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LEED Landscaping Requirements

by Chad Ludeman on February 14, 2009 · 18 comments

in Design,Green Programs,landscaping,LEED

As we near the completion of the 100K House project, we need to start thinking about our landscape design. As always we have to consider LEED reqs and points, modern design and budget. We are talking to a few local landscape designers in the area interested in the project. Due to budget and time constraints, we may not be able to go all out on design this time, but hope to make continual improvements going forward.

To keep things simple, I’ve compiled one list of only the points we are going after in the Sustainable Sites section of the LEED for Homes rating system. The fact that our site is so small makes a lot of these items pretty easy to accomplish. At the same time, the erosion controls are a bit out of place and possibly the only thing on the entire LEED checklist that we might not do if it weren’t for LEED.

LEED Landscaping Goals

Prerequisite: No Invasive Plants

  1. Add mulch or soil amendments as appropriate.
  2. All compacted soil must be tilled to at least 6 inches.
  3. Do not use any conventional turf (technically less than 20%).
  4. All plants must be drought tolerant.
  5. If sidewalks are replaced, use white or gray concrete or any material with a solar reflectance index (SRI) of at least 29.
  6. Design lot to be 100% permeable (no hardscaping). This includes permeable paving and even hardscaping that is designed to direct all runoff toward a permanent infiltration feature (on-site rain garden or rainwater cistern).
  7. Plant one tree or four f-gallon shrubs to reduce erosion.
  8. Install rainwater cistern to manage runoff from the roof.

Again, these are only the goals for our project. There are other ways to get points in this section of LEED that I did not go into here.

As far as the design, we will most likely have a very simple layout that contains a lot of decorative gravel rather than traditional turf. We are using our favorite residential landscape designer in the US as inspiration – rosenlof/lucas. We spoke to them a few times, but the distance makes it difficult for us to work with them both logistically and philosophically. The image above is from their site. It’s well work the visit to their site to get inspiration for modern and affordable landscape design.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 2 trackbacks }

100K LEED House « The Whispering Crane Institute
March 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm
LEED 100K House, more! « The Whispering Crane Institute
March 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nance February 14, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I like this rain garden:

2 Rick Anderson February 20, 2009 at 3:27 am

Typical that you wait till you get “near the end” of the project to get the “landscape people” involved.

The American public just doesn’t seem to understand how much better a project works the the Landscape Design professional is part of the planning process.

3 Melissa Langley March 15, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Amen to that Rick! I love it when people come in with a big beautiful house and want the cheapeast shrubs around the outside of their house and are then unhappy with the way it looks. Curb-appeal is just as important as anything else.

4 Grant March 16, 2009 at 11:31 am

Unfortunately, as a presumably “short-life” asset (because it can die easily if not properly cared for), landscaping has an almost negligible impact on appraisal values. Builders and owners are “conditioned” to be careful not to bust their construction budget on items that don’t improve the appraisal. The higher the appraisal vs the construction costs, the better the mortgage terms for the homeowner and the higher the profit margins for the builder. Such money factors make landscaping an after-thought for most builders and most home buyers. People assume that they can “fix” the landscaping in the future after the mortgage is in place and often after they have already moved into the home.

5 Rick Anderson March 16, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Your response shows perfectly what I am talking about. It’s the ignorance as to what “Landscaping” is about, and it’s about more than ephemeral assets.

Including what ‘builders’ pass on to consumers as “sidewalks”, “decks”, “patios” etc.

Thank you for helping make my point.

6 chad March 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Rick – Let me assure you that landscaping is important to us. We have planned it from the beginning. We are also working with pros to come up with a number of options to choose from in future projects.

We don’t have anyone really involved in the planning stage because our lots are so small and the back yard is fixed by the size of the house. At that point we can bring the landscaper in later to fit it out. One larger, multi-unit projects, the landscaper will definitely be involved from the planning stages when we have more leeway on the sites.

Another thing to consider to help prove your point a bit more is that banks typically want little to do with landscaping costs. Both the design and actual landscaping costs have to be skillfully “hidden” in a proposal. This is probably due to the same appraisal issue you mentioned…

7 Rick Anderson March 16, 2009 at 2:52 pm


You are still under the old way of thought that the landscaping is separate from the house.

Well-planned and well-designed landscaping is part of the architecture of the house. Any hardscape that is connected(front walks, stoops, landings) adds immediate value.

It is the ability to make the house become part of it’s surroundings as opposed to “sitting” on top of the ground.

Your use of the word “skillfully” plays right into the construction of hardscape connected to the rear of the house. This part of a good overall landscape plan creates useful and inviting spaces for the homeowners to enjoy. Most builders account for a concrete pad or a undersized deck which add nothing of value in the long term, especially when they really do not adapt well to a overall ‘landscaped space’.


