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Fraudulent Green

What do you do when your competitors verify their own homes to their own made-up standards?

Posted on Mar 9 2010 by Michael Chandler

Until recently, I hadn’t really given much thought to the builders in my town with the green leaves on their signs and the logos — “We were green before it was a color” or “Green since 1978” — who never show up at the green council meetings and won’t even certify to Energy StarLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. because “it’s too expensive.” I was there once, belligerently misinformed, so I figure I can afford to turn the other cheek when I drive past a greenwasher's sign on the street.

But this new economy has made those pretty signs and press releases a little less amusing. A recent article in Professional Builder magazine entitled “Does Green Help Sell Homes?” by David Barista included a chart that listed the response to the question, “Of the green homes built by your company in 2009, what percentage were/will be certified as green or high-performance through each of the following programs?” The results: Energy Star had 47%, LEED for HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. had 6%, NAHBNational Association of Home Builders, which awards a Model Green Home Certification. Green had 10%, local HBA green programs had 12%, and “Your company’s internal program” had 21%!

That’s sort of like what the Olympics would be if 21% of the athletes hired their own judges and scored by their own private scoring system. Or, if 21% of the builders in your town paid to use their own inspectors and code books.

So I asked around at the green building council “networking event” down at the pub and a couple of guys let me know that they were frustrated with having to compete with a “private label green builder” who was taking shortcuts and over-promising about cheap energy improvements — someone who not only made up his own rating system, but also owns the company that verifies his system for his houses and remodel projects and lies about being certified by Energy Star and NAHB to boot.

This guy's promising on his website that "with just a few simple things we can get a house to increase its efficiency twenty, thirty, forty percent, pretty easy, and at a low cost... Within four or five years the owners will pretty much have paid for any improvements..." Which sounds just a little too good to be true, and puts honest and realistic weatherization contractors at a serious disadvantage.

Still, the website looks sort of kosher because it claims that their program manager “is a National Association of Home Builders Green Home Verifier and Home Energy Rating System HERSIndex or scoring system for energy efficiency established by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) that compares a given home to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Reference Home based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code. A home matching the reference home has a HERS Index of 100. The lower a home’s HERS Index, the more energy efficient it is. A typical existing home has a HERS Index of 130; a net zero energy home has a HERS Index of 0. Older versions of the HERS index were based on a scale that was largely just the opposite in structure--a HERS rating of 100 represented a net zero energy home, while the reference home had a score of 80. There are issues that complicate converting old to new or new to old scores, but the basic formula is: New HERS index = (100 - Old HERS score) * 5. Rater.” Except — he isn't. I checked NAHB's website and Energy Star's and they both came up empty, so I left a comment for NAHB and Energy Star suggesting that they might want to check out this guy's website and follow up on these claims.

I think the Olympics are more fun when the judges share the same rule book and don’t take a paycheck from the people they're scoring. But more importantly, I think we all need to pull together and support the major national and regional green building standards. The economy has dealt our industry a major blow and a lot of the cut-rate low-ballers have put themselves out of business. Competition is tough and the time for turning the other cheek with greenwashers is over.

As things pick up we have an opportunity to pull the best and most well run businesses together to lift the standards of our industry. Let’s get behind continuing improvement and builder education with shared standards and real third-party verification. It’s time to make meaningful change in the way America builds and renovates homes.



Image Credits:

  1. Michael Chandler (from old poster for the movie Soylent Green)

1.
Mar 9, 2010 6:28 PM ET

I would like to see rating
by Marshall Sohne

I would like to see rating system that is not easily gamed, reasonably priced that measures performance as well as other qualities. I liked reading the ratings given by the judges in the solar decathalon. Something like that could work. This gold and silver ratings to me are near meaningless green wash. I dont think our present ratings systems provide much in the way of real assurance to home buyers. To me its all window dressing right now . Its an accounting system that can be used very easily to mislead and certainly can not be relied upon.


2.
Mar 9, 2010 9:54 PM ET

Third party ratings maybe better than status quo but . . .
by j chesnut

My experience with LEED commercial certification and a local residential green building standard has been frustrating. When using the various rating systems a lot of time and effort goes into following the structure and format of the particular rating system often at the expense of identifying the correct priorities for the specific project. Educated professionals and teams are better positioned to make the important environmental choices about a project more than a rating system which out of practicality needs to be generalized to cover all scenarios. There were some benefits to using predefined standards. The only argument needed to procure more expensive FSC lumber and low-flow plumbing fixtures is that they were easy points. I do recognize the power of that.

I appreciate and learn from the efforts of many intelligent and talented people to create these rating systems intended to reduce the footprint of the building industry, but I think most of the benefit in real world application is marketing and not a substantial reduction of the environmental footprint of the building industry.

There is an opportunity for the use of rating systems to improve the status quo but as many others have said they need to be based on energy performance measurements for the large part. I know the USBGC understands this critique and that they also need to be strategic about market acceptance , viability, and practicality. Lets hope they and other ratings systems quickly progress towards meaningful performance measurements nonetheless.

