10-unit townhouse development in Issaquah, Washington, is designed to achieve net-zero energy, among other Living Building Challenge imperatives.
LBC creator Jason McLennan.
LBC creator Jason McLennan.
LBC Ambassadors-in-training at a Portland, Oregon, workshop.
LBC Ambassadors-in-training at a Portland, Oregon, workshop.
Bertschi Living Building Science Wing in Seattle, Washington
The LBC-certified Bertschi Living Building Science Wing in Seattle, Washington, met its Site petal, in part, by building on a former grayfield—a paved sport court.
Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington
To meet the LBC’s Energy imperative, the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington, includes a large rooftop PV array.
Eco-Sense house in Victoria, British Columbia
A composting toilet, 10,000-gallon rainwater storage cistern, and graywater recycling help the Eco-Sense house in Victoria, British Columbia, meet its Water petal imperatives.
Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab
With few native building materials to choose from, the distance radius and density threshold limits for red-list compliant materials posed a challenge for the Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab. Project managers had to exercise their ingenuity and creativity to meet the Materials petal imperatives.
Home earning its LBC petals
Careful material selection, reuse, and restoration were part of this home’s path to earning its LBC petals. (shown before)
Home earning its LBC petals
Careful material selection, reuse, and restoration were part of this home’s path to earning its LBC petals. (shown after)
The EcoHouse
Beauty is an important imperative of the LBC. The EcoHouse, with a wall full of tropical plants that treat the building’s graywater, was inspired by students who wanted “a greenhouse where something would always be growing.”
The zHome project
LBC creator Jason McLennan.
LBC Ambassadors-in-training at a Portland, Oregon, workshop.
Bertschi Living Building Science Wing in Seattle, Washington
Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington
Eco-Sense house in Victoria, British Columbia
Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab
Home earning its LBC petals
Home earning its LBC petals
The EcoHouse

Ask Living Building Challenge (LBC) creator Jason McLennan about buildings and he’ll likely start talking about flowers. “Both are literally and figuratively rooted in place,” says the author and architect. “Unfortunately, [right now] that’s where the metaphor ends—but I don’t think it should.”

As McLennan points out, a flower gets all of its energy from the sun. It gets all the water it needs from the precipitation immediately surrounding it. It doesn’t pollute. It creates habitat—and it’s beautiful.

McLennan believes architecture should be judged by the same metrics, and has translated his vision into the LBC, one of the most ambitious green-building certification programs in the world. He has developed unique terminology for his program’s parameters. LBC projects must address seven performance areas, or “petals”—site, energy, water, health, materials, equity, and beauty. Each petal is further subdivided into a total of 20 “imperatives.”

Several of the petals match categories found in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. And, like LEED, LBC projects are divided into types, including renovation, landscape or infrastructure, building, and neighborhood.

But the LBC goes beyond LEED. At a minimum, a project must not consume more energy than it produces, and must harvest all of its water and treat all of its wastewater on site. Building materials must be sourced “appropriately” and locally, if possible, and cannot contain any chemicals on the “Red List,” a list of 14 known toxins, carcinogens, and endocrine disrupters. In addition, LBC certification is based on actual, rather than anticipated, performance. Unlike LEED, projects don’t earn points in each category; instead, the project team must demonstrate how it has met each imperative through a combination of essays and other documents, and audits. After 12 consecutive months, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI)—the LBC’s umbrella organization—sends an auditor to conduct a final audit. Because it’s not prescriptive, the LBC encourages creative, local solutions unique to each project.

“The LBC is really the ‘what’—the guiding vision,” says Matt Grocoff, an LBC ambassador and net-zero energy consultant. “Other programs have the ‘how.’”

Siting Right

Restoring a healthy coexistence with nature.

To justify the LBC’s first imperative, Limits to Growth, McLennan says, “No new sites; we’ve developed enough.” This imperative sets the uncompromising tone of the LBC, instructing people to work with what they already have rather than developing more raw land. Projects must occur on “previously developed sites,” which the LBC defines as sites that were altered from a greenfield before December 31, 2007. The exception is grayfields and brownfields that aren’t sensitive habitat or prime farmland. According to the LBC, setting limits should restrict our collective footprint and foster connected, compact communities.

The other three Site imperatives support this idea. Habitat Exchange acknowledges that each project causes disturbance and displaces native plants and animals. To mitigate this, project owners must set aside land away from the site—a minimum of 1 acre for every acre of project—through an official land trust organization.

The Car-Free Living imperative encourages movement away from individual car ownership through the creation of dense, mixed-use neighborhoods. To achieve this, residential projects cannot decrease the overall density of either the site or neighborhood (within a 0.6-mile radius of the project site).

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Comments (1)

Ron Challis_3's picture

I like the idea of the "Petal" concept. I am dismayed with the current building materials and methods. They are not sustainable and they do not produce a safe building. Building Codes are very weak in North America.
This movement could bring much needed change to the construction industry. One flaw that pops out to me is that building or renovating a house in a major city is not feasible and therefore detracts from the petal idea. Many cities demand that one must connect to water supply and connect to sewers. Also city lots are too small to allow for many aspects of the petal concept.
I moved to a small village and built a straw bale home but had to connect to water, sewer, and could not erect a wind tower. The lot is narrow and it was too difficult to site the house to take advantage of the sun. We are very happy with our house, utilities are low and we do not make a large foot print. If we had greater resources we could have improved our design lowered our foot print. We are like the majority of people with limited resources and we did the best we could with what we had but the petal concept is beyond our financial ability. It would be great if the petal concept could make room for people like ourselves.

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