Feature: Certification programs

Feature: Certification programs

By Maggie Leslie on 03/22/2010

Green labels for your new home

When shopping for a new green home, there are many local and national labels out there. How do you know which is the best?

First, it is important to identify why you are interested in a green label for the home. As a homebuyer or builder, is it because you are interested in the educational opportunities offered through the programs, the marketing or resale value, or is it the third-party inspection and quality assurance offered? Is there a specific attribute, such as indoor air quality or water savings, that is most important to you?

Some of the programs have a specific focus, while others encompass all aspects of green construction. Some are national; others are regional. They vary in price, scope and ease of execution. How are you supposed to decide?

It is already difficult enough to choose what green features to incorporate, much less what program to certify them through. Any certified home must meet certain construction standards and should result in energy efficiency, healthy indoor air and lower operating costs. The most important aspect of any certification program, however, is that it is third-party inspected to make sure that the green components are actually in place and installed correctly.

Review the information below, then use the list of certified home energy raters (the third-party inspectors for green homes) in this directory’s “Listings” to identify a rater. They will be able to guide you through the program choices and help make sure your home is all it is marketed to be.


Who runs its: The Environmental Protection Agency and a Home Energy Rater 
What it does: A third-party certification for energy-efficient homes. Each house is built to be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than if the same home were built to code. This standard is achieved through a combination of well-installed and efficient insulation, HVAC equipment, lighting, water heaters and windows. 
How it works: Contact a Home Energy Rater (refer to the directory’s “Listings” or visit EnergyStar.gov) to sign up. Each home is first computer-modeled to determine its energy usage, then inspected by a nationally trained Home Energy Rater to ensure the home will perform as planned. 
Special features: ENERGY STAR is the baseline standard for many green-building programs, including NC HealthyBuilt Homes and LEED Homes. 
Incentives: Progress Energy and Duke Energy currently offer utility-rate discounts for certified ENERGY STAR homes. Additionally, Progress Energy offers a $400 rebate for any certified homes that have a 14 SEER or greater heat pump. The city of Asheville also offers an additional $100 permit-fee rebate for ENERGY STAR homes. 
More info: https://www.EnergyStar.gov

The NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program

Who: A collaboration between the N.C. State Energy Office, the N.C. Solar Center and locally administered by the WNC Green Building Council. Homes are inspected by locally certified, third-party green raters 
What: A statewide, third-party-inspected green-building program. Every HealthyBuilt home is also required to be a certified ENERGY STAR home, but the program goes above and beyond energy efficiency. NC HealthyBuilt homes start with a menu of items, divided into seven sections: site; water; building envelope; comfort systems; appliances, lighting and renewables; indoor air quality; and materials. Each home must attain a certain number of points in each section to qualify for the certification. In this way, builders are required to approach and improve all aspects of environmentally friendly construction. The more points accrued, the higher the level of certification: certified, silver, gold or platinum. These homes are then inspected to ensure each goal is actually achieved. 
How: Contact the WNCGBC to review your checklist and register the home, then work with a locally approved green rater to inspect the home. 
Special features: The program is locally administered and is geared to address the local climate, terrain and needs of the WNC area. 
Incentives: Rebates for permit fees —$100 from the City of Asheville and $500 in the town of Black Mountain 
More info: https://www.HealthyBuiltAsheville.org

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes

Who: The U.S. Green Building Council, provided locally by the WNC Green Building Council. Homes are inspected by nationally approved green raters 
What: A national, green-building standard, inspected by a third party. ENERGY STAR performance is a baseline, with minimum requirements for all aspects of green construction similar to those described in NC HealthyBuilt Homes. There are more prerequisites than for HealthyBuilt, but there aren’t as many minimum point requirements per section. But the larger the home, the more points that are required. The more points accrued, the higher the level achieved: certified, silver, gold or platinum. 
How: Contact the WNC Green Building Council for a list of approved LEED-H Green Raters and then register the home with the U.S. Green Building Council. 
Special features: A national program with market recognition of the LEED brand. LEED aims to be the nation’s top 25 percent builders 
Incentives: Rebates for permit fees —$100 from the City of Asheville and $500 in the town of Black Mountain 
More info: https://greenhomeguide.com/program/leed-for-homes

National Green Building Standard

Who: National Association of Home Builders and Green Verifiers 
What: A national program facilitated by the National Association of Home Builders in collaboration with the International Code Council that ensures a code-enforceable standard for green building. The program contains six sections with many mandatory items and is a point system similar to NC HealthyBuilt and LEED. However, in order to achieve higher levels (bronze, silver, gold and emerald), the home has to reach higher levels of efficiency. Larger houses also require more points. 
How: Visit the NAHB Web site, review the checklist, and contact a verifier for inspections. 
Special features: American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-approved standard, code driven for ease of local implementation and aims to reach the mainstream 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://www.nahbgreen.org/Guidelines/default.aspx

Environments for Living (EFL)

