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What’s Happening to All the Green Building Programs?

Big changes (and confusion) will be going on for a while

Posted on Dec 31 2012 by Carl Seville

Green home certification programs are starting to reach a level of maturity. At the national level, 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. has established itself as the national industry leader, at least from a branding standpoint. NAHB’s National Green Building Standard (NGBSNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. ) has a growing following but, in my opinion, is still struggling to gain broad industry acceptance. 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. completed its transition to Version 3 in 2012, significantly raising the bar for certification, and, it appears, losing some market share in the process.

The PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. standard continues to influence industry thinking and discussion, possibly out of proportion to its actual impact on the market. The Living Building Challenge is out there on the cutting edge, still having only certified a few (mostly commercial) buildings.

What’s up locally?

Many local and regional programs, once close to 200 in number, appear to be losing market share, some to the national certifications. As construction slowed at the beginning of the latest recession, many single-family builders eliminated third-party certification.

Several large builders created their own green branding programs, some of which barely meet the current energy code.

EarthCraft House, the Southeastern U.S. program that I am most familiar with, now relies primarily on multifamily certifications, much of that in the affordable market. Single-family home certification, once the mainstay of EarthCraft, is a small part of a much smaller new home market.

Some local programs have shut down, and, I expect, that others will do so as well. Please share any stories about the status of local programs in your area.

Changes, changes, changes

The national programs are all undergoing significant transitions. The latest version of LEED for Homes, originally called 2012 and then renamed to Version 4, recently completed its fifth public comment period and is scheduled to be voted on during the summer of 2013, and, hopefully released late in the year.

Interestingly, USGBC is currently planning to allow projects to be certified under the current or the upcoming versions of LEED for Homes for as long as three years after the release of Version 4. Since the current version of LEED for Homes still relies on Energy Star Version 2 requirements for its energy efficiency prerequisites and credits, there is a plan to raise the energy efficiency requirements in the current version of LEED for Homes in early 2013.

The 2012 NGBS, also known as ICC 700, is planned for release in early 2013. There will be a short period of approximately three months when builders can use either the current or new versions. Following this, all new projects must use the new standard for certification.

Energy Star has also introduced a multifamily certification program to address high-rise buildings that are subject to commercial building codes.

Where are we going?

While single-family home certification won’t go away, I believe that it will take a while for the demand for certified homes to grow. One industry bright spot is multifamily housing. A large portion of affordable housing in many states is green certified, and many market-rate buildings are now seeking certification. This is good luck for the residents of these buildings – they will get to reap the health, comfort, and efficiency benefits, and, hopefully, demand the same when they move into new apartments, condos, and homes down the road.

It will be interesting to see how this will all shake out. I believe that ENERGY STAR will slowly recapture some of its market share. LEED and the NGBS will continue to grow their share, probably at the expense of local programs, with much confusion as the new versions are released and phased in over the next several years. Then we will see another round of program updates and the process will start over again.

Confusing? Sure, but it’s also a bit of job security for us raters and consultants.

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Jan 2, 2013 12:01 AM ET

Alphabet Soup
by Curt Kinder

The trouble with all these acronym programs and certifications is that, at their core, lies a bureaucracy seeking to secure its future and fatten its bottom line via fees.

As an engineer, HVAC contractor, energy auditor, and retrofit installer I'm constantly confronted with an endless alphabet soup of organizations, to wit: PH, LEED, USGBC, BPI, NCI, ACCA, ACI, NATE, ACEEE, Energy Star, CEE Tiers.

Our clients face the same quagmire, too. How do we and our clients sort through all the chaff in search of a building envelope that works for the climate and internal systems (HVAC, hot water, lighting, laundry, media, kitchen) that cost effectively deliver required results?

That's the core challenge - attain a pretty good house and fairly efficient sub-systems without getting misled or otherwise scammed.

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