Green. It’s a color between blue and yellow on the visible spectrum. It’s also the primary color in nature, our monetary system, and Mr. Yuk stickers. Green has also become “a political, environmental, and social movement that seeks to protect natural resources including animal and plant species as well as their habitat for the future” (according to Wikipedia). However, the frog told us it isn’t easy being green, and in the world of green building, coming up with a set of definitions and standards isn’t easy either.
What is Green Building?
At the risk of too many definitions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines “Green Building” as the practice of 1) Increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use and harvest energy, water, and materials; 2) Protecting and restoring human health and the environment, throughout the building life-cycle; siting, designing, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction.
We’ve come a long way since coal-burning stoves and leaded gasoline, but the green building movement strives for more than carbon emissions. Previous impressions of environmental issues tended to be an emotional protection of “Mother Earth.” Green buildings now tackle operational cost-effectiveness throughout the lifespan of the building and inhabitant well-being for greater efficiency and quality of life.
In the United States, buildings alone account for:
• 72% of electricity consumption
• 39% of energy use
• 38% of all carbon dioxide (C02) emissions
• 40% of raw materials use
• 30% of waste output
• 14% of potable water consumption
(Source: US Green Building Council)
Green homes and buildings have become commonplace throughout the country. According to NAHB, the green building market is expected to grow at a rate of 17 percent annually through 2022. Within four years, the collective value of the global green building market is anticipated to surpass a valuation of $245 billion, up from $158 in 2015.
By 2018, studies show green construction will account for more than 3.3 million U.S. jobs – more than one-third of the entire U.S. construction sector – and generate $190 billion in labor earnings. The industry’s direct contribution to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is also expected to reach $303.5 billion from 2015-2018.
In Pennsylvania, total green construction contributed 342,000 jobs from 2015 – 2018; producing almost $19.5 billion in labor earnings. Specific residential statistics are hard to come by, but features like ENERGY STAR are now the norm in 23,538 homes throughout the Commonwealth.
Residential Green Building
However defined, green homes are expected to comprise around 30 percent of the new-home market in 2018, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. From the beginning of the green-building movement, the biggest motivator for consumers has been reducing their monthly heating and cooling bills, according to builders and green-building advocates. The benefit for home builders sometimes isn’t so clear.
Brian Baker, Owner and Director of Marketing & Design of studio26 homes in Orefield, PA built his first green designated home in 2005. “The most popular green building attribute we hear about and work with is energy efficiency, because saving money on energy bills is a tangible benefit when the utility bill comes every month. Healthy homes are also well-liked, especially with owners who have health problems that need high-performance functions like superior air quality.” Brian also notes that others “simply want to be good stewards of the environment.”
With those high-performance standards needed to be met in site design, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and building operation and maintenance, residential green construction can be time-consuming and tedious. However, the typical green home can cost more than a “regular” home, so builders and contractors can see more profit in turn. They can also take advantage of volume discount savings, and reduced labor costs, as the learning curve to implement and install different items is diffused. Some green builders are taking advantage of fast-track permits and reduced permit fees in their jurisdictions. Other builders are finding they have access to land they wouldn't have had access to otherwise while building green.
What makes a Green Building Green?
Like so many definitions of what constitutes a Green Building, there are just as many ways to quantify and qualify what is green. According to some estimates, there are more than 80 green building accreditation programs across the country. That doesn’t take into consideration the hundreds, if not thousands of green building municipal government regulations or state laws (more on that later).
Fortunately, there are just a few certification programs and designations that have risen to the top of the green building movement – making residential home builders and buyers more in sync to consolidate both resources and productivity before, during, and after the building process.
Single-Attribute Residential Green Building Rating Systems
The 800-pound gorilla in this category is one most are familiar with - ENERGY STAR. Created in 1992 and administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ENERGY STAR and its partners (according to the EPA) have saved American families and businesses more than $450 billion in energy costs and over 3.5 trillion kWh of electricity, while achieving broad emission reductions. Its success can also be measured by its brand identification; more than 90% of American households recognize the ENERGY STAR logo.
ENERGY STAR has grown into a behemoth – with over 75 residential and commercial product categories. Currently, more than 60,000 product models have earned the ENERGY STAR blue sticker based on EPA’s 26 years of energy efficiency experience. More than 2,200 product models from more than 140 manufacturers were recognized as “ENERGY STAR Most Efficient” in 2017.
Multi-Attribute Green Building Rating Systems
While the field of single-attribute green building product certifications is dominated by ENERGY STAR, the construction and manufacturing industry recognized during the rise of that designation the need for more comprehensive reviews of products. As the name suggests, multi-attribute labels examine two or more environmental impacts of a product or material.
