6 Powerful Green Building Standards

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Green Building Standards for commercial buildings have been around for many years. Today many municipalities require new buildings, renovations and even maintenance of government buildings to be certified by a green standard, mostly LEED Certification.

Many Real Estate companies certify their portfolio of commercial buildings as well due to financial interest: Tenants pay rent premium for green features with fewer vacancies to deal with.

There are Green Building Standards for residential buildings as well, some are even meant for both, commercial and residential with certain adjustments.

This post is all about green building standards for residential buildings with an emphasis on existing homes.

Not All Green Building Standards Are Created Equally

They all have slightly different goals and priorities, yet all are great guides. You might be drawn to one over the others due to your own goals.

The PEARL certification is a great start to get a status of your homes energy performance. PEARL also focuses on marketing your high performance features on the real estate market.

If you like to get inspired to create the most sustainable home possible the Living Building Challenge is a great guide.

To create the best building enclosure for the most comfortable home The Passive House Standard is a must.

My thing is to combine the wisdom of these standards.

What if you would use the Passive House Standard to create a high performance enclosure, use the Living Building Challenge to inspire other high valued green features for the best home possible.

And, if you would ever want to leave this home (probably not) you could get PEARL certification and use their marketing material as a template to market all other green features of your home that are not covered under PEARL.

Here is my quick introduction of my choice of Green Building Standards

1. LEED Rating System

The most widely known and used green building standard

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has been around for over 20 years and has developed into a huge certification machine. It is administered by the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) and offers different rating systems for design, construction, operation and maintenance of commercial buildings, homes and neighborhoods.

LEED is primarily used for commercial buildings. It is popular with municipalities and real estate companies to make their buildings more energy and water efficient and less expensive to operate. The green features of a LEED certified building create competitive benefits such as higher rentals, longer occupancies, and shorter vacancies. All this speaks for happier tenants, employees and less turn over.

LEED for Homes

The LEED Green Building Rating System provides a point system to score in different green building areas for various measures. These areas are Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation and Regional Priority.

Buildings are awarded points based on the extent sustainable strategies in the various areas are achieved.

There are 4 levels of certification based on points achieved, from low to top: Certified, Silver, Gold, to Platinum.

The LEED certification program aims to have buildings use their resources more efficiently and create a safe environment for all its occupants throughout the building’s life cycle.

LEED for Homes is by far less widespread than LEED for commercial buildings, most likely because of the time, experts and fees it takes to get a home certified.

LEED for Homes Certification focuses on new buildings and major retrofits.

The LEED for Homes Rating System is the main guide that describes the different categories, their intent, and requirements. This is a pretty technical document meant for professionals who would help you going the certification path. If you are up to it, the guide gives a great overview of sustainable features for your home.

On my Green Building Resource Page you can find books and other resources that are more readable and practicable for your sustainable goals outside of green home certification.

2. Living Building Challenge (LBC)

The Most Rigorous, Performance Based Green Building Standard

The Living Building Challenge Certification was developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and is considered the world’s most rigorous green-building program.

Different to LEED it is not build on awarded points in a variety of green building and construction areas. It requires a building perform to a set metrics for one full year before it gets any certification awarded.

The ILFI is built on ‘the belief that providing a compelling vision for the future is a fundamental requirement for reconciling humanity’s relationship with the natural world.

The ILFI has created five different types of certification for buildings and communities to pursue.

While the Living Building Challenge is primarily used for commercial projects they are also great voluntary standards for any residential project for new construction, or any type of remodel project for interior, landscaping projects as well as any retrofitting done to the building enclosure.

The two versions of the Living Building Challenge are holistic standards with 7 performance areas.

LBC visualizes the ideal for the built environment. It uses the metaphor of a flower because the ideal built environment should function as cleanly and efficiently as a flower.

Each of the areas is considered a petal: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Each petal has further requirements (imperatives) to address specific topics.

The Living Future website has a great repository of information about different sustainable building topics and, of course about the various certifications.

My post Living Building Challenge Inspiration dives a bit deeper into each petal and how I envision to apply them.

3. Passive House

Best Standard for the highest performing building enclosure. Only Standard that provides a guidebook and tool to achieve the standard goals. 

The Passive House Standard is the world leading voluntary standard for ultra-energy efficient building and retrofitting existing buildings. As a consequence of the high-quality building concept Passive House buildings are comfortable, durable, and sustainable and the best performing homes you can imagine.

The Standard was developed by the Passive House Institute and has been implemented worldwide in any type of climate.

The 5 Passive House Principles for design and construction provide guidance for your local climate to accomplish a building with rigorous performance requirements.

The 5 principles are: climate specific & continuous insulation, no thermal bridges (no break in the insulation level), high performance windows, airtight enclosure, 24/7 heat recovery ventilation system.