Rating systems are like any other tool, they can be used well or poorly. The "third party" qualification of rating systems should be accepted only critically. Correct me if I am wrong but "third party" verification just means checking to see if all the paperwork is consistent.

I believe there are some, if not many, educated professionals doing superior work in by applying the right priorities to the specifics of the project at hand without getting bogged down in the format and required submittals of the various rating systems. Let's not assume only certified projects represent the best efforts out there.


3.
Mar 9, 2010 9:58 PM ET

Near meaningless green wash?
by Michael Chandler

Marshall,
Which Green rating systems have you built to so far? I recently did a house that was scored to five just to see how they compare and they weren't all that expensive or easily gamed from my experience. I like the NAHB ANSI 700 National Green Building Standard the best but Earth Craft, LEED for homes, Green Building Initiative, they all seem better than self righteous bluster and pretty green leaves on the sign out front to me.


4.
Mar 10, 2010 1:20 AM ET

Manufacturers have hijacked the green movement
by Danny Kelly

Michael - I couldn't agree more - sick and tired of reading about builders who advertise green and then mention their bamboo floors and some recycled content as their only evidence of "building green" The manufactures encourane this practice and help support it - unfortunately they have more money for marketing than we do for education.

Even worse are these retrofit companies that are selling solar powered attic fans, energy efficiency "packages" and the magic boxes that you hook up to your meter and you save loads of energy. (was just at the Charlotte home show) Do you think any of these guys take the time to calculate if the fan is necessary and there is enough intake ventilation that it will not put a negative pressure on the house?

These contractors need to be exposed somehow and the general public needs to be educated. I think the same suvey in Professional Remodeling showed that the consumer is getting tired of the "green talk" and feels like it is watered down since "everything is green" now a days which is making our job more difficult.


5.
Mar 10, 2010 8:32 AM ET

Michael I dont write well
by Marshall Sohne

Michael I dont write well but I will try to communiciate my gut feelings on rating buildings. We are presently in the process of designing and seeking to build a few passiv haus projects. Previously an intern in my office became leed certified and during the process I had an opportunity to read the study materials he provided to me. He wanted me also to seek leed certification. Thinking it might be worth it to become leed certified I read the materials. After reading the materials I came to the conclusion that while many of the concepts had merit and I was in agreement at least in theorypassing this leed exam would not qualify anyone (by itself) to advise a client to build a building of quality and performance. It appears that in order to pass the exam a general understanding of the concepts together with a detailed memorization of their categories and points is required. Their exam much like the leed certification have similar problems. It appears their exam requires spending a lot of energy memorizing their point system and their internal infrastructure so there is a barrier to entry that eats up resources money, human energy. The result assuming you pass there is no performance. Your qualified for what ? To advise a client to design or build a quality building of performance Clearly they are not. So what are they qualified for ? To advise a client on how the point system works to make it easier to obtain Gold or Silver Leed ? Thats probably at best what they are qualified for. It was depressing seeing how the rating system was set up. I saw how their point system worked and could project based on my experience that this system would will not insure quality buildings of superior performance levels. While it appears to give consideration to many different aspects it seemed to me to be some form of a politically correct point system with additional paperwork and expense. I think for the most part this true. Does it makes as a society to spend this additional money and effort to end up with buildings that do not perform any better. I think the tax payer to the extent this is supported by tax breaks or if public money has been spent on these projects the public has not been well served. Its sounds good. It feels good. The politicians seem to like it. The consultants make a living on it. But it doesnt solve our problems. I have an architect in my office very bright and talented I basically told him his people (other architects) really blew it with Leed. It seemed to me I may be wrong but I believe the architects or the aia had a lot of influence on this system. When I went to the AIA conference in Boston a while back and attended some sessions and saw some projects what I heard and what I saw further confirmed my beliefs. One reason I liked passive haus concept was that the system could not be gamed , it required performance (air testing)
and confirmation by a third party of the results the software was impressive as a planning tool and the quality of the analysis is good. Even the PHHP analysis of the plans has to be reviewed by a third party. The priority is energy efficiency which I think is basically correct. I think that is not the case with LEED. It seems like you can gain a bunch of points in other areas those easy points and cover up for lesser performance in the energy efficiency area. Performance of the building in the energy efficiency , comfort, quality design require more thought , cost and execution than buying FSC lumber , bike racks or recycling some material . I know they give points for redeveloping sites and I totally agree with this but as a system this does not work for our society. LEED success seems to have been mostly in marketing itself. I
For the record i dont want to be an advertisement for passive haus and I dont think their system is perfect. Even though their energy performance is very good their standards are very strict and their certification is all or none. So you can do a great job build a superior product and end up without the certification that bothers me. Thats why I brought up the rating system used in the solar decathalon
peformanced based, third party and you can see how you were rated in the different categories.
Energy performance should be seperately rated so its clear to the buyer how the building performs
this is important and i think there should at least a minimum level of performance.
I think other categories can be rated on some scale or points seperately or seperate groups but the system should not allow the performance in these other areas like local materials or recycling to correct for or allow gold or silver type certification for a building that did not perform to a sufficiently high level of energy efficiency. I believe going forward some of the early examples of Leed certification will end up as the poster children of a failed and wasteful system. Ill be the first to admit Im not an expert on these rating systems I will look at the ones you recommend. Im a small businessman trying to get it right. The public also is not expert and by us allowing green wash systems or marketing to be the standard it makes it much harder for us as a society to go forward and build the way we need to build. And i believe there is a lot more than just marketing at stake. Michael I look at the standards you suggested . But even these standards you say "seem better than self righteous bluster and pretty green leaves". That seems like a very low bar I guess it depends upon how much better. I agree with the comments by J Chestnut earlier they are well written with a softer edge while pointing some very problematic issues with LEED. Just for background Ive built numerous projects over the years multifamily, single family, commercial and never never have we gone for any rating system or used the same in marketing. My interest now is to build high performance buildings because I think that will be the future and it is something that I believe in. For me its a lot easier to work on a project and sell a project that I believe in.