Some of the most popular of this broad-reaching, multi-attribute eco-labels include Green Seal, Underwriter Laboratories’ EcoLogo, Cradle to Cradle, Design for the Environment, and the Good Housekeeping Green Seal of Approval.
Third Party Green Building Rating Systems
According to industry experts, the most authentic and trustworthy certifications are those awarded by an independent third-party that has no business or monetary relationship with the product manufacturer or home builder. These designations generally have a transparent, open and clear system that standardizes how points are awarded to achieve certification.
National Green Building Standard
The National Green Building Standard (NBGS) certification from NAHB tasks single-family and multifamily buildings to achieve high-performance standards in site design, resource efficiency, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and building operation and maintenance. This certification program is for residential homes only and now boasts over 100,000 units that have been awarded this seal of approval.
A home or multifamily building can attain one of four NBGS performance levels — Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Emerald so builders can provide options based on market preferences, homebuyer budgets, and other regional or cultural influences.
Points are earned when a project complies with the numerous green building practices laid out within the Standard. These practices fall into six general categories:
- · Lot design, preparation, and development
- · Resource efficiency
- · Energy efficiency
- · Water efficiency
- · Indoor environmental quality
- · Operation, maintenance, and building owner education
A building’s highest rating depends upon the lowest threshold met by any of the six categories. For example, if a project missed the threshold for Emerald in one category by a single point, it will still only achieve Gold certification even if it reached the required number of points for Emerald certification in all other categories.
Furthermore, for dwelling units greater than 4,000 square feet, the number of total points required to receive certification levels increases by one point for every additional 100 square feet. This makes it more challenging for larger dwellings to receive the same certification as smaller dwellings to account for the larger environmental impact of larger homes.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)—was created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), for rating design and construction practices that would define a green building in the United States. LEED is used throughout North America and more than 30 countries with over 6,300 projects currently certified across the globe and over 21,000 projects registered. As of 2017, over 35 state governments, 380 cities and towns, and 58 counties have enacted sustainable legislation, ordinances, or policies, many of which specifically call for LEED certification.
The original growth of the LEED rating systems began in commercial and institutional buildings, particularly at colleges and universities who used their green buildings as educations showcases for students and teachers. The LEED seal of approval is growing in popularity for single family, condos and apartments too as the aforementioned municipalities and homeowner associations look for a national standard to measure consistency in defining the features and performance of a legitimate “green” home.
Green in Pennsylvania
LEED certification continues to rise in countries such as the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia and China. States with the most LEED-certified homes include California and Texas. Pennsylvania ranks 12th in state LEED-certified residential units.
The number of certified LEED professionals in Pennsylvania is over 6,700, with the majority having the LEED AP designation – the highest credential from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Real estate website ADOBO recently revealed a new ranking of the U.S. cities with the most certified green construction. Philadelphia cracked the top 10 with over 900 LEED-certified residential projects within the city limits. The average square footage of these green projects comes out to 17,901 square feet, with 0.15 projects per 1,000 people.
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which administers the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, as part of its 2017–2018 resource plan, will award points to developments achieving certain types of LEED certification. Specific attributes they are looking for include innovative design elements such as smart site selection, walkability, and public transit-oriented design, many of which also contribute to credit toward LEED certification.
Other green designations
Green Globes—originated in Canada and was brought to the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) in 2004. It is now cited in many Federal, State, and Municipal mandates.
Buildings are rated on a 1,000 point scale spread across seven categories including energy, indoor environment, site, water, resources, emissions, and project/environmental management. Users can indicate that certain credits may not be applicable to a project, a feature unique to Green Globes. It also does not have prerequisites. A Green Globes rating requires a Green Globes Assessor to perform an onsite assessment of the building. This ensures that the self-reported claims made in the online documentation are verified. Both new construction and existing buildings can be evaluated using Green Globes; commercial or multifamily.
Living Building Challenge (LBC)—is a performance-based system initially launched by the Cascadia Green Building Council. In April 2011, the International Living Future Institute became the umbrella organization for both the Cascadia Green Building Council and the Living Building Challenge.
The LBC makes stringent demands on its buildings such as 100% net zero energy, 100% net zero water, on-site renewable energy, and 100% recycling or diversion of construction waste. It examines the site, water, energy, materials, health, equity, and beauty factors. All of its tenets are mandatory, making it (according to LBC) the most rigorous green building certification system in the market today.
