house plans

Green? By What Standards?

I was recently at a meeting between local leaders, discussing how the newly released National Green Building Standard (NGBS) fits in with existing state and city level green building programs and incentives. There were a number of interested parties involved, including builders, designers, local utility companies, performance testers, city departments and state non-profits. I was extremely happy that we had such a wide range of perspectives present; the conversation was most interesting and I’d like to quickly share some of the thoughts that came from the group.

As you are probably aware, there are many certification programs available to help a green builder gain credibility in the marketplace and verify his work meets recognized standards. The NGBS is one of the latest to be offered nationally, and hopes to join both the LEED for Homes and Energy Star programs in gaining wide recognition amongst consumers, and sits next to over fifty state and locally recognized programs. In the state of Oregon, Earth Advantage and Built Green both have pretty good brand recognition.

Third party verification is deemed important in most successful programs, and the NGBS is no different. The interesting difference, however, seems to be with performance testing. Both the Energy Star and LEED programs require testing, while the NGBS only requires visual inspection for compliance. With visual inspection, there’s no proof that the home performs as designed, only that certain elements are present. What is important here is consumer awareness of the difference. Much of the group present advocated performance testing as the element that is certifiable, and determined that a physical test was a major factor in avoiding greenwashing.

Also interestingly, it was discussed that the NGBS offers a fixed national view of what is considered green at its various certification levels, with an extremely low entry point for compliance. With the NGBS, any home that meets Energy Star requirements is legible for Bronze certification without any additional work. The issue there is that Oregon Energy Code is somewhat aligned with typical Energy Star requirements, so the levels of insulation required to be “green” are not much more than code. A test I conducted using Plan 22151A sailed through Bronze on paper with only code specifications, and standard construction practices. The crux? Select a good site. My conclusion was that the right size home on a well chosen lot should be pretty easy to get NGBS Bronze certification locally. Are we saying all new homes built in Oregon are green? Certainly not by our standards.