8 Grant March 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Here is where my neighborhood HOA got one thing right… A professional landscaping plan must be submitted to and approved by the ARC. Even if the city gives you your Certificate of Occupancy, the landscape plan must be complete before move-in.
LEED also recognizes the integral role of landscaping with the building design.
I think it is understandable that banks don’t consider anything beyond the quality of the hardscape in the “collateral” value of a home. Appraisers do have some subjective leeway for “curb appeal” which affects marketability as compared to “comparables”
I think “durable” landscaping strategies like xeriscaping should get more credit for improving the reliable “collateral” of the home. Durable landscaping should be given comparable advantages as durable siding materials. Well planned landscape drainage carries added value just as a well designed moisture barrier on the envelope of the home does.
It is a shame that no one seems to recognize that proper soil amendments protect the investment in the softscape the same way that the investment in a quality roof protects the investment in the structure.
Unfortunately until appraisals more properly reflect such “durable” value of landscaping investments builders and homeowners often are left feeling like they can’t afford to do landscaping ‘ right”

9 Buckeye In Indy March 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Unbelievable rationalizations. Why even TRY???

10 chad March 17, 2009 at 9:32 am

Rick – Maybe you could propose a method that for-profit, residential developers could include landscaping design from the beginning? In our experience, their fees are too out of whack with the reality of a small scale residential construction project. The design fees, materials spec’ed and labor to install are usually always way too high on the first try.

It’s easy to criticize, but if your solution is not feasible from a business standpoint, it’s not very constructive…

11 Melissa Langley March 17, 2009 at 9:40 am

Why even TRY??? Well, it is our business…

Rick is so right on. Here’s one example: We do quite a bit a paver driveways. These ARE included in the appraisals. Many people PLAN on a paver driveway from the very beginning, but they wait until well more than half-way through the project to even talk to us. Then they want us to do something incredible with an afterthought amount of money. Although, I do have to say that many builders in my area are starting to change their attitude. The housing market in my area is not as bad as many places around the country, so builders are still in competition for buyers. So a strong land and hardscape is still a big draw.

12 Melissa Langley March 17, 2009 at 10:07 am

“The design fees, materials spec’ed and labor to install are usually always way too high on the first try.”

Chad, In my experience with builders it seems that they are learning the value of curb-appeal. Even on smaller projects, if they are building a spec house and the outside of their house looks better then the other houses in the neighborhood, their houses are getting more attention from the start. It may take away a little from the bottom line in the beginning, but if it keeps a house from sitting on the market for six months, they are coming out ahead in the end. Builders are coming around to this.

On a custom build it is a different story and usually where people are expecting “something for nothing” You have to put design fees, materials and labor into the mix. Would you ask your building architect to lower their fees? A landscape architect has gone to school just like a building architect and has the same student loans, computer software, etc. to pay for. In fact, as a landscape firm we have dumptrucks, bobcats, forklifts, and many other types of equiptment that has to be paid for in order to get the jobs done. Those big boulders don’t move themselves.

13 Rick Anderson March 17, 2009 at 12:28 pm


In an above remark . . . . ” The design fees, materials spec’ed and labor to install are usually always way too high on the first try.

It’s easy to criticize, but if your solution is not feasible from a business standpoint, it’s not very constructive…”

Way too high on the 1st try. Does this imply that they are out of whack high, or just too high?

As too feasible; well you haven’t seen the work I and many of my colleagues do around the country when we work with “builders” to create a great site for the beginning as opposed to something getting tack on at the end.

I’m still perplexed by the “1st try” bit.

14 chad March 20, 2009 at 7:10 am

Honestly, we don’t have enough experience with landscaping and landscaping designers yet for me to continue this discussion effectively. I am speaking on the few proposals I have seen, where the landscaping design fees are larger than the architectural design fees which just doesn’t make sense to me from a business standpoint.

In regards to the “1st try” I am referring to getting back an elaborate and expensive design when the initial request was for a simple layout with low-cost materials.

Please keep in mind that we are not comparing apples to apples in our landscape types. Take a look at our current renderings page on flickr for the layout and urban infill environment we are working with. We have no front yard on the corner house and the rear yards are roughly 20′ x 20′. This is much different than the suburban landscaping situations most are probably referring to.

Lastly, landscaping was certainly thought of from day one of the design, we just did it ourselves with the help of our architect. We haven’t written much about it, but you will see more in the future as we get to the actual work of installing it.

We’re not going to please everyone here with landscaping, but it is certainly our goal to go well above and beyond what other builders in Philly are doing. Most simple cement the entire back yard and call it a day. We plan to have at least three basic options in layouts for our clients in the future that could be further embellished upon if they so desire.

15 Fran March 26, 2009 at 11:35 am

I have a B.S. in Landscape Architecture and 22 years in the
Design / Build industry I would be happy to meet you No Charge
on Consult and No Charge on design for this site. I will enlighten you on
all Pros and Cons of all types of projects. Email me a phone
number so we may converse and set an appointment

16 isreal medina March 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

i would like to know how many leed points u can get on irrigation the shade of the tree and shrubs and water conservation , i wanted to know a bit more on the topic

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