Green Building Professionals
If you’re looking to build or renovate a home constructed with the latest green technologies and products, what designation should you look for? How can builders, remodelers, manufacturers and other members of the residential home building industry, who are committed to making homes green, market themselves and promote their green designations?
Fortunately, there are industry-wide designations one can look for in a residential home builder or remodeler that adds a certified green professional designation next to their name. These professionals have the necessary classroom work and practical field experience who incorporate green and sustainable building principles into homes.
The NAHB Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation is a reliable way to identify those green building professionals. By incorporating the National Green Building Standards into the curriculum, CGPs are trained to incorporate energy, water and resource efficiency, improved indoor environmental quality and sustainable and locally sourced products into their projects.
CGPs must successfully complete 18 hours of classroom instruction and have at least two years of building industry experience before they earn their designation. They also are required to adhere to the CGP Code of Ethics and complete 12 hours of building industry and green-related continuing education every three years.
Even more experienced CGPs with more years of green building background can complete the educational requirements for the Master CGP designation. As interest in sustainable construction practices grows, expect to see more Master CGPs in your community.
LEED Green Associate/LEED Accredited Professional/LEED Fellow
LEED credentials denote proficiency in today’s sustainable design, construction and operations standards from the abovementioned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
More than 200,000 professionals have earned a LEED credential in the United States. They’re tested and certified on their knowledge of LEED rating systems and are able to demonstrate green building expertise in green design, construction, and operations. More advanced LEED designations specialize in interior design, neighborhood development, and green post-build maintenance.
Does having these green designations help professionally? According to Brian Baker, who has several, “they’re more important in the commercial building industry where the projects are often more complex, but in the residential area they can provide an up-front endorsement of your competence as a green builder to a prospective client.”
Green Building Laws, Ordinances, and Codes, oh my!
Residential home construction is a complicated endeavor even for the most basic of construction. From time and materials to surveys and subs, general contractors and remodelers have their hands full. While the number of sustainable regulations and their cause-effect can be debatable, state and local government’s environmental policies are deeply entwined with those who construct and remodel.
Energy codes are one of the most utilized green building edicts. They regulate a building’s energy efficiency by specifying minimum levels of insulation, efficient lighting, air sealing, and other energy-related building components. According to Brian Baker, “municipal mandates are helpful for more homes to achieve high-performance, which is advantageous for the owner,” he says, but cautions governmental agencies not to enact policies that “push down growth.”
In a recent example of state code changes, the PA Uniform Construction Code (PA UCC) by the PA Review and Advisory Council (RAC) recently made revisions which regulates the adoption, revision, or elimination of green building code provisions for the Commonwealth. These statewide codes are housed in the 2015 International Code Council (ICC) Model Codes book.
Homes built to the 2015 model residential energy code will be about 25 percent more efficient than the 2009 code. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that over a 30 year period, the energy bills in a home built to the 2015 code in Pennsylvania will be more than $8,100 lower than in a home built to the 2009 code!
Commercial buildings will save energy as well. The DOE’s analysis found that construction costs for commercial buildings in Pennsylvania will be lower for some types of building due to requirements for fewer lighting fixtures and the use of smaller HVAC units due to lower heating and cooling loads. Under the new code, buildings may cost less to build and less to operate.
Builders in Pennsylvania will be required to start following the new codes on October 1, 2018.
Local & Municipal
Increasing numbers of local, county and regional governments are also devising ways to promote green building through comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. Some promote sustainable building practices through adoption of green building programs, often with their own set of green building guidelines. These programs vary widely from place to place depending on local goals. Programs can apply to different types of buildings depending on use (residential or commercial), size, or type of development (new construction or renovation).
Some programs are mandatory, while others are voluntary but promoted through the use of incentives. Some communities create programs that require or encourage certain types of development to qualify for “green” ratings under third-party guideline and certification programs such as LEED or ENERGY STAR.
As one could imagine, with over 2,562 municipalities in Pennsylvania, green building codes and regulations are numerous and varied. Recent information from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) shows a couple of examples of green directives at the borough and township level.
The Borough of West Chester in Chester County adopted zoning regulations that require new buildings over 45-feet tall to be designed and built with ENERGY STAR and/or LEED certification. West Chester is the first municipality in the country where, by law, private buildings must be designed to earn the ENERGY STAR label.
In the Delaware Valley region, the Borough of Doylestown, in Bucks County, created a Green Points building incentive program that provides permit fee reductions or waivers if proposed buildings incorporate green building methods. Approximately 25 properties have utilized the program so far. Following Doylestown’s program, the Borough of Swarthmore in Delaware County adopted a Green Points program modeled on Doylestown’s initiative.