Why Certify? The Many Motivations for Building and Certifying Green
By Maggie Leslie
When building or buying a home, what is the value of third-party green-building certification programs? Should you bother? It’s a good question, with a variety of answers.
Why to do it
Green buildings use less energy, water, and materials than code-built homes. According to the EPA, the way we build and live in our buildings is responsible for 39 percent of total energy use, 68 percent of total electricity consumption, 30 percent of landfill waste and 12 percent of total water consumption nationally. However, green buildings are not only better for the environment; homes built using green-building methods are simply better buildings. The growth of the green-building industry can be attributed to the fact that by building green, everyone wins: the environment, the economy, the homeowner and the builder. Homeowners get a healthier, more comfortable home with lower utility bills and less maintenance requirements without having to compromise on aesthetics or function.
Studies show green homes are worth more when sold and hold their value extremely well over time. A home is one of the largest purchases a person will make, and building or renovating it green ensures the purchase is an investment that will last.
Green homes certified by third parties such as Green Built, LEED or Energy Star are inspected for quality assurance. The certification programs are designed to be a road map to help consumers and builders make educated decisions while weighing the cost benefit of different green upgrades.
“In today’s market more buyers want certified ‘green’ homes. They are looking for energy efficiency that will help offset house payments. They also are much more aware of indoor air quality and carbon footprints,” said Mary Love of United Real Estate’s Love the Green Team. “Buyers appreciate houses that are certified because it removes the fear of ‘greenwashing.’ Sellers are discovering the value of green improvements and look to certified ECO or NAR Green Realtors to help them make wise improvements that will attract more buyers.”
Statistics from local real estate agents show certified homes are selling for a 10 percent price premium. A 2015 Redfin study of all sold homes in 83 markets throughout the US showed an average selling price boost of 7.2 percent for certified homes.
Who can help
So how to get started? Luckily, Western North Carolina has vast resources available when buying a new green-certified home or renovating an existing home to be more environmentally friendly.
If planning to build a dream home, the place to start is with the site and design. Choosing a site that can take advantage of the sun’s free energy to heat the home can provide comfort and savings for the life of the home. Designing in green features from the early stages makes the process as seamless and affordable as possible.
A Home Energy Rater can offer a cost-benefit analysis to ensure the most cost-effective pathway to a green home is chosen. They will be looking for details on-site to make sure insulation, HVAC and many other performance elements are going to work properly. Everyone has good intentions, but an extra set of eyes never hurts.
Choosing a builder is a critical step. An experienced general contractor with a passion for green building is easy to find in Western North Carolina, so don’t settle for less. However, even if a contractor doesn’t know much about green building, Green Built Alliance and the various certification programs can help provide the education and guidance necessary to green any dream home.
How to judge
In the absence of a universally approved definition of “green”, certification programs have emerged to prevent green-washing, and to provide a marketing edge for builders who are willing to make human health and environmental sustainability top priorities.
In Western North Carolina, there are three main certification programs for green building: ENERGY STAR Homes, Green Built NC and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes. ENERGY STAR Homes focuses solely on energy efficiency, while Green Built NC and LEED also address water use, healthy indoor air quality, site impacts and resource conservation.
Each home meets prerequisites for energy efficiency, combustion safety, radon and whole-house ventilation above and beyond an average code-built home. Each home then earns additional points in each section to reach certified, silver, gold, or platinum levels.
Green Built NC also offers a certification for homes that achieve Net-Zero Energy (meaning they will produce as much energy as they consume over the course of the year) and Net-Zero Energy Ready (signifying that the home is ready to go when the homeowner is ready to make the investment of a photovoltaic system). And again, the Home Energy Rater will be there to check for unintended flaws and catch them in time for easy correction.
“I often tell homeowners that the certification process is a great way to have a conversation with your builder about what’s important to you and what’s feasible to do financially for your project. The checklist is an almost-exhaustive list of everything that a group of very knowledgeable professionals could think of that might contribute to a green home,” said Amy Musser, principal of VandeMusser Design. “Not every credit is right for every project, but you’re bound to find some things on the list that are very important to you. And your builder is bound to find some things on the list that would be easy and cost-effective to do. Builders tell me all the time that they never realized something (like using a truss instead of conventional framing) was green until they saw it on the checklist (because it uses smaller pieces of wood).”
Green homes cost on average from 0 to 6 percent more depending on how green you go. Most often, this increased mortgage cost is more than offset by the monthly utility savings. Add the reduced maintenance, healthy indoor air and comfort on top of that, and it’s a no brainer.
“There are many reasons why building ‘green’ is attractive to me: energy efficiency, using local suppliers and tradesmen, designing and building for passive solar, and water retention/collection among some of them,” said Sean Sullivan of Living Stone Construction Inc., a local builder of Green Built NC and ENERGY STAR Homes. “However, the most popular reason my clients choose to build ‘healthy’ is that the clean indoor air quality is best for people moving here with allergies. The fresh air exchanges, media air filters and low VOC products are a no-brainer for anyone who struggles with seasonal allergies.”