6.
Mar 10, 2010 1:10 PM ET

Lets keep this conversation going
by Michael Chandler

Marshal and others, thanks so much for your comments.

The reason I ask which standards you have certified to is because I often see misconceptions about green rating when working with folks who are just getting into it. I'm not joking when I say that before I joined Energy Star in 2004 I was "belligerently misinformed". I knew I was building a good house and didn't see why I should pay $300 - $700 to have someone come out and pat me on the back. Also I was tired of "consultants" going through my plans with a red pencil and crossing out windows to get the glass area down to their golden ratio. But I did join (due to a client from hell situation, to prove that his house was energy efficient) and that first house tested at over 50% better than code. That gave me bragging rights which converted into marketing advantage.

So I always say that you should NOT use the scoring tool to design your next house, but use it to analyze your last house to look for a measure of how you are doing already and direction on where to go from there. It's a marketing tool, yes, but also a tool for continual improvement within your company. (we pay very close attention to our ACH50, HERS and duct blaster results) When you use it to look back it's free, you can't certify retro-actively, the NAHB scoring tool is available to anyone to use on-line, and it keeps you from chasing points. You can't go back and retroactively put FSC framing and trim or a 1.28 GPF toilet in that last house, but you might discover that you hit silver anyway. The lesson is that you don't need all the points. Point chasing is a terrible way to design a house.

Get over the thought that your customer is going to pay extra to live in a gold certified house. I never ask my customers to pay for certifications any more than I would put a line item in their budget for a newspaper ad I plan to run. It's a marketing differentiator. If you sign a contract promising to deliver gold or net zero and fall short there’s not a lot you can do. I recently did a house that might have scored gold if the client had chosen a different toilet for the master, but they wanted that silly 1.6 GPF toilet so the best I could deliver was silver. They’re on a good well on a huge piece of woods, I really don’t care if they use a little more water and they are happy with a silver rating as am I. No big deal.

The house gains value from the systems you put in it, that’s what your customer is paying for. The scoring tool helps you assess the different systems relative value. It doesn’t take the place of the architect or consultant. Your company gains market advantage by having someone who doesn't get a pay check from you look over what you did and give you an independent assessment of the quality of your house in comparison to other homes scored to the same tool built by you and your competitors (and friends, Michele Myers and I have a wonderful battle going on over HERS and green ratings, and we both have homes on the NAHB Green Building Conference home tour on May 16th)

And I do think that the rating systems help protect the buyers, especially Energy Star, in that they give another way for them to compare the quality of a home’s construction. We look at builders’ warrantee costs before and after they start green building certification and they drop way off, more than enough to compensate for the cost of scoring the homes. Third party verification drives up durability and exposes workmanship issues which results in a better built house. Good for the builder and good for the buyer.

Passive House is great for those who can afford it. But I have a friend who is selling an Energy Star and NAHB ANSI 700 Silver certified home for $159,000 and making a profit doing it. I don’t see him getting there with Passive House. I applaud what he is doing though. And he’s competing with national builders and winning. That is why we need to use third party certification to level the playing field and improve the quality of building in our industry.


7.
Mar 10, 2010 5:19 PM ET

Michael I just took another
by Marshall Sohne

Michael I just took another look at the updated leed for homes and will look at the other certifications just to get some basic orientation . Seeing that your are familiar with these different certifications I think it would be helpful if you could breakdown for each program good and the bad. For Instance on Leed for Homes What are the adiminsitrative costs the certificate, the leed provider (consultant), additional paperwork or documentation level or time spent, What performance tests are required by each certification Which tests have to be performed by third parties Which tests have to be verified by third parties Approximate Costs for Each Test Which Certifications provide verified energy performance and disclose this performance in a meaningful way Which certifications provide a high level of quality information to the purchaser as opposed to Marketing of Gold or Green I think it would be helpful to have a breakdown of this sort from someone like you who has been through at least a few of the different certification systems.


