Green Building Certifications and Standards

Green Building Certifications and Standards

green building certification, standards and codes

Are you confused about the many different certifications, standards and codes in the green building industry?

I have been there – when I first became interested in green and healthy buildings I had a broad idea what makes a building green but really I had no idea what it meant in detail. It started already with the terms – is green the same as sustainable? What is the difference between a Standard and a Certification? I did know than there is a green building certification called LEED that recognizes primarily commercial buildings for their sustainability achievement.

Digging deeper I found out that there are many more green building certifications besides LEED.  It was confusing to me to sort through this jungle, why there were different ones in the first place and what they stood for.

Then I learned that green certifications, standards and codes can also be differentiated by their focus:

  • Green Building Certifications;
  • Certificates that focus on one aspect of green building, such as health or energy efficiency;
  • Green Product Certifications;
  • Green Building Standards and Codes by building industry groups and
  • Green Codes enforced by states and municipalities.

And not to forget green building resource such as:

  • books;
  • online resources;
  • research papers;
  • organizations and
  • schools promoting and educating in green building.

sustainable vs. green

There is a myriad of opinion if both terms can be used interchangeably or not and even more opinions about the proper definition of both terms. I think we should get over this debate and use them interchangeable; in my case I will use ‘green’ from here on.

As far as the definition goes, I like to stick with the description from the World Green Building Council below under ‘what is green building.’

The following links provide overviews of standards and certifications; none is complete but overall they provide an overview of the most common ones and their focus.

Green Building and Product Standards and Certification Systems

Some certification focus primarily on commercial, some only on residential buildings, others can be applied to both. On the commercial side there is a further distinction between usage types such as hotels, hospitals retail, offices, etc. The following article by Stephanie Vierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C from Vierra Design & Education Services, LL describes many of the green building certification programs, with a focus on the commercial side. In addition the article has a good overview of product certification programs and provides links to related Standards and Codes.

WEBSITE link  –  to Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG)

PDF document  –  in case website link is broken

Comparison of Green Building Standards

This EPA site compares Green Codes by International Standards bodies such as ICC, ANSI and ASHRAE with LEED and THE LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE.

WEBSITE link – website link to United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

PDF document – in case website link is broken.

Passive House Standard by The Passive House Institute  – residential and commercial

The Passive House Standard stands for healthy, comfortable living and impressive energy efficiency, regardless of the regional climate. Within the last several years, Passive House has gained rapidly in popularity, with over 60,000 residential and non-residential units in existence worldwide, and over 14,000 certified according to strict Passive House Institute certification criteria. These numbers are on the rise. The Passive House Standard is the only internationally recognized, performance-based energy standard in construction. The Passive House Institute has formed the International Passive House Association (IPHA) in order to advance the Passive House Standard worldwide as well as the quality for which it stands.

Passive House is a building standard that is truly energy efficientcomfortable and affordable at the same time. Passive House is not a brand name, but a tried and true construction concept that can be applied by anyone, anywhere.

Yet, a Passive House is more than just a low-energy building:

  • Passive Houses allow for space heating and cooling related energy savings of up to 90% compared with typical building stock and over 75% compared to average new builds. Passive Houses use less than 1.5 l of oil or 1.5 m3 of gas to heat one square meter of living space for a year – substantially less than common “low-energy” buildings. Vast energy savings have been demonstrated in warm climates where typical buildings also require active cooling.
  • Passive Houses make efficient use of the sun, internal heat sources and heat recovery, rendering conventional heating systems unnecessary throughout even the coldest of winters. During warmer months, Passive Houses make use of passive cooling techniques such as strategic shading to keep comfortably cool.
  • Passive Houses are praised for the high level of comfort they offer. Internal surface temperatures vary little from indoor air temperatures, even in the face of extreme outdoor temperatures. Special windows and a building envelope consisting of a highly insulated roof and floor slab as well as highly insulated exterior walls keep the desired warmth in the house – or undesirable heat out.
  • A ventilation system imperceptibly supplies constant fresh air, making for superior air quality without unpleasant draughts. A highly efficient heat recovery unit allows for the heat contained in the exhaust air to be re-used.

Although the Passive House Standard has been mentioned in the previous listings, it has to be clarified that there are actually two Passive House Certifications available in the U.S. – one administered by the Passive House Institute (PHI) which is used around the world including the U.S., and the second one administered by the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS), which is used in the U.S.. Two independent organizations unfortunately with a confusingly similar name.

PHIUS certification is based on the Passive House research and concepts that were originally developed by the Passive House Institute in Germany in early 1990 under the leadership of Dr. Wolfgang Feist. PHI has been around for nearly 30 years while PHIUS was created in 2007, after the group made changes to the original Passive House certification process and requirements and split off from Passive House Institute. PHIUS is no longer a partner of the German Research Institute and has developed its own set of modeling tools and processes in the meantime.

PHI remains the central Research Institute for Passive House affiliates around the world including state wide affiliates in the U.S.. The affiliates are organized through the International Passive House Association (IPHA) . You can find a map of U.S. affiliates through the North America Passive House Network.

I decided to get accredited as a Certified Passive House Consultant through the Passive House Institute and join the international Passive House community.

GreenPoint Rated by Build it Green – residential in California only

The GreenPoint Rated New Home Single Family (NHSF), New Home Multifamily (NHMF) and Existing Homes certification systems are standards for a residential green building rating system. A major objective of the certification systems is to educate homeowners about the benefits of green construction.

The NHSF and NHMF systems recognize performance in five categories: Community, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Health, Resource Conservation, and Water Conservation. Points are earned by complying with the specific standards for any of the given measures in the system. Projects are scored on overall performance and performance in each category.

The certification for existing homes (single and multi-family) can be achieved in two ways:

  1. The Elements label recognizes green building best practices for a small remodel or addition. It’s a great stepping stone for homeowners making small improvements over time. These GreenPoint Rated homes must meet certain prerequisites, achieve a minimum point requirement in each of the five environmental categories.
  2. The Whole House label recognizes green building best practices for a small remodel or gradual upgrades. It’s a great stepping stone for property owners making small improvements over time. These GreenPoint Rated homes must meet certain prerequisites, achieve a minimum point requirement in each of the five environmental categories.

GreenPoint Rated has certified more homes than any other residential certification system in California. GreenPoint Rated provides third-party verification of green homes. It acts as an independent seal of approval that reassures homeowners that a home is healthier, more comfortable, durable, and resource-efficient.

Following are a few resources that describe in more depth what green building is, its benefits and market report to evaluating opportunities and challenges.

What is green building?

A ‘green’ building is a building that, in its design, construction and operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our natural environment and the occupants health and comfort. There are a number of features which can make a building ‘green’.

read more

Why is it a good thing?

Evidence is growing that green buildings bring multiple benefits. These benefits can be grouped within three categories: environmental, economic and social. The World Green Building Council provides the following facts and statistics describing these benefits.

read more

 in depth market report

Builders remain committed to green building, with trends like healthier homes, net zero homes and renewables gaining in importance. The findings demonstrate that, despite concerns about higher costs, home builders and remodelers are increasingly building green.

read more

green real estate investing

Green business practices aren’t just good for the environment, they can also be good for the wallet. Yet investors may wonder what the tangible benefits of a green real estate strategy might be?  Can building green be cheaper than more traditional “fix and flip” rehab methods?

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