Greenbuilt North Carolina: what you need to know

There are a lot of new home certification programs out there.  What makes Greenbuilt NC unique, and why should you consider joining the program?

First, third-party certification is something that homeowners and builders should definitely do.  A home is the largest expense most people will ever have.  Involving a trained third party to advocate for energy efficiency and green features is a very good idea.  It shows that your builder is truly committed to building above-code homes, and isn’t afraid to back that up by having it tested and verified.  Some builders claim to “build to a certified level, but not pay for the certification”.  Maybe, but probably not.  Our company finds something that needs extra attention on 99.9% of homes we work on – that’s why our builders hire us.

To explain Greenbuilt NC’s place in the certification universe, I like to divide programs into two major categories:  Energy efficiency programs and Green building programs.  The first category includes programs that focus primarily on energy efficiency, but they may include a few thermal comfort and indoor air quality items primarily to make sure builders don’t achieve energy efficiency by cutting corners in these two important areas.  Some of the better known energy efficiency programs are Energy Star, DOE challenge home, and even just a stand-alone HERS rated or HERO code home.  Green building programs like LEED for Homes, NAHB green, and Greenbuilt NC add an additional focus on green materials, site selection, indoor air quality, occupant comfort, and water use.  These programs usually require an energy efficiency program as a prerequisite, while adding more focus on these other important topics.

Greenbuilt NC grew out of the HealthyBuilt Home program that was developed by the NC Solar Center.  When that program folded, the WNC Green building council adapted the program for use in Western NC and re-launched as Greenbuilt NC.  Today, the program is available to HERS raters throughout the state and in some border counties in neighboring states.  The program is popular with builders and homeowners: as of today 871 homes have been certified, and over 83 are in progress.  Let’s look at why the program has been so successful.

Greenbuilt NC is a meaningful certification.  The program requires a HERS rating and homes must meet either Energy Star version 3 standards or NC HERO code to qualify.  There are also prerequisites related to combustion safety, radon testing, and whole-house ventilation that all strive to improve on the typical code-built home.  Homes earn additional points to become certified silver, gold, or platinum and in doing so demonstrate that they have exceeded market-level to a significant degree.

Education has always been a key component of Greenbuilt NC.  One of the program’s distinguishing features is that the checklist is VERY granular – if you print it out there are nearly 20 pages of possible credits.  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.  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).

Keeping certification affordable and low paperwork for builders is another key value of the program.  The per-home registration fee is only $225 for members, and raters typically charge a couple hundred dollars (in addition to the HERS rating) to do the onsite verification.  Most of the items on the checklist are designed so that the rater can see them in the field and check them off.  Large notebooks full of cut sheets and signature forms are not required.  There are some items that, at the rater’s discretion, the builder can verify because they’re not easily seen during an onsite visit (for instance, the type of termite control used).  In a few cases where the paperwork is deemed to be important (radon test results, Manual J calculation), the rater collects it and keeps it on file.

The program is also designed to offer flexibility to address local issues in NC.  Each point category allows for innovation credits to be awarded if the WNCGBC agrees that a project deserves credit for measures not addressed by the checklist.  Local groups can also ask for items to be added to the checklist.  For example, the WNCGBC worked with Asheville-based Just Economics to add credit for their their Living Wage Certification.  When some rural builders were having trouble meeting the HVAC certification requirements of Energy Star version 3, the program responded by adding the HERO code as an alternate prerequisite.

When it’s time to sell a Greenbuilt NC home, many builders and owners find that buyers will pay a premium for a certified home.  Statistics from some Asheville area green realtors point to an approximately 10% price premium on certified Greenbuilt homes.  This reflects both the additional quality of these homes, and the value that homeowners place on third party certification.

For many builders and homeowners, Greenbuilt NC is the certification that they want, need, and can’t afford not to do.

Copyright 2014.  Amy Musser