8.
Mar 10, 2010 6:43 PM ET

Calculating certification costs and time
by Michael Chandler

Marshal, I actually did go into this on the piece I wrote about the house with five certifications. http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/homes/nc-home-grabs-five-green-ratings. As I said there, it cost me about $650 in certification costs to comply with the Energy Star and Builders' Challenge programs. Adding the NAHB ANSI 700 report card cost me about $650 more including consultant fees but not my own time gathering digital photos on the jobsite or writing the owner’s manual which I supply for every house, and the LEED cost me about $1,950 more again, on top of the previous certifications.

I’m a fairly experienced at green building certification so the first time you do one of these certifications it will likely involve more consulting time and money. Still, I certainly wouldn’t start with LEED for homes. Get your feet wet with a more user friendly system like EarthCraft or NAHB ANSI 700 and graduate to LEED after you’ve had some experience. I’d hate to pay $3,000 to $4,000 for a report card with an F or D- on it on my first try.

I don’t know of any builder who is certifying to a green standard who is not also certifying to Energy Star, Builders Challenge is a bit more esoteric esp. with the Carbon Monoxide detector requirement but most HERS raters can give you a two for one deal on those. Kidde makes a CO version of their Silhouette recessed smoke detector with the ten year battery for a reasonable price and my clients like the flush look.

Do please go to www.NAHBgreen.org and score a recent project and let me know how it turns out. I’m sorry their server is so slow on your first house, just get a nice bottle of wine and deal with the sluggishness, after the first house you just tell it to make a copy of your last house with a new name and go through and change only the things that are different about the new project so it gets much faster on the second pass.


9.
Mar 10, 2010 7:29 PM ET

The Excel-erated calculator for NAHB and other tests
by Michael Chandler

Marshal, Most of the tests you asked about, duct blaster, blower door, thermal bypass etc. are done as part of the Energy Star certification. The green certifications include those but add documentation of a number of other items by receipts, digital photos and some site inspections.

You can download the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines Calculator for the Bryant house here http://www.chandlerdesignbuild.com/files/NGBSGreenCalculator_Bryant.pdf The house also scored gold on the NAHB ANSI 700 calculator, HERS 48, and we are so very close to gold in LEED for homes that I’m upgrading the air filter to MERV 13 and running a backflow test to get those few points to push me over the threshold (okay, sometimes I do resort to points chasing but just because I’m so darn close to gold)

I’ll try to get the scoring tools for Energy Star and ANSI 700 that have been verified uploaded to http://www.chandlerdesignbuild.com/indexFull.php?id=bryantResidenceImage... next weekend and I’ll add the LEED-h report as soon as I get it verified.

The speedy Excel calculator for the old NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines Calculator is here http://www.hbadoc.com/associations/2116/files/HBADOC%20Green%20Calculato... But we don’t have permission from NAHB to share our speedy version for the NAHB ANSI 700 standard. (They are having financial difficulties along with the rest of us and are trying to figure out a way to make money out of providing an Exel-erated scoring tool so they have shut down at least two folks we know about who have already done it on their own)


10.
Mar 11, 2010 4:25 AM ET

11.
Mar 11, 2010 9:02 AM ET

On greenwashing
by Martin Holladay

Michael,
Thanks for your excellent blog warning the unwary of the meaningless labels invented by some builders' "internal green labeling programs." You're quite right, of course: any builder interested in a meaningful green label needs to choose a program with third-party verification.

However, the N.Y. Times article cited by Marshall Sohne raises an important point: almost every green labeling program in the country has made a disastrous miscalculation. These programs have seriously underestimated the risks of:
1. Ignoring (or barely addressing) the problem of house size, and
2. Providing very low bars for energy performance.

As far back as March 2000, Energy Design Update was sounding warning bells: "One wonders — if 'resource conservation' is at the heart of the [green building] definition — just how large and luxurious a home can get and still legitimately be called green?"

We are all suffering the effects of a legitimate backlash. Henry Gifford deserves accolades for shining a spotlight on the dismal energy performance achieved by many LEED buildings. Similarly, the scorn heaped on Mitch Kapor's 10,000-square-foot "green" mansion equipped with a 10-car garage is entirely appropriate.

Green labeling programs are at a crossroads. They have only a short period of time to get their act together or risk being dismissed as irrelevant marketing programs.

All that said, it's clear that a company's "internal green labeling program" is likely to be even more meaningless that the national programs — so keep up the good work, Michael.


12.
Mar 11, 2010 12:01 PM ET

Green Mansions?!?!?!
by Michael Chandler

Martin
I know very much what you are talking about, I live right up the road from John and Elizabeth Edwards' 30,000 sf "green" mansion. Not very popular with the neighbors.

