Showroom Seminar: Green Certification Options
April 1st, 2009

Certification is one way to compare the characteristics of different building types on the same green playing field

Green Building, 2009

By Kirby Davis

Going Green is definitely the hottest trend in America right now. At the heart of all green movements is the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” If these 3 choices are applied to the selections made then theoretically, the green wheel keeps turning. The challenge is determining the immediate and future impact of all the decisions—both individual and global.

With every buying decision there is usually the option to “go green.” Sometimes this choice is seemingly easy—paper, plastic or your own reusable shopping bag? Using the same shopping bag over and over again, versus a bag that will end up as trash in a landfill, is an easily defined metric. Even this choice has a cost factor—bags from the store are FREE, versus having to buy your own reusable shopping bag at roughly 99 cents each.

Building green is based on the same basic framework as all buying choices, but with a much more complex set of metrics. Comparing the environmental impacts of one type of building against another type of building is a very complicated process. The rise in importance of green building certification programs is largely due to the need to normalize all the characteristics of different building types to the same playing field. The various certification programs provide choices that give value and measure green building practices.

One of the most well known green building certification programs is the USGBC Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™. Over the past 10 years, LEED has become the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. The parameters within LEED are derived from the basic green building construction elements – conserve land, water, air, energy and natural resources. The resulting measurement systems provide a whole-building check list approach to sustainability.

With the rise in popularity of green building, lots of other certification and measurement systems have developed. The most recent trend for these programs is the development of focused programs on certain building segments such as schools, hospitals and homes. These newer programs may be more or less detailed than LEED, but one thing is clear: these programs will continue to diversify in the market place.

A strong new player in the green home building certification arena is the ANSI approved ICC-700 National Green Building Standard (ICC-700 NGBS).

In 2007, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) partnered with the International Code Council (ICC) to fast track a nationally recognizable standard definition of residential green building through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) consensus committee process.

Using the 2005 NAHB Guidelines as a starting point, the NAHB and ICC gathered together a broad assortment of builders, architects, manufacturer’s representatives, and code officials to gather public views and hold forums for comment. In January of 2009, the two year efforts of this committee were released as the first of its kind, ANSI approved ICC-700 2008 National Green Building Standard.

Similar to the NAHB Green Home Building Guidelines, this new ANSI standard guides home builders, developers and remodelers in minimum requirements to green their projects, while still allowing for regional best practices. The scope of the standard was broadened from the single family home, to cover site design, multi-family and residential remodeling. The point categories are divided between Lot Design and Development, Resource Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation, Indoor Air Quality and Homeowner Operation and Maintenance.

Similar to LEED for Homes, the ICC-700 has four compliance levels termed Bronze, Silver, Gold and Emerald. Within each point section, there are a set of mandatory measures for each project that are tied to minimum code requirements. Additional points can be accrued in the sections to reach the next tier of certification. Homes over 4000sf will need to accrue more points in each point section.

The ICC-700 point structure is largely applicable across the US, although it does suggest some regional differences. Energy use by climate zone is one of the biggest variations. There are also some points that are only applicable based on the termite zone map, radon map and rainfall map. The new standard is also coupled with an online scoring tool, which allows a user to determine the applicability of the point requirements to their project prior to committing to the certification.

NAHB Green Scoring Tool

The free online Green Scoring Tool is a key element for builders to determine if they want to pursue certification. It allows a builder to enter their project online, based on their best building practices, to determine if they have enough points to pursue certification. The initial walk-through of the scoring tool uses easy checkbox items to give a broad overview of the compliance with different sections. A builder can then analyze their point selections and perform a few calculations to determine if certification is feasible for their project.

If the builder determines they would like to go forward, then they submit an application online which goes to a third party NAHB accredited verifier. The verifier makes sure that the information is consistent, and then will check the work in progress on the jobsite at rough-in and then at a final inspection.

The verifier is trained and certified by the NAHB Research Center to perform the certification of projects to the standard. The verifier function is somewhat unique to the ICC-700 standard. Most other rating systems certify more on the “honor system” and submittal of documents versus actual onsite inspections. Even when an onsite function is required, such as the commissioning of systems, it is fairly broad as to who can perform the onsite evaluations. Just like the home building inspection process, the verifier will perform a final inspection and then submit a final report to the NAHB Research Center. After approval, and before closing, the builder will receive a Green Certificate on the home.

Costs to certify LEED-H versus the ICC-700 NGBS

In a 2008 NAHB Research Center report on the differences in costs between the ICC-700 and LEED-H it was calculated that registration, verification, and certification of projects for a small builder would be about $900 per home for ICC-700 and around $3700 per home for LEED-H. The costs for a large builder were dramatically reduced for LEED-H to around $1400 per home.

An NAHB Builder will pay a certification fee of $200 ($500 non NAHB) and then several hundred dollars for third party verification. A USGBC member will pay a registration fee of $150 and $225 for certification, and then fees for a LEED-H AP and onsite inspections.

Comparison of Rating Systems

So is the ICC-700 in direct competition with LEED for Homes? It is too early to discern at this point, but there are some differences between the programs that it would be good for you to be aware of:

Point Spread—In the LEED suite of certification programs minimum certification level to maximum point attainment is 45 to 136 points. In the ICC-700 those levels spread out from a minimum threshold of 222 to well over 900 point options that vary based on locale and new construction versus renovation.

Resource Efficiency—ICC-700 has a point option for using products with a Life Cycle Analysis. Points are also awarded for using product manufacturers that are compliant with ISO 14001.

Energy Efficiency—Both systems place a major emphasis on this category. LEED-H has 2 Prerequisites for EA and 0 point requirements versus ICC-700 that has a long list of code associated mandatory requirements and 30 minimum points. To achieve the basic bronze certification, a home must achieve 15% better performance than the Energy Star Equivalent.

Verification—LEED-H requires that a LEED Accredited Professional be involved with the project from early design phase for each house type. A separate independent certifier would verify implementation in the field for each house. ICC-700 requires the verifier in the field for each house built.

Origin—LEED-H evolved from the original LEED for new construction. ICC-700 was created specifically for homes. This difference in development creates unique knowledge requirements for the builder to master.

By now, you probably are considering a question that I am often asked—Are all these certification programs just a big scam to make money?

Most knowledgeable people in the green building industry would agree that we need a baseline for the goal of achieving sustainable growth. In the past, our construction industry has always dug up, cut down, mined, refined and gobbled land to acquire the resources needed to create our structures. As construction methods have evolved and intertwined with technology, a new door has opened that allows the reuse of existing resources. Couple this with an owner’s financial desire to have more energy efficient structures, and a natural new course appears—we can’t build buildings like we have in the past.

To a large degree, rating systems and certification programs are creating a framework for innovation in building design. As technology develops, processes and measurements will need to grow and change. Standards tend to get people motivated to figure out a way to get something done, but they are only one element. We have to fundamentally change the way that we do business and manufacture products. The growth of standardized certification programs will only help guide us down the path of change.

So there remains one daunting question—will certification programs, stricter codes, and environmentally preferred products help us to achieve a natural balance between the things that we want and the balance the earth needs to evolve? Only time, trial and error will tell, but one thing is for certain—green growth has been woven into the fabric of our lives and it is here to stay.

Kirby Davis LEED AP, CSI, CCTS, CDT is a Senior Architectural Specialist for LATICRETE International in the South Central USA

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