Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that builds accessible homes for severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, recently certified its first LEED for Homes Platinum home in Hillsdale, N.J.

The home, which was constructed with structural insulated panels (SIPs), features a geothermal heat pump, triple-glazed windows, a heat recovery ventilation system, and sustainable materials such as bamboo and lineoleum flooring. It was built on an infill lot close to stores, services, and public transportation, says Homes for Our Troops project manager Rick Goyette.

In addition, a 5-kW rooftop solar array produces approximately 70% of the four-bedroom home’s electricity and a 1,500-gallon underground tank collects rainwater for irrigation.

Building with SIPs was “phenomenally easy,” Goyette says, but the real incentive for employing the technology was its energy efficiency.

“It’s all about saving energy,” he says. “The thermal envelope is the most crucial aspect of any LEED design, and it’s going to have the greatest factor in the overall minimization of the home’s carbon footprint.”

It was the first LEED project for the nonprofit, as well as for architect William Martin of Westwood, N.J.-based WJM Architect. Thanks to funding from a Sierra Club grant, Goyette says his group has incorporated high-performance materials and technologies into other projects but had not decided to certify a home until now.

“We were determined to build to LEED standards from the beginning of this project,” says Goyette. “That’s really the only way to do it, to start thinking about it right from the design phase.”

The high-performance home was deliberately designed to look like any other dwelling in the neighborhood, according to Martin.

“The design blends the new home seamlessly into an existing neighborhood and encourages others by demonstrating that green design can mean a beautiful and comfortable home,” he says.

The Hillsdale project motivated Goyette to become certified in the LEED AP Homes program, which taught him the fundamentals of sustainable home building. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program is a rating system that promotes the design and construction of high-performance green homes.

“Becoming LEED AP gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into the LEED for Homes program,” Goyette says. “It’s one thing to follow a prescribed set of guidelines but another to understand the reasons why those guidelines are written the way they are.”

The home also is the first to be certified in New Jersey under the Energy Star Climate Choice program.

Keys to the 1,834-square-foot home were turned over to Marine Corporal Visnu Gonzalez, a 26-year-old paralyzed veteran, on Nov. 10, one day before Veteran’s Day and the 234th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.

In April 2004 while serving in Iraq, Gonzalez was shot by a sniper, which severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the upper chest down. A second shot to a major artery near his heart caused severe bleeding and left him near death. Now recovered but confined to a wheelchair, the new home will make life easier for Gonzalez, who will live there with his mother and sister.

The two-story home’s accessible features include an elevator and Lift & Care system, barrier-free doorways, and grab bars and a roll-in shower in the master bathroom. Because the house is located in an older, established neighborhood, Gonzalez is looking forward to being “in rolling distance” of shops and restaurants, Goyette says.

Countless professional tradespeople donated time and materials for the Gonzalez home, Goyette says, including Gerard Godsil of Teaneck, N.J.-based Godsil Construction, the project’s builder. There are more green-certified dwellings in the future for Homes for Our Troops, with two under way in California and one in Oregon.

Since 2004, Taunton, Mass.-based Homes for Our Troops has completed homes for about 40 veterans across the country, and has dozens more under way. All specially adapted dwellings are built at no cost to the veteran thanks to donations, grants, sponsors, and volunteer labor.

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.