The Proof is in the Certification

A third-party green building certification helps guide building professionals and provide consumer confidence in the product. 

By Michelle Diller

Buyers want efficient, comfortable and healthy homes. Research by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Home Innovation Research Labs and others have shown this to be a trend for several years. Consumers’ experience of spending even more time at home in 2021 is expected to make high-performance home features even more desirable moving forward. 

Voluntary, above-code, third-party green building certification systems provide a roadmap for achieving high performance designs and build-outs. These certifications act as a validation mechanism for building professionals to ensure their project meets their high-performance goals and also as a tool for differentiating themselves in their market. Comprehensive green building certification systems such as the ICC 700-2020 National Green Building Standard® (NGBS) provide opportunities for all building professionals — from novice green builders to those on the leading edge.

Voluntary, above-code, third-party green building certification systems provide a roadmap for achieving high performance designs and build-outs.”

High Performance Roadmap 

Whole-home certification systems offer a suite of above-code practices across all areas of green building, enabling building professionals to choose the best strategies for their project(s), to achieve the level of performance they are seeking and to meet their customers’ preferences. The options offered in these certification programs help synergize efficiencies with a holistic approach, in turn assisting with right-sizing designs and keeping costs down. Most green building certification systems align with certified product programs such as ENERGY STAR and WaterSense. The NGBS also has a Green Certified Products list that helps builders earn points toward certification.

The most recent version of a certification system builds upon the successful strategies of previous editions. For instance, the 2020 NGBS updates include full certification for mixed-use buildings and a new single-family certified path particularly suited for production builders and those building out lots as a part of a master development. The NGBS also provides paths for single and multifamily, new residential construction and remodeling, and land development. Another whole-home green building program, Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) is introducing Version 4.1 Residential BD+C, offering an updated suite certification options tailored for single and multifamily residential construction. 

Brand Confidence 

Michelle Foster, Home Innovation Research Lab’s vice president of sustainability, notes “third-party certification is an effective way for builders to improve consumer trust, boost their confidence in your green claims, and increase sales.” 

Certification provides transparency and peace of mind – consumers can’t see what is behind their walls and can’t touch energy efficiency like they can granite countertops. A third-party certification provides assurance that their home was designed and built to be high performance. NGBS and Enterprise Green certifications include requirements to educate owners on the operation and maintenance of their homes so that residents operate them as the builder intended. 

Market Differentiator

Once a home has earned a third-party certification, how can that be leveraged? Third-party certifications can be included in real estate Multiple Listing Service (MLS) listings; provided to appraisers to include on the Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum to ensure the home’s valuation reflects its high performance features; and featured on the company website as part of a marketing campaign.

Depending on market conditions, customer desires, and business model, building professionals may want to go above and beyond the main certification. Several programs are aligned with specialty certifications such as EPA’s Indoor airPLUS and DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) and can be layered onto a whole home certification without verifying a significant number of new requirements. Within the recently updated 2020 NGBS, NGBS Green+ badges package practices together to spotlight specific features that the project has excelled in, such as wellness, resilience, and net zero energy. 

Key Takeaways

Voluntary, above-code third-party green building certification systems offer a tool for building professionals to help inform designs, to provide assurance to customers, and to differentiate themselves from competition as a marketing strategy. To learn more, consider exploring NAHB’s Green Home Rating Systems Matrix, which provides a comparison of several programs.

Michelle Diller is a Sustainability & Green Building Program Manager with the National Association of Home Builders where she provides technical expertise, education and advocacy in all aspects of high-performance residential building.