Green Rating Systems

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What does it mean to get a green rating for your home? Why should you care? Sure, a green home is good for the environment. It also increases your home’s comfort and durability, and saves you money over time through energy-saving features. But where’s the proof?

One way to prove it is to certify your home through a green rating system. In this blog post, we’ll briefly review some of the green rating systems, how they work, and why it matters.

What is a green rating system?

Green rating systems are voluntary programs that promote the design and construction of high-performance energy-saving green homes and commercial buildings. There are local programs that take into account the local climate, community, and resources. There are national programs set up to work for anybody, whether you live in a cold climate like Vermont or a hot, humid climate like ours here in Central Texas.

All aim to educate builders, home designers, and owners. They offer builders and remodelers the latest information on building science and best practices so they can build in a more sustainable and efficient manner and achieve a greener project.

What’s typical

A green home certification program provides a measuring stick that lets you know how your home stacks up, typically in five areas of concern:

• Energy efficiency • Water efficiency • Materials and products • Health and safety • Community

Why would you want to certify your green home?

• It's a tool that helps you design and construct a green home. Most programs offer education, guidance, and target goals. • It’s a scorecard that tells all the ways your green home is likely to perform. • It’s a seal of quality that lets you know you’re living in a home designed to be healthy and efficient. • It’s one way to weed out the superfluous green washing and green bling stuff that doesn’t add much value. Instead, you can focus on real benefits like tax credits and rebates for features that lower your energy bill. • And then, of course, there’s old-fashioned bragging rights. • Plus, there’s resale value – as energy costs rise, a certified energy-efficient home will be more valuable than ordinary homes.

How does a typical rating system work?

Typically, there’s a set of required features and performance standards every home must meet – how efficient the heating/cooling system needs to be, for example. And then after that, you rack up points for the different design elements, components, materials, and so forth that comprise the home you’re building.

“Woohoo,” you say. “Let’s rack up those points.” Hang on -- not so fast. Rating systems aren’t perfect. It’s possible to get lots of points and still have a home that doesn’t function well as a green home. A successful green home has to start with good design and a holistic approach.

Austin Energy Green Building Program

Let's start local. The Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB), begun in 1990, was the nation's first green building program. It's the model for other green building programs nationwide and is now the nation's most successful sustainable building program.

The AEGB single-family rating system was designed and refined for our hot humid climate. It’s climate-specific and encourages environmentally sensitive design solutions. The system applies to new construction, remodels, and additions to single-family homes, duplexes, and town homes. The system continues to evolve, and the bar is continually raised. Homes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 stars being the greenest. AEGB rates homes in Austin and 27 surrounding counties.

Builders, architects, and certified building designers who want to participate must attend an orientation session before they can rate their first home. Home owners are highly encouraged to attend the Green by Design Workshop.

Solluna Builders is proud to be a long-time AEGB participant. In fact, Wayne Jeansonne presented case studies for several 5-star homes at the November 2010 monthly AEGB seminar.

To rate a home, you start early – at design stage. Your builder (or your architect or certified building designer) completes an energy model, gets a Manual J calculation for the home’s heating and cooling requirements, and submits the detailed drawings and data to AEGB, who decides whether they’ll accept your project. They make recommendations for changes, if necessary. Once construction begins, a couple of inspections happen along the way – for example, after the installation is installed and before the walls are covered up. At the end, your builder will have the home tested by a third-party inspector and will submit final data. An AEGB rater examines your home, verifies the data submitted, and gives your homes its final rating.

National Green Building Standard (NGBS)

The National Association of Home Builders and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS). In 2008, it won approval from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

NGBS is a national standard, but it allows flexibility for regionally-appropriate best green practices. A minimum number of features are required in certain areas -- energy, water, and resource efficiency; indoor air quality; home owner education -- and then after then you score points.

Good news: The Austin Energy Green Building Program now has dual certification with the National Green Building Standard. A significant milestone! This means we can submit one set of data and get certified under both programs. However, some additional fees apply for the NGBS certification.

LEED for Homes

You’ve probably heard about the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program developed by the U. S. Green Building Council. LEED started as a system to measure sustainable building practices in commercial buildings. The nationwide rating system now includes houses, school, retail and health care buildings, and neighborhood development.

While some people extol the virtues of LEED for Homes, others wonder whether the costs make it worthwhile.

Energy Star

You might also have heard about the Energy Star Homes program run by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s fairly limited in scope and is concerned only with the energy efficiency of a home, but hey, that's not a bad thing. The EPA also has a couple of companion programs -- WaterSense and .

Other Programs

There are other programs as well. An example is Environments for Living, developed by a division of Masco Corporation, a construction and home improvement conglomerate.

Conclusion

Getting a good green rating -- like getting a straight-A report card -- is cause for celebration. Just remember that it all starts with proper planning and careful design.

Resources

Want more perspective on these different programs? See this article on the Green Building Advisor web site.

Check out the Austin Energy Green Building Program. While you’re there, go to the Home-Owners page. On the Events page, sign up for the next Green by Design workshop. On the Resources page, go to Publications and download 7 Steps to Green Building and the Green Home Checklist.

Read about LEED for Homes.

The USGBC's Green Home Guide has a useful know-how section for home owners.

Read more about Energy Star. WaterSense is a good place to get information about water-saving plumbing products. Indoor AirPlus has information about indoor air quality.