Untangling the Green Building Standards

January 31, 2008

Green Building LogosLEED-H. FGBC. Energy Star. HERS. Fortified Home. EarthCraft. These are all names of green building standards used around the country for homes. And now NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) is due to unveil its own Green Building Standard at the upcoming International Building Show in Orlando, Feb. 13-16.

What’s a prospective homeowner (or designer or builder) to make of this intellectual tangle? Upon reading each standard, others are referenced, but not uniformly. Energy Star, developed by the US Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, is probably the most familiar brand to consumers, which they know from appliance shopping. But do they know that a house can be labeled Energy Star? Energy Star is possibly the most cited of the standards by the others – if you build a house that qualifies for Energy Star, you’re well on your way to many of the other ratings, but the obvious (and more to the point, useful) overlaps seem to end there.

No wonder people are confused. NAHB says that “Six of the 10 most popular education sessions so far are devoted to green issues as attendees continue to sign up for an introduction to the NAHB National Green Building Program, sessions on sustainable architecture and even ‘Green Building 101.'” – That’s great to hear – though I suspect that there’s going to be a market for those people who can figure out what is actually being asked for and can “certify” buildings. The public will want to know if House A is greener than House B, and why. After all, “green” is increasingly being understood as less expensive to own.

I wish I could explain, in a single blog post, what the various differences are amongst the systems. I’m afraid that task is more on the order of a book – and I find keeping up with them all to be worthy of full-time employment. I’m also not advocating for a single system – at least not yet. The climatic variations in this country alone demand a lot of any attempt to state best practices in one system. But I’m glad to welcome NAHB’s latest effort, and I look forward to reading it – and most of all, putting it into practice.