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Green Building Curmudgeon

One More Thing to Worry About

Energy Star rates products on energy efficiency; NAHB and UL are in the process of labeling products as "green."

The NAHB Research Center has just announced its “Green Approved” certification for product manufacturers, and the first seal of approval has been issued to Weyerhauser for its iLevel structural wood products. This is an interesting development that comes hot on the heels of the ANSI-approved National Green Building Standard, also a product of the Research Center and a group of industry professionals.

The press releases are flying out the door on this, but there isn’t a lick of info on it at either the Research Center or NAHB websites. Maybe the NAHB is just running behind in updating them, but I am concerned that this label is hitting the market without any information about what it actually means. It seems to me that if it has the time to certify a product and send out a press release on it, the least the organization could do is tell us in the industry what it actually means.

New and approved!

It appears that, in this case, the NAHB is following the “mushroom theory” — feed us full of manure and keep us in the dark. Tell us it’s approved, but don’t tell us what “approved” means.

In a slight contrast to the Research Center, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has just announced its own “environmental services programs,” which is described this way: “Manufacturers may submit their products for UL testing and environmental claims validation. This validation enhances and supports the credibility of sustainability claims, helping to end confusion and giving manufacturers who choose UL validation a competitive edge.” No products or criteria are listed on the program’s website yet, but I am hopeful that they will come up with a strong, effective third-party system.

And let’s not forget the other programs out there — GreenGuard, Carpet and Rug Institute, FSC, SFI, Floor Score, to name a few. It seems that, like the plethora of local and national green building programs out there, we have a big selection of product certifications to wade through, but few methods for comparing or validating one over the other. I feel my head starting to ache.

Product certification that works, most of the time

For product validation, I think I prefer the Energy Star model. When I see an Energy Star appliance, I pretty much understand that it has met certain stringent requirements for energy and sometimes water efficiency. Interestingly, Energy Star recently took away its ratings on several appliances made by LG when it came out that the company’s testing procedure was understating energy usage. On top of this, LG has agreed to reimburse all the appliance owners for the amount of energy they would have saved if the equipment was as efficient as claimed. I like that type of accountability and would like to see an equivalent at the Research Center and UL. I’ll give them a little time to get their acts together and let us know exactly what “approved” means, but I won’t hold my breath.

I can’t wait to hear what my buddy Michael Anschel thinks about this — if you think I’m a cranky guy, check out his musings on the subject!


  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Trusting Energy Star
    Although you seem to like the Energy Star labeling system, it should be pointed out that consumers and builders will always need to inform themselves and apply critical thinking. For example, the Energy Star labeling program for windows is currently a mess. In most areas of the country, Energy Star windows are equivalent to code-minimum windows; and in some areas of the country, code requirements for windows are already more stringent than Energy Star criteria.
    Moreover, Energy Star labeled windows sold in northern climates can have any SHGC -- there are no standards at all for SHGC up north. As a result, window manufacturers ship windows designed for Texas to northern customers; in general, these are low-SHGC windows. Such windows result in higher energy bills for northern homeowners than more appropriate high-SHGC windows -- which are currently almost unavailable because Energy Star has no requirements for such windows up north.

  2. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #2

    Good point, I wasn't even thinking about Energy star windows. I was mostly referring to appliances and electronics. I do realize that the program isn't perfect, as I mentioned with the LG refrigerators that were de-labeled.

  3. michael anschel | | #3

    Windows in Northern Climates
    I'm not at all confident in the NAHB Lab certification, but I do agree that there are too many labels for anyone except the green-obsessed curmudgeons of the world to keep track of. There is also something to be said about the interests behind the labels. Both Energy Star and Water Sense (form the EPA) have specific goals for the reduction of energy or water use from the average. The same can't be said about an arm of a protectionist lobbying organization.
    Regarding windows: While Energy Star may not be struggling to keep up with each states constantly evolving energy code, the SHGC issue is not one that I have encountered. It is highly unusual to see anything higher than .35 on any window in MN (historic projects are the exception). No self respecting window dealer would sell a .60 window up here. It is possible to special order what we refer to as "Northern Glass" that has a SHGC of .60 from the outside and .35 from the inside, for use in passive solar designed projects.

  4. adamduke | | #4

    Green Certification and Rating information
    There are so many green certifications and ratings it is hard to keep track of them. Just like with the new rating from the NAHB, there is often limited information on what makes the product green. There is a website, that provides information on over 60 green building and home product certification label information. The idea behind the site is to inform the consumer about what the logos actually mean, in order to help them decided what is really green and what is not. The ratings featured on the site cover flooring, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, furniture, consumer products, office furniture, services, carpet standards, water use and more. Here's one more tool to help to be a more informed green buyer.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Glazing SHGC
    I'm a little confused by your comment, "It is highly unusual to see anything higher than .35 on any window in MN (historic projects are the exception). No self-respecting window dealer would sell a .60 window up here."

    That's my point. Windows with a low SHGC in Minnesota cost homeowners money, because they result in higher energy bills than windows with a higher SHGC. In Minnesota, you want windows with a SHGC in the range of 0.50 to 0.60. That is especially true on the south side of a house, but in fact several studies have shown that, in northern states, using 0.50 to 0.60 SHGC windows instead of 0.35 SHGC windows on ALL orientations will save homeowners money. Sadly, the Energy Star window program doesn't recognize this fact.

  6. Just the Facts | | #6

    Numbers Over Opinion
    An energy label that does not give objective numbers is only an opinion. Give me an EnergyGuide label, with a number so I can compare. It's like voting by a party name instead of looking at the issues.

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