The "outrageous green" house I'll have on the NAHB National Green Building Conference home tour in May will no doubt inspire similar debate, http://vimeo.com/9995886,

Still I see mansions and green mansions side by side in these subdivisions around here and I have to say I'm happier to see the ones that are at least making an effort to be less egregious. If we can't mandate modesty at least its being nudged in the right direction.


13.
Mar 11, 2010 12:42 PM ET

Halleluya, Hallelujah, הַלְּלוּיָהּ, Halləlûyāh...
by Armando Cobo

Until the whole country mandates HERS ratings posted in every house, we're going to have "green washing"… and even so…

This is a great discussion, Michael. Here is my pet peeve… let’s just don’t blame one program or another… it’s the whole system:
A) With LEED for Homes you can have a Platinum level home but only be ±20% more energy efficient and a LEED AP + Homes is a Certified Professional after passing a test (the test taker may have taken a class or not).
B) With NAHB you “BECOME” a Green Building Professional after 12 hours of green building course and their verification process is serious at best.
C) With HERS raters, you take a 3 or 4-day course, pass a test and you are good to go… (Under sponsorship).
D) With Energy Star, pretty much all you have to do is show up to work, do a good job and you pass…
and I'm sure most of the other programs are about the same.

This “green” race has become a money making tool for several organizations. Many of the certifiers and verifiers have NEVER built or design a home in their life and yet they are “professionals” and telling their clients what to do and how to do it. Sad Deal!!!

I always asked those “Green Professionals” how many homes have they CERTIFIED, to what level and in which program. Then I can tell whether they are indeed “professional” or not.

Uffff!!! I knew I should have stayed away from the GBA today!!!


14.
Mar 11, 2010 1:01 PM ET

more conversation from the "beligerently misinformed"
by Marshall Sohne

Michael I got a chance to look at your website and score card on the Bryant Residence I enjoyed reading through your website and the Bryant Residence score-card. Your project is entitle to gold as well as your business practices. Rather than be belligerent when look at the rating systems let me just make a couple of observations. I like a lot of the best practices contained in the NAHB and Your Local Program its a helpful check list. I also like the idea of minimum requirements in various categories. It appears as to certain items there is a level of third party verification ie the blower test.
The pie chart looks great and I assume that the slices represent the % of points recieved by each category as a way of showing you how the gold award was achieved. Thats ok What i think should be included besides the air test clear information as to the energy performance of the building
both annual consumption of various fuels estimated annual costs for heating and cooling and this should be based upon third party verification inputting the different R values of the various assemblies and taking into account the mechanicals, and the actual air infiltrations, thermal bridging etc all assumptions should be stated, fair, and transparent I didnt read the NAHB comparison of rating systems but I downloaded it and will read it later . Anyway I was just down in NC this weekend
Off Point but how is everybody doing the financing these days Im trying to get creative and do it without the banks. The whole building "green issue" becomes abstract without financing.


15.
Mar 11, 2010 1:05 PM ET

Pretty cool - You can post in Hebrew
by Martin Holladay

Armando,
I learn something every day. I had no idea until your posting that GBA supports Hebrew text.


16.
Mar 11, 2010 7:49 PM ET

None of the programs are perfect but.....
by Danny Kelly

Although all of the programs out there have their own shortcomings, building to a certification is a step in the right direction. Any time you try to create a program that has some flexibility in it - it is not going to be perfect. I think over the years some of the lesser programs will disappear and the better programs will improve.

Can some of the homes being built to a lower certification not be much better than energy star - well yes - but they are still in the top 10% of homes being built today. Only 1 in 5 homes are being built to energy star standards. As long as there is an honest attempt to build a better home, I think any certification should be applauded. There is no room for builders that purposely misinform their owners/buyers about their product - these are the people that need to be run out of business. Most of the green builders out there are taking the crawl, walk, run track which is fine and encouraged. A greenhorn green builder should not try to build some super-tight super-insulated home if they do not know what they are doing so building to the lower certifications allows everyone to learn and hopefully step up their game on the next one.

Armando - I agree that the LEED-AP is meaningless - I met one the other day that did not know what a blower door was. Seems like all of the attorneys are taking the class now - don't understand this one - I guess they are gearing up to sue all of us. Early in the green movement - they always said buildings are certified not people - now that they learned they can make money certifying people so we do have some nonsense out there. As for the rest though - the majority of the HERS raters I have run across are very well informed and do a good job. As for the certifications - I have a hard time believing that a LEED-H Platinum certification can be achieved and only be 20% more efficient (although I'm sure you could find one path to come out with that result but you would have to work extremely hard) - the fact is the majority of the poeple that are trying to build to such a lofty standard are doing it for the right reasons. We just completed a LEED-H Platinum home and our HERS was a 52. I could have traded out some energy efficiency points for other points but would have been very difficult to achieve a high certification and still have a high HERS. For this reason, I do think the National Green Building Standard is better - they at least have a minimum score required for each level so you get a little more well rounded home. Just for fun, we did the NGBS certification on this same home and only got Gold. I have heard so much that LEED is harder (more strict) than NGBS I was actually surprised to find out that is not necessarliy the case (although I'm sure once again if you choose different paths you may be able to achieve the reverse). The NAHB website shows that the average house built to the Emerald Standard will be 60% better than code.

