Home Innovation Insights

Moving to a Higher Green Standard

January 11, 2013

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) notified Home Innovation Research Labs on January 10, 2013, that it had approved the 2012 revision of ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS), capping off a two-year consensus process to update and amend the original version of the NGBS. ANSI approval is significant. While the NGBS is the first and only residential green building rating system to receive ANSI approval, it is not for this reason alone that the achievement is notable. Rather, it is noteworthy for what the designation as an American National Standard represents. A diversity of stakeholders. Fairness. Openness. The right to public comment and appeal.

Recipe for a Consensus Standard

I had a chance to observe the ANSI standards development process at work during development of the 2012 NGBS. If I had to describe it to the uninitiated, I would say that it’s like making sausage. It’s messy and complicated and time-consuming. Sometimes you are not even sure you want to be looking. Everyone gets to have a say in the process and the technical deliberations and analysis are painstaking and often tedious. But you don’t need to show your membership card at the door to be heard. ANSI rules insist that everyone must be able to have a say. And it is precisely because of the inclusivity during the development process, and opportunity for everyone potentially affected by the standard to participate, that helps make the standard more easily accepted by the industry for which it was designed.

In the end, that is reason why the NGBS is so significant. The ANSI process produced a credible and highly rigorous green building rating system that is being voluntarily adopted by the residential construction industry. An industry that quite honestly has otherwise been a laggard for