Buyers in the market for a new home can find certified green homes in affordable to high-end price ranges, in a variety of sizes. They may tout green features including everything from solar panels to reclaimed lumber, or appear as a simple well-constructed, craftsman cottage that someone would be hard pressed to distinguish on the surface from a code-built, non-certified green home.
When it comes to green homes, the devil is in the details. While there are many technologies and materials that are constantly improving how our homes perform, the details and craftsmanship are the most important aspects to ensuring homes are comfortable, efficient and healthy.
Details such as proper site drainage and air sealing don’t cost more and can’t be seen, but they do ensure that the home will save energy and last for years to come. What is greener than that?
When looking at a prospective home, it is impossible to tell that the builder was conscientious enough during construction that they didn’t fill a single dumpster during the process by wasting little and recycling where possible. However, if the home is certified by Green Built NC or LEED Homes, the real estate agent or seller should be able to offer a buyer a checklist of its green features to provide further guidance about what sets this home apart from the rest.
But what about an existing home?
Sure, it is easy to do it right when starting from scratch, but isn’t renovating an existing home the ultimate form of recycling? Yes! But where to start?
When on the market for a home, the first step is to find an ECO-certified or National Association of Realtors Green-designated real estate agent—someone who knows what questions to ask and what resources are available for evaluating just how much work is needed to make an existing home “greener.”
Consider getting a Home Energy Audit or a Green Gauge Assessment before (or soon after) buying. These processes costs about the same as a home inspection, but they will offer valuable information not included in a typical home inspection.
For example: How much will it cost to heat and cool the home? Is there any insulation? How old is the furnace? These factors are very important when assessing the true cost of ownership. If a buyer finds the perfect home in their budget, but it costs $200 a month in electricity versus $50 a month for the home next door, that needs to be factored into the decision.
Green Gauge is a locally available program that can answer these questions at a low cost before buying to find out just how the home compares.
“Programs like Green Gauge help buyers and sellers determine important green features in existing homes, therefore making the selection process easier for the buyer while providing the seller a quicker sell,” said Mary Love.
When a home needs work, the owner can hire a home performance contractor to the work or do it themselves if they are handy, as many of the most basic improvements are very simple and low-cost.
A full “gut remodel” that is taken down to the studs is eligible for certification through Green Built NC, LEED or ENERGY STAR.
Green Built Alliance offers a free email or phone hotline to answer your burning green-building questions along the way, so contact us today and we can help you get started.
Residential Incentives for Building Green
Federal tax incentives for solar technologies
Through the end of 2019, homeowners receive a 30-percent tax credit with no caps.
NC Green power
A per kWh rate paid for electricity generated from a renewable resource that is fed onto the grid.
Smart Saver Program Residential Rebate for efficiency upgrades:
Attic Insulation and Air Sealing: up to $500
HVAC: up to $600, depending on efficiency
Duct Repair and Replacement: $190
Heat Pump Water Heater: $350
ENERGY STAR labeled homes receive a discount on electric rates after the first 350 kWh used per month.
Duke Energy Progress for Contractors
Residential New Construction Program provides incentives to contractors building energy-efficient homes:
Heat Pump Water Heaters: $350
High Efficiency HVAC; air-to-air heat pumps: $300
High Efficiency HVAC; central air conditioning: $300
Whole House Incentives: $1,000 – $4,000 depending on efficiency
ENERGY STAR labeled homes received a discount of $0.05 per therm.
A $100 rebate for replacing older gas water heaters and furnaces with high-efficiency versions in residential buildings:
City of Asheville
A $100 permit-fee rebate for Green Built NC certification; $100 for ENERGY STAR certification.
A $50 permit-fee rebate for each of the following: geothermal heat pump, solar energy system, wind energy system and stormwater/graywater collection device to be used for irrigation.
Town of Black Mountain
A $500 permit fee rebate for buildings certified under the Green Built NC or LEED programs.
A 25 percent permit fee rebate for buildings certified under the Green Built NC, ENERGY STAR , NAHB Green or LEED programs.
For detailed information on all of the above financial incentives and more, visit http://www.dsireusa.org.
- Road Map: Simple, easy-to-understand, user-friendly ideas for going green.
- Education: Cost-benefit analysis and information on choosing green elements.
- Third-Party Verification: A Green Rater reviews elements in the field and ensures guidelines are met.
- Prevents Greenwashing: It is easy to say the home is green but harder to prove it.
- Something for Everyone: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum and Net-Zero levels.
- Marketability: Homes sell faster and hold value better.
Get Started: Visit www.greenbuilt.org; choose a builder and rater.
Maggie Leslie is oversees the Green Built Homes and LEED Homes programs as program director for Green Built Alliance. She began working for the nonprofit as its treasurer in 2003, and has been on staff since 2006. She has also worked with Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta and Homes Energy Partners in Asheville. Reach Maggie at Maggie@greenbuilt.org.