For builders who find established green-building rating systems too daunting, a startup called ecoSelect is offering a simplified building standard that will be easier and cheaper to follow.
Mike Collignon, the executive director of the non-for-profit Green Builder Coalition, writes in an online post that ecoSelect fills the gap between basic building code compliance and more complex requirements of other green-building programs.
“More and more builders are recognizing the importance of creating a unique ‘green’ identity, but navigating through the myriad of green building programs can be overwhelming,” Collignon writes. “Similarly, even knowledgeable home buyers are confused by the plethora of options.”
A common complaint from builders who’d like to market green houses is that established programs lack a “simple checklist of measures that help them ‘get it done,'” Collignon writes. EcoSelect, he adds, is less expensive, easier-to-follow, and easy to market.
It’s already a crowded field. In addition to the well-established LEED for Homes and the National Green Building Standard, builders can choose from a long list of green-building standards: Passivhaus, the Living Building Challenge, Energy Star, plus a variety of regional and state programs.
A pass/fail standard for compliance
EcoSelect deals only with new construction, and makes requirements in only three areas — energy, indoor air quality and water — with a checklist of prescriptive steps that are mostly rated on a pass/fail basis. The entire checklist is on a single page.
Most of the requirements are equivalent to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, Collignon writes, and because most of the requirements for certification are already in model building codes in one form or another, “it doesn’t take building much above code to achieve certification.”
Builders who want their houses certified work with a HERS rater, who handles required inspections and testing. There are no points to add up, and the documentation, Collignon says, is simple.
“All that is needed are the plans, REM file, an ecoSelect performance label, a picture of the home and a completed checklist,” he says. Costs for a small-volume builder would average between $500 and $600, most of which is paid to the HERS rater, Collignon writes.
Just what does ecoSelect require?
The checklist of requirements is not posted in a public area of the ecoSelect website, but a partial list is available at the Green Builder Coalition website. A chart available there compares ecoSelect to the 2009 IECC and the 2009 International Residential Code, calling out sections that are either above or below those codes, or not mentioned at all.
Bob Kingery, ecoSelect’s co-founder and president, provided the checklist of requirements for certification (see Images #2 and #3, below). Among them:
- Air leakage of 5 air changes per hour at a pressure difference of 50 pascals.
- Window U-factors and solar heat gain coefficients by climate zone.
- Duct insulation in unconditioned spaces.
- EPA WaterSense lavatory faucets and toilets.
- Energy-efficient lighting.
- Energy Star dishwasher and refrigerator.
Insulation must be installed to RESNET Grade II requirements, but there are no specific levels of insulation required in the building envelope. Kingery said it would be up to the homeowner or builder to require a certain HERS rating for the building.
An alternative to Energy Star
So why one more rating system when there are already so many out there?
“We are finding great success with builders who are not interested in moving forward with the continual changes to Energy Star,” Kingery said in an email. “Our sales training and marketing support are great value adds for both raters and builders too.”
Michael Chandler, a North Carolina builder and frequent contributor to GBA, said much the same thing. EcoSelect emerged as an alternative to Energy Star because the government program was “constantly changing the rules and making it increasingly challenging to participate without offering any differentiation between the old Energy Star and the new,” he said in an email.
“All we really want is a Duct Blaster and blower door testing and a certified HERS rating, so if we don’t play with Energy Star then we just find it a lot easier to go ecoSelect along with the [National Green Building Standard] green rating,” Chandler continued. “It’s not an alternative to the National Green Building Standard, just a lot less cumbersome alternative to Energy Star.”
Kingery said more than 1,500 homes have been certified to date in the Southeast. EcoSelect hopes to expand into new territory, includuing Colorado and the Minneapolis area.
