If you’ve decided upon buying a new home that carries a certain level of “green” cred, you’ve no doubt been excited to find the breadth of green options that today’s new home builders are offering to their customers. From sustainable lumber in the walls to solar panels on the roof, it seems like the heyday of environmentally- and energy-conscious home building has arrived. Of course, not all green homes are created equal, and it can be hard as a consumer to identify the difference between home builders that are making real strides toward green building, and those who are merely giving the trend lip-service. Fortunately, there are a few green building certification programs that can help you distinguish contender from pretender, and allow you to choose a new home that meets your expectations for eco-centric living.
Energy Star is familiar to most people as the joint-effort between the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency that rates and certifies many of our common household appliances. Those appliances that meet certain standards for energy efficiency—be they refrigerators or washing machines—are awarded an Energy Star designation, indicating that they are a good choice for resource-minded consumers. Unbeknownst to many, this program also certifies new home construction for the same type of environmentally-aware merit.
Much like the appliance program, Energy Stars are given to new homes that meet certain federal guidelines for energy efficiency, making Energy Star homes 20-30% more efficient than homes that are traditionally constructed. To qualify for an Energy Star, builders must work closely with an independent Energy Star rater, who works with the builder throughout the construction process to ensure that appropriate features—such as high-value insulation, efficient HVAC systems and Energy Star-rated appliances—are incorporated into the home. This process is completely voluntary for builders, and they have to meet minimum standards in order to be considered “partners” of the program. Energy Star makes data on partners throughout the country available on their website, making it easy for interested home buyers to locate Energy Star-rated homes in their area.
The United States Green Building Council’s LEED Certification is another certification that you may run across in your search for a green home. LEED (which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) specifications measure (among other things) a home’s energy and water efficiency, its indoor air quality, the sustainability of building practices used in its construction, and the impact of the construction on the surrounding community and environment. Builders submit particular projects to the LEED board for review, which then certifies projects that meet their exceedingly stringent standards. The program maintains a list of all new home projects that have achieved LEED Certification on their website.
Finally, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has its own certification program, reflecting the commitment of the nation’s home builders to the green building movement. Much like the Energy Star designation, becoming “Green Certified” by the NAHB Research Center requires builders to work with a third-party rater, who in turn certifies that the builder’s project meets the requirements of National Green Building Standard (NGBS). The NGBS sets guidelines for green construction and land development in six different categories:
• Lot & Site Development (limited environmental impact and community-centered site selection)
• Resource Efficiency (use of sustainable building products)
• Energy Efficiency (well-constructed homes with energy-efficient fixtures and appliances)
• Water Efficiency (WaterSense-rated fixtures and appliances, as well as climate-sensitive landscaping)
• Indoor Environmental Quality (low-emissions paints and building products, and efficient home-ventilation systems)
• Homeowner Education
Builder projects are rated on each of the above categories, and can achieve one of four certification levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Emerald, with each successive level indicating a higher rate of adhesion to the National Green Building Standard. The NAHB maintains a list of all participating and certified builders on its website.
In addition to these national certification programs, many states have their own green building certification programs, which ensure that home builders are meeting the unique environmental challenges of the locales in which they build. All of the green certification programs—whether federal or at the state level—can help prospective home buyers ensure that their future home incorporates the state-of-the-art green technologies that can help them save money, while saving the environment as well.
Green Floor Plans