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Community and Q&A

LEED for Homes vs NGBS comparison

GBA Editor | Posted in General Questions on

I just read an article on ( about a study the AIA-Cincinnati published comparing LEED for Homes vs NGBS. The results, for the most part were consistent with findings many of us working with both programs have found over the years; however, I would like to know if this same report found that the LEED for Homes green levels are not tied down to a minimum Energy Efficiency or HERS rating. In other words, with the LEED for Homes I can have a Platinum Level house with a HERS 85 or Hers 50, where under the NGBS all green levels are tied down to a minimum HERS rating.

If you were going to talk about cost difference between both programs, it would make a huge difference if you have a Platinum level home with HERS 85 vs HERS 50. That’s way I think the cost comparison is not fair.

As an observation, before the NGBS was to come out and when we were writing the Energy Efficient Building Tax Credit in NM, I was given the opportunity by NAHBR to score several projects I had designed both in the NGBS and LEED for Homes. I found that all of the projects in new subdivisions would score higher in the NGBS, but all infill projects scored higher in the LEED for Homes program. It may have been coincidence, but I would like to know if anyone had different or same opinion.

Any thoughts on this matter? Alex? Allyson? Carl? Ann?

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  1. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #1

    Armando - You bring up a good point regarding efficiency. LEED does allow high levels of certification without significant improvements over base level ENERGY STAR. Depending on the project, you would probably have trouble getting to platinum without a high performing house, but theoretically you could load up on points in other categories to get there. I agree with your point about infill projects- LEED LL credits can add up pretty quickly. If you consider that transportation energy is as or more important than energy used in building operations, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Promoting livable, walkable communities is a good long term strategy.

    NGBS does require higher efficiency for the higher levels, but my main issue with this program is the fact that it does not require performance testing and it is possible to reach as high as silver certification with no assurance that the building actually performs well. As I have said many times, I find both programs frustrating for different reasons and look forward to them both improving to make them both more rigorous and easier to manage in the future.

  2. wjrobinson | | #2

    Neither of you want to here this but homes can be built without using burdensome green certification programs. Can't we go green via sites like this and individual pursuit?

  3. Armando Cobo | | #3

    My point is that if the City of Cincinnati wants to give Energy Efficiency tax credits based on a “level” of green, maybe they need to require a minimum HERS score tied to a green level. That’s the way we did it in NM, your house needs a Silver Level with a HERS 60 or less in either LEED for Homes or Build Green NM (NGBS), a bit more inclusive.
    Maybe it would be worthwhile for them to check NM’s EE Building Tax Credit at

  4. Armando Cobo | | #4

    ADKJAC - You would be surprise at how many "green" homes do not pass any testing and certification. IMHO, if you call yourself a green builder, designer or architect, get certified. If you sell green homes, get them certified to see if indeed they are.

    Too many people in the business call themselves "green builders" or "green architects" without a clue on what they are doing, in the same manner as too many companies sell their products as "green" when they are not. To me that's like someone calling themselves Architects, Lawyers, Doctors or CPAs without passing their test and certification. See how that goes with licensing boards in almost any state.

  5. Anonymous | | #5

    I hate to say it but the solution is to bite the bullet and tax carbon not give out money which has too much overhead and too much cheating built in.

  6. wjrobinson | | #6

    Almond, not always the case. I had a bad cast from a licensed doc and knew enough to remove it before my circulation ended in gang green. Didn't want to go green at the the time. LOL. Oh and here one of the greenest builders sells "drafting" services.... no architect papers.

    As you might expect, me not big on dog or people papers.

    And my last build is very efficient thank you.

  7. wjrobinson | | #7

    Almond= Armando. Excuse auto edit oops.

  8. Josh | | #8

    I really think testing should be done on homes if builders are going to call them green homes. Some local builders here list their green features on their website and they are just code minimums. How is that green? Congratulations, you did not break the law by not following those minimum standards.

    So since LEED and HERS scores are being mentioned. Where does Energy Star live in your mind? Is it a lite green?

  9. mike | | #9

    carl hits on our reasons for being somewhat annoyed with the shortcomings of LEED. we know a few starchitects in portland that like to tout non-existent LEED credentials.

    Because USGBC has placed too many eggs in the 'green materials' basket, 'green' buildings that consume more energy than they should are painting a bad picture to the (taxpaying) public.

    certainly makes passivhaus and living building challenge more appealing.

  10. wjrobinson | | #10

    Green means a sustainable home for mankind.

    Population is slowing it's exponential growth.

    Knowledge is not. That's a good thing.

    Nature at this point and as always is the only wild card.

    Nature can always win in rock paper scissors.

    But we have man and our amazing abilities.

    I wouldn't bet against man.

    LEED & USBGC are bit players.

    So are all of us independents.
    Go humans.

    (Sustainability is already here and always has been)

  11. Armando Cobo | | #11

    You guys don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing LEED for Homes or NGBS, that’s another tread. Both programs do need some fixes, but in general they do a good job promoting and quantifying green building.
    My critique is for the AIA-Cincinnati to publish a report that is not fair and complete when it relates to the cost of a house a high level of Energy Efficiency in order to receive tax credits, and for to do an article on that report and not correcting the issue. An Emerald house with a HERS 50 would cost more and it would be more energy efficient than a Platinum house with a HERS 85 any day, anywhere.
    As an example, a 1500 sf house at a LEED for Homes Platinum level with a HERS 85 could cost $200K, but the same house with a HERS 50 may cost $230K plus it would be more difficult to certify. The same house under the NGBS at the Emerald level has to have a HERS 50 and it would cost close to the $230K. Therefore their conclusion that to “register” a house at a particular level under one program vs another can be very wrong and inaccurate if you are not comparing the same house with the same HERS rating.

  12. wjrobinson | | #12

    Tax carbon and your point is moot.

    A home that uses less E becomes the carrot and the expensive E becomes the stick.

    Look at how fast SUVs became unpopular when gas went over $4.00.

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