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In my opinion, here is another great example of how “Green Building” has become a joke to many, and continues to foment buyer’s skepticism towards Builders and Programs trying to do things right for the right reasons. Nearly 1 in 3 consumers indicate they DO NOT TRUST home building (The Most trusted Builders in America, Lifestory Research, Jan 2013)
As I read this blog and their checklist of requirements, it shows another green program that barely goes above 2009 CODE. Really? I guess they have not heard there was a 2012 code on the books a while back, and now, there is a 2015 code ready to be adopted.
In other words, this program is BELLOW the current up to date minimum code house any Builder can legally build. Everyone here must be really proud! I guess, its fine for homeowners to get the shaft. Remember, they are counting on US to be the professionals.
Response to Armando Cobo
I have to agree.
Imagine, this green building program suggests that it be mandatory for exterior doors to include weatherstripping. (I don't even think that it's possible to buy a cheap ThermaTru door without weatherstripping. Where do you even buy a door that bad?)
And you need to include R-10 insulation on your attic hatch to be green! Wow! R-10!
I think this would help builders meet the minimum code and provide another set of trained eyes to catch issues before they become call backs. Especially in places where code means they cash your check and fax you the certificate of occupancy. Green? Not a chance.
Clarification and comment
I wanted to clarify a couple of items with the blog. The first is that I did not write that article, though I stand by it and in no way wish to distance myself from it. I just don't want to get credit for the work of our Technical Director, Laureen Blissard. It is also not Scott Gibson's fault that I was incorrectly attributed as the author of the original article.
Secondly, I believe we have a complete (not partial) list of ecoSelect's requirements on our site. There is a weird gap between the first half of the list and the 2nd. I've tried to eliminate that, to no avail. So please, keep scrolling down to see the entire comparison.
Finally, I can understand where some view this as a lesser green building program. However, I think two things have gone unsaid in the discussion above.
1) Armando stated: "In other words, this program is BELLOW the current up to date minimum code house any Builder can legally build." This might be true where he lives, and it's true where I live, but it's not a true statement if you're using a national perspective. In fact, I had someone e-mail me today inquiring about ecoSelect. He shared with me that where he lives, there is NO energy code. He told me one could build a home without insulation. Now I think we all realize that would be a bad idea, but it would not be illegal. And there are many states that are home rule states. Many rural areas either don't have an energy code, or don't enforce one. And that brings me to...
2) Builders who (don't read this site and) build to the code minimum... whichever code they may have. Some of these builders might be looking to move their business in a green direction. To which I say, great! Instead of the so-called experts looking down on someone for wanting to move the right way, I'd rather encourage them to take on an entry-level program like ecoSelect. Then, once they get a few houses under their belt, maybe they decide it's not that hard to build green, and they look for additional challenges.
To look at it a different way: Imagine how challenging the Living Building Challenge would seem to someone who has never built anything in any shade of green. They'll probably just close the book before page 3 and keep doing what they're doing. And that's not helpful.
Response to Mike Collignon
Thanks for your clarifications.
First, your reference to "that article" in your second sentence is an apparent reference to an article posted here:
I just checked, and the top of the page reads as follows: "Article - Friday, November 7, 2014 - 9:30am - By Mike Collignon, executive director, Green Builder Coalition." So, if Scott Gibson assumed that the article was by you, his assumption was understandable. Thanks for crediting Laureen Blissard in your comment.
Your reference to a web page where "There is a weird gap between the first half of the list and the 2nd" appears to be a reference to this web page:
GBA readers may find it easier to read the checklist by clicking on Images #2 and #3 in Scott's article here on this GBA page.
Missing my point
Mike – I think you are missing my point. Whether any municipality has or not adapted the latest code is totally irrelevant. All professionals in the building industry should perform their best to their clients regardless of what is mandated. We, in our industry, expect that from other professions, so why can we deliver the same to our clients?
We expect of our Doctors to give us the best treatments. We expect of our Accountants to give us the best service. We expect our cars and computers to work as they should… and so on. If any of these professionals or industries don’t perform, we suit them. Why should our industry be any different?