While the performance requirements and the 5 principles are the same for all climates (with the exception for high humidity climates), the implementation of the 5 Passive House Principles can differ dramatically based on the local climate.

For example, the insulation value of the continuous insulation in a mild climate will be wildly different in a mild climate like Southern California to a cold climate like Minnesota.

The Passive House Standard provides is different than other green building standards. It does not only set performance goals it also provides a methodology to get there, to develop the right design, products specification, and construction details.

The Passive House Standard is based on building science and is simply the right approach to building.

I went through the Passive House training and every day was packed with building science – simple and straightforward.

Mostly anybody who goes through the Passive House training leaves after a packed 5 days with the comment ‘Duh! This is so simple and right! Why don’t we build like that every building, always?’

Read more in my blog post What is The Passive House Standard?

I also created a resource page for the Passive House Standard. There you can find additional information, links to PH magazines, videos, and books. Please check it out! There is great stuff to explore.

4. PEARL Certification

Best Green Building Standard to guide homeowners, prepare appraisers and market all green features in a sale.

Pearl Certification focuses on making the invisible visible. Most high-performance features are not obviously visible like other features of a home. Many realtors, home assessors and buyers have difficulties to value high performance features for that reason.

When these features are explained in descriptive and visual ways the real value of these superior home can be translated into premium sales prices.

PEARL Certification works with a network of contractors and real estate professionals to improve your home’s performance over time.

The goal is to maximize the value of your home at the time of an appraisal for sale or refinance.

PEARL is also a rating system where a home can earn points in 5 different categories: building shell, heating & cooling, baseload, home management and renewable energy & energy storage.

Based on the points earned a home can achieve Asset, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Your home can be evaluated on one level and move up over time, based on a report, plan and other tools PEARL provides.

At the time a home appraisal is needed PEARL provides you with various tools to ensure the value of all green features of the home are described and “made visible”.

Besides the Pearl certification report PEARL even provides a letter to the lender, a letter to the appraiser accompanied by a copy of the Appraisal Institute’s Green and Energy Efficient Appraisal Addendum.

This way the lender is obligated to work with an appraiser who is trained in green building appraisals. This is VERY IMPORTANT to get your green home appraised appropriately.

I think this certification is a must for any sustainable home.

5. EnergyStar

Government backed Green Building Standard

You might have heard about and seen the yellow energy star labels? Or you have even bought an energy star rated appliance for your home?

Did you know that there is also an EnergyStar Label for Buildings? This one is blue not yellow. This green building standard is offered through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

New Homes

EnergyStar Certification is offered for new buildings and gut rehabs in a partnership with builders and developers who are participating in the EnergyStar program.

Yellow or blue, they both mean the same thing – a top-performer that saves energy, money and helps the environment by producing less greenhouse gas emissions.

If you are looking to buy a new home, this label will help you find a new quality and energy efficient one.

Next time you tour a new home, ask if the home is EnergyStar certified and ask for the certification records. Often, even professional in the industry, mistake the Energy Star certification with the Energy Star rating for appliances.

Certification is given on an annual basis, that way a building has to maintain its high performance to stay certified year over year.

The annual certification is a great opportunity to schedule a yearly home maintenance with the help of a checklist and log to document items done and potential issues to watch.

There is a lot of good information on the Energy Star website for New Homes.

Check it out, you can learn about the high performance building features our government deems important.

Existing Homes

Energy Star has a program for existing homes too. They provide a lot of valuable information to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

It all starts with a home assessment. You can either do one yourself, they call it Home Energy Yardstick or have a home advisor do a more specific home assessment which will provide you with a report of the condition and recommendation to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

The website has a knowledge center where you can find valuable information for any part of your home, from choosing the right light bulbs to roof insulation done right.

I definitely recommend to check it out for its wealth of information and tools.

Additional EPA and DOE backed green building programs

In connection with Energy Star the EPA and DOE offer additional green building programs that address indoor air quality, water, zero energy ready homes and renewable energy ready homes.

Of those there is one that is most interesting for you and any remodeling project is a green product standard called WaterSense.

Here is a quick overview.

6. WaterSense

WaterSense, another voluntary partnership program sponsored by EPA, is both a label for water-efficient products and a resource for helping you save water.

Like EnergyStar, just for water.

The WaterSense label makes it simple to find water-efficient products that meet EPA’s criteria for efficiency and performance.

WaterSense-labeled products and services are certified to use at least 20 percent less water, save energy, and perform as well as or better than regular models.

Read more and watch videos at the WaterSense website.

There are many more programs and standards for green buildings, some are only for commercial buildings some only for residences and some are for both.

In my eyes the above 6 are the most important ones to check out.

If you find any others you think are significantly different and contribute a new angles add it to the comments. I will definitely respond. 

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