As for the large houses - most of the programs do take that into consideration - LEED-H you get to reduce the needed points for a small house and NGBS adds points for larger homes so you do have to do more. I am a custom builder and pretty much have to build whatever plans my customer brings to me, by the time I get involved size is determined. Who is to decide how big is too big? I think we all agree that 10,000 and 30,000 is over the top - but what abot 3500 or 5000? is that too big? If you look at the embodied energy of a home - the structure is a one time thing, it is the energy and the maintenance of a home over time that really counts. So if I build a large home but I build it 15%, 30% or 50% better than the house next door - isn't that a good thing?

Marshall - to your point about wishing there was more information on howmuch energy the home would use, taking thermal bridging into consideration, etc. - The National Green Building Standard also encourages its participants to do the DOE Builder's Challenge - this has a lot of those things you mentioned and the house muct be 30% better than code to meet the requirements.

As for financing in NC - there isn;t any here so stay where you are - ha ha. Seems to me that appraisals are hurting us right now - the traditional financing is out there although you do not get any benefit from the appraisal stanpoint for building green. I think the appraisal community needs to be out focus of education.

Great conversation - enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts.


17.
Mar 12, 2010 8:02 AM ET

Another Green Article NY Times
by Marshall Sohne

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870486930457511006411717251...


18.
Mar 12, 2010 8:02 AM ET

sorry it was the wall street journal
by Marshall Sohne

my mistake


19.
Mar 12, 2010 11:55 AM ET

Danny said:
by Armando Cobo

I could have traded out some energy efficiency points for other points but would have been very difficult to achieve a high certification and still have a high HERS. For this reason, I do think the National Green Building Standard is better ….. I have a hard time believing that a LEED-H Platinum certification can be achieved and only be 20% more efficient

Before NAHB was getting ready to launch the NGBS scoring tool, three of us from New Mexico had a chance to “try” the standard against the old scoring method and against LEED for Homes. I scored 4 or 5 homes in all 3 scoring systems and found that if the house were built in an infield project it would score better under the L4H program, but if the house were built in a new subdivision it would score better in the NGBS. I don’t think one can make a definite conclusion based on what I found, but it would be interesting to see what other folks would find out in their projects.

The L4H Program is not that is more difficult, but it has more rigorous and detailed verification process; and to be honest, that’s something the NGBS could use some of it.

DOE did a presentation last year at an AIA conference where they had charted many LEED projects, commercial and residential, and it showed that the level of green did not match the level of energy efficiency. In fact, there were many results that a Platinum level project was less energy efficient than a Gold, Silver or Bronze level project and some Bronze level projects that were higher than Silver, Gold or Platinum projects.


20.
Mar 12, 2010 12:38 PM ET

Green and Energy Use
by Michael Chandler

I don't see these green building standards as being in lieu of Energy Star and Builders Challenge but as a complementary extension of those certifications. I'm assuming that green builders are doing both and are getting the energy metric from the Energy Star report and the green metric from the Green certification report.


21.
Mar 12, 2010 7:43 PM ET

Growing Pains
by David Posada

I agree with alot of the frustrations people voice about implementing green rating systems, and the unrealistic claims that are often made. Still, I think the overall impact is worthwhile, and I'm willing to put up with many of the systems' flaws and shortcoming if it gets people to discuss performance and strategies that 5 or 10 years ago would elicit snickers or outright hostility.
Many of these programs are still in their awkward adolescence, and like with teenagers, maybe we shouldn't be surprised by inflated claims and inconsistent results. As the market and tools mature, I think clients will also become more sophisticated in what they ask for and expect. When new markets open up, there will probably always be carpet baggers and snake oil salesmen. We can still demand better tools from the rating systems, but also consuder when we may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
It's useful to distinguish the responsibility for poor performing buildings from rating systems that rate them. Sure, a designer can fluff a building up to higher rating levels by add-ons that earn more points, but ultimately they should be held accountable for decisions that add to the building's value and performance. The rating systems are starting to provide for that accountability, but we've still got a ways to go.
I think somewhere else Rob Watson responded to LEED critiques on energy performance saying, "LEED didn't design the building, LEED didn't build the building, LEED didn't operate the building," so the responsibility for poor performance should be shared by others as well.
I can see how the first generation of rating systems may have faced political and practical barriers to requiring performance accountability, but with the current clamoring hopefully the time is ripe.


22.
Mar 14, 2010 2:04 PM ET

The greenest brick is already in the wall.
by James Morgan

Hey Michael,
It took just a quick Google on “is a National Association of Home Builders Green Home Verifier and Home Energy Rating System HERS Rater” to uncover the local contractor who attracted your ire. Here's just a couple of thoughts after looking at their website.