Who: Masco Corporation, inspected by certified raters 
What: A national certification program for high-performance homes. The program is founded on building-science principles that focus on energy efficiency, ventilation and combustion safety. Unlike other green-building programs, there are no point requirements. The checklist is prescriptive, meaning each item is mandatory, though there are multiple levels of achievement. There is now a “Green” level, with expanded requirements for resource efficiency and air quality. The signature feature of EFL is its guarantee for energy use and thermal comfort: If the home doesn’t perform as intended, Masco will pay the difference and will assist with investigating the source of the problem. The program has historically been geared to the production-home market, but is currently piloting the program for custom homes. 
How: Visit the Web site listed below to request more information. Locally, contact VandeMusser Design. 
Special features: A national program with a performance guarantee 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://www.environmentsforliving.com


Who: Advanced Energy Corporation 
What: A national certification program for high-performance homes, but with a focus on affordable housing. Similar to EFL (and with the same origin), SystemVision focuses on building-science principles, with a prescriptive checklist of mandatory items for energy efficiency and indoor air quality. SystemVision, however, is focused on affordable homes and offers an energy-use and thermal-comfort guarantee to those who need it the most. The program is third-party inspected by HERS raters and approved through Advanced Energy Corporation. All homes are also ENERGY STAR certified. 
How: Contact Advanced Energy and the N.C. Housing Finance Agency. 
Special features: Guarantees the heating and cooling costs of affordable homes, typically at less than $30 per month 
Incentives: The N.C. Housing Finance Agency offers a rebate of $4,000 to nonprofit developers of affordable housing, with an additional $1,000 rebate if the home is also certified through NC HealthyBuilt Homes or another approved green-building program. 
More info: https://www.nchfa.com/Nonprofits/HPsystemvision.aspx 

Indoor Air Plus (IAP)

Who: The Environmental Protection Agency though certified HERS raters 
What: A national program focusing on indoor air quality. The IAP checklist is a prescriptive checklist of mandatory items contributing to healthier indoor air. The program is single level and covers HVAC, moisture control, combustion safety, pest management, radon and building materials. IAP Homes must also certify as ENERGY STAR to participate. 
How: Contact your HERS rater, and download the checklist from the link below. 
Special features: Focuses specifically on air quality 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://www.epa.gov/indoorairplus/building_professionals.html

Water Sense

Who: The Environmental Protection Agency through certified HERS raters. 
What: A new national program focusing on water efficiency. The WaterSense checklist is a prescriptive checklist of mandatory items. The program is single level and covers indoor water use, including plumbing, plumbing fixtures and fittings, appliances, other water-using equipment and outdoor water use, including landscape design. Locally, Nappier and Turner Construction was one of seven builders in the country that participated in the pilot program prior to its launch in December 2009. 
How: Sign an EPA partnership agreement and contact a licensed WaterSense Certification Provider. 
Special features: Focuses specifically on water efficiency 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://epa.gov/watersense/pp/new_homes.htm

Passive House

Who: The Passive House Institute 
What: A home standard developed in Germany and focused on high performance and super insulation. Passive Houses are designed to have a maximum source energy use for all purposes of 11.1 kWh per square foot, thus the home can be heated and cooled using a mechanical ventilation system. In order to accomplish this, the standard requires very low levels of air leakage (no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 Pascals), very high levels of insulation and windows with a very low U-factor. The standard is not a typical certification program with a prescriptive list of requirements; rather, the standard focuses the design of the home on a final performance goal. 
How: Visit the Web site listed below or contact local Certified Passive House Consultants at The Nauhaus Institute: info@thenauhaus.com
Special features: Comfort is improved through increased mean radiant surface temperatures. Super insulation and air-sealing techniques reduce energy use by 70 to 80 percent without active renewable energy systems, making the shift to a net-zero, carbon-neutral home much more economical. 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSHome.html

WNC Sustainable Communities

Who: WNC Green Building Council 
What: A certification program for entire communities in Western North Carolina. Currently in the pilot phase, the program certifies the design and construction of entire developments to encourage environmentally sensitive development and discourage greenwashing. The program has some mandatory items, with a checklist of items eligible for points in four sections: Context; Environment; Site and Design; Construction and Resource Efficiency; and Innovation. ENERGY STAR is a minimum for most home construction, and third-party review in each development phase is required. 
How: Currently in the pilot phase. Contact the WNCGBC and review the checklist with their technical experts. 
Special features: Focuses on entire communities 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://www.wncgbc.org


Who: The USGBC and American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) 
What: Remodeling guidelines for residential renovation and remodeling. REGREEN is not a certification program; it’s a set of guidelines addressing the major elements of any green renovation project. These guidelines include resources on product selection, technologies and building systems for the site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, material and resources, and indoor environmental quality. The guidelines can be applied to everything from a small kitchen remodel to a gut rehab for the do-it yourselfer or the design professional.  REGREEN does offer a certificate program for trained professionals, but it applies to people not projects. 
How: Review the guidelines and resources available on their Web site. 
Special features: Guidelines for remodel projects 
Incentives: None at this time 
More info: https://www.regreenprogram.org

For additional information about the certification programs, visit https://www.wncgbc.org orhttps://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/ratings.

[Maggie Leslie is program director of the WNC Green Building Council. She can be reached atmaggie@wncgbc.org or at (828) 254-1995.]