This is not a story about the Passive House, DOE’s ZERH Program, LEED Platinum or NGBS Emerald programs, which mostly go well beyond codes. This is a story of a “NEW” green program that is well below the latest national code house; and as I said, it’s disappointing and frustrating.
Response to Armando Cobo
I agree. I think that a new green building program that urges builders to adopt "below code" approaches to building -- and justifies these below-code recommendations by saying that the program is aimed at builders who work where code enforcement is lax -- marks a new low in greenwashing.
National vs. local
Armando: I agree that the audience for this site is probably not the best fit to use ecoSelect. However, my point still stands regarding local vs. national. There is no national energy code. There is a model energy code. Jurisdictions can modify as they see fit. They can choose to have an older version of it. Or, they can choose to not have one at all. And that is the law in that area.
CPAs can't choose to ignore the IRS. Well, they can, but they won't be practicing long. And they'll probably be wearing a lot of orange in the not-too-distant future.
But there is a big flaw in your argument: licensing. Doctors are licensed to practice medicine and must keep it current through continuing ed. CPAs have licensing and continuing ed requirements. (Heck, let's add pharmacists, lawyers, etc. to the conversation, too.) Plus, they have to get advanced degrees in order to do their jobs. To my knowledge, there is no formal educational requirement to be a builder. In some states, there is no licensing requirement of any kind. And in some places that do have licensing requirements, it might be nothing more than: Name, Company Name, Address, Phone Number, Proof of Insurance; pay your fee and off you go.
Comparing doctors and builders? That's not even comparing fruits.
More on attic access hatches
Note that the 2009 version of the International Residential Code as well as subsequent versions require attic access hatches to "be weatherstripped and insulated to a level equivalent to the insulation on the surrounding surfaces." In other words, if you have R-49 insulation on your attic floor, you need an R-49 attic access hatch. This requirement can be found in section N1102.2.3 of the 2009 IRC.
An access hatch insulated to R-10 -- one of the requirements on the EcoSelect checklist -- is illegal in all areas of the U.S. where the 2009 or newer codes have been adopted -- even in Florida.
ecoSelect adds value for a part of the builder market
As the founder of ecoSelect Certifications, I wanted to weigh-in and provide insight as to why ecoSelect was formed. Having been in the green energy field for over 13 years working extensively with programs such as Energy Star, the National Green Building Standard and LEED, it became evident that many builders were becoming increasingly frustrated with the continually rising cost and technical requirements of these programs. While it is true that many green builders continue to use these programs today, we saw many, less convinced builders, simply drop the programs and revert back to old building standards. Additionally, new builders looking to adopt a green energy model found these programs too complex and didn't have the resources nor time necessary to research and evaluate the various green building programs available in order to make a sound decision. The concept for ecoSelect was born out of a desire to offer a straightforward green building model for two basic builder groups: builders that had dropped out of the more complex green building programs and new builders needing an entry level program that was uncomplicated and offered a checklist-oriented implementation plan. ecoSelect was not developed to meet the most rigorous technical requirements - there are already plenty of great options for programs offering that level of compliance. ecoSelect was developed to reach those who had slipped away from green building practices and to attract new entrants into the green building arena. To this end, ecoSelect developed the following platform for raters and builders wishing to use our program:
• Access to Project Management Software for ecoSelect Jobs
• Stability of Standards (HERS Based)
• Third-Party Verification
• Sales Training & Marketing Support
• Access to ecoSelect Back Office Support
• Access to Developed Marketing Materials (Tri-folds, Checklist Brochure, Yard Signs, Website, and other social media)
As the rater/builder relationship develops and builders see the value of ecoSelect first-hand, the rater has an an opportunity to influence builder and suggest a path to more advanced building programs. If there is no green building starting block, many builders will never find themselves in the race at all and raters will not have the trust from builders to move them forward towards a more sustainable building path.
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