I agree these folks need to be called out on claiming credentials they don't have, and the certification would be much more convincing coming from a third party. That aside, they're not sure they're over-promising, and I'm not sure we should call this greenwashing. Only last week I visited a home to consult on some interior renovations, mostly cosmetic. The homeowner says her energy utilities cost an average of $250/month - this is a 1500 s.f. ranch house! The reason was not hard to find - a crappy gaspack unit in the side yard connected to the house with uninsulated ductwork, probably spewing more than half of that energy dollar straight into the atmosphere. $10K's worth of sealed crawlspace and high-efficiency heat pump could bring that bill down to $100 or less in a jiffy. And it doesn't take an extraordinary level of competence on the contractor's part to get there. Scenarios like this are way too common and at that level of the game 60% energy savings and 5-year paybacks are entirely plausible. It'd be hard to show an equivalent ROI or ROEI on a new home built from scratch, even one built to a net-zero, LEED platinum or passivhaus standard.

This is the core of what this company is actually offering - testing for envelope and duct leakage and laying out cost-effective interventions to deal with the most egregious issues in older properties. Sure they should clean up their act and be held accountable for their work, but let's not disregard the fundamental positive environmental value of this kind of activity. Personally, when it comes to greenwashing, I'm more troubled by the builder-developer who throws a token amount of PV on the garage roof of his 'green' spec homes but has no qualms about installing a two-storey west-facing window wall. We all know a few of those I think. That's what the certification programs are really about, right?


23.
Mar 14, 2010 11:27 PM ET

Even a blind pig finds an acorn once and a while
by Michael Chandler

James There will always be cases such as you describe where really bad duct work etc. can be very easy and economically fixed with short payback. My point is that creating your own green and energy rating system to avoid the established systems is damaging to the green building movement and is worth making a stir over. The secondary point about overselling is worth making because raising unrealistic expectations can create a backlash in the market.

Read the article in the News section on weatherization problems in Australia http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-news/austr... and you'll get a sense of why I am so concerned about the home star silver star program and the risk of poorly trained and supervised crews causing more harm than good and damaging the reputation of the entire industry (see also: Carter era tax credits and solar water heaters) The gold star level looks to be a much better program but I'm still holding out for something separate from tax rebates and more deeply transformational. http://www.chandlerdesignbuild.com/files/Market_Driven_Weatherization_01...

Sam Rashkin has the incentives picture really right in the work he is doing for Energy Star 2011; a set increase in the appraisal, reduction in interest rate, and reduction in home owners insurance rate for certified homes. That is a step in the right direction (away from a reliance on tax subsidies and rebates), and we can get there faster if we can agree to certify to a single standard across the country and provide a system to supervise energy auditors and hold them accountable to shared standards and ethics.


24.
Mar 15, 2010 10:18 AM ET

A lot of acorns out there
by James Morgan

Michael, I don't disagree with anything you say but there are maybe a lot more acorns out there than you think. I see 'em all the time. My own house had ducts hanging loose from the registers in the (ventilated) (moldy) crawl space when I moved in fifteen years ago and there are plenty like that still out there.

We do a lot of renovation work not directly related to environmental performance but I always try to ensure we bring that into the discussion. My experience is that many homeowners have little idea what an acceptable energy use is for their home, measured in the simplest way of $$$/month. In the instance above, the home gave every appearance of being well-maintained and tidily kept, yet the homeowner was startled to realize that her monthly utility costs were way out of proportion to what they should be. Wouldn't it be nice to have a public awareness campaign about that!

Keeping the cowboy operators at bay has always been a problem in the construction business and the new subsidy programs will certainly bring the usual array of pests out of the woodwork. Certainly we need to be alert to that in protecting both homeowners and legitimate operators from the predators.


25.
Mar 15, 2010 3:49 PM ET

How big is your picture?
by Maria Loveland Schneider

I have heard a lot of disparaging comments about the green rating systems and to some extent I agree. But these are "green" rating systems and "green" is not all about energy efficiency. Green is generally viewed to be about the the environment, social equity and the economy. That's a pretty big picture and energy efficiency is only part of it. Is it fair to say a building that is not energy efficient is green? If we can say a 10,000 s.ft. house is green, then maybe so.

Houses are about people. For me the basic questions are "How do we build houses that enhance people's lives and that everyone can afford? and ...What is the right system for building that we could sustain indefinitely? "

So when you think about those "easy points" in those rating systems, like a bike rack and being close to transit options, realize that being able to bike to work may save that family more money than a great air barrier and make them healthier too. I think the biggest advantage of the green rating systems is that they have structured a way of thinking about green building and given us a format for discussion. Beyond that, it's up to us to learn how to do things better and to implement what we know. That's why I read what you guys write.


26.
Mar 15, 2010 6:43 PM ET

Leaky homes can't be efficient
by Doug McEvers

Most if not all green home programs lack a meaningful air infiltration standard, 4, 5 or 6 ach 50 for new construction is a pitiful effort. You will never have real building performance with this level of air leakage, especially in a cold climate.


27.
Mar 17, 2010 3:53 PM ET

Rating Systems
by Roxanne Button

Great article and discussion, Michael. I'm an architect, and I have to deal with fellow design professionals claiming to be "green" when it's very clear that they have no clue about the real issues. Ask most architects whom I know what a HERS rating is, and you'll get a blank stare. But ask them if they "do" green design and watch the buzzwords fly. So it isn't just builders who are jumping on the bandwagon.

Case in point: 'Starchitect' Daniel Libeskind's 5500 SF "Green Prefab" house, called Villa Libeskind, which showed up in my inbox this morning in the Architectural Record WebInsider email. In reality, it's the furthest thing from green, but it's all over the architectural press because of who designed it. This is what we're up against.

What's lacking is any really clear strategy on behalf of our respective professional organizations to educate the buying public - and I mean really educate, not just try to sell them solar-powered fan packages or the like. The AIA claims to be "reaching out", but in reality they haven't been successful.

I think it's going to be the small firms and single practitioners out there working one-on-one with their clients who will be the most successful at educating people on what to ask for, and ultimately what to demand from their architects and builders. We need an educated homebuyer to keep these wannabe's in line and on board.

Thanks for the great discussion.


28.
Mar 17, 2010 4:07 PM ET

Wow! Excellent Discussion
by Mike O'Brien

As one example of new guidelines, the recently adopted portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan calls for reductions in energy use and CO2 emissions of 80% by 2050. Architecture 2030 is even more ambitious. These climate-responsive goals mean that a program like Energy Star doesn't cut it, because Energy Star standards are based on an economic model of "cost effectiveness", or how much we can justify investing in saving energy based on a payback? This model will never achieve a deep reduction goal. We need a new model that asks "what does it take to reach a net-zero building?" But the cost-effectiveness model is at the core of every one of the certification programs, with the one shining exception of Passiv House. Any builder who considers themselves sustainable should be aiming to provide their clients and buyers with houses that a) give them a livable, affordable, future-proofed home and b) do not add to global warming.


29.
Mar 29, 2010 2:22 PM ET

Green and Energy Star
by Michael Chandler

I've posted all the Green Certification reports and the Energy Star report on one of our recent homes here: http://www.chandlerdesignbuild.com/indexFull.php?id=bryantResidenceImage...

Folks can see the level of detail that can be included in the Energy Star report which generally accompanies all the various green building programs.


30.
Apr 2, 2010 12:40 PM ET

Energy star
by Robert Swinburne

As an architect, I always push Energy Star as a good starting point as it provides a basic third party certification - ignoring what minimum energy star actually means in terms of performance - and it can actually net you some cash. However, I often run into builders who talk clients out of it as being "a whole lot of paperwork and not worth the trouble" and "we have always built green" houses" These are the same builders who would not be caught dead at a building science seminar or better building conference or spending time on this website. I get to work with the other sort of builder increasingly in recent years so perhaps attitudes are changing.


31.
Jun 9, 2010 8:43 PM ET

finding the good guys?
by Harvey P.

This article has me a little worried. I am having a hard time locating *any* contractor in Delaware (yes, it is a state) who wants to insulate beyond minimum code. If I talk about insulating below the slab (passivhaus style) they look at me like I'm a freak. Now I not only have to find one, then I have to check up on all the credentials too!? ugh. Any suggestions about where to find people who are committed to the idea already, and might not try to talk me out of insulation?


32.
Jun 9, 2010 10:11 PM ET

A quick search at
by Michael Chandler

A quick search at www.NAHBgreen.org turns up the following companies building green certified homes in Delaware: Layton Construction Camden, DE; Zero Energy, LLC - DE Rehoboth Beach, DE; Bestfield Homes Wilmington, DE; Stanley Halle Communities, Inc. Crofton, MD; Mandrin Homes Pasadena, MD Custom; Thompson Homes, Inc. West Chester, PA

A similar search at www.EnergyStar.gov turns up a huge number of Energy Star builders in DE, the most promising look to be: Bruce Mears Designer/Builder Inc. 302-539-2355; Craft Built Homes, LLC 302-652-5815; Echelon Custom Homes, LLC 302-226-1615; Sun Builders 302-449-2433; Fentell Construction Corp. 856-772-1212; Reshetar Custom Homes, Inc. 215-766-1714; EcoConstruction-Green Luxury 302-858-8430; Duff Builders 717-293-5100; Bancroft Homes, Inc. 302-655-3434

There are some builders who show up on both lists, I selected for small volume custom builders who have been doing Energy Star and green for a little while. Zero Energy show up on both lists but has only certified one home to Energy Star and looks to be very new, but enthusiastic.

The Home Builders of Delaware has a directory with five builders on it: www.bestfieldhomes.com; www.empirebuilds.com; www.HOVhomes.com; www.zeroenergybuilt.com

Happy sifting!


33.
Jun 12, 2010 2:00 PM ET

sifting
by Harvey P.

thanks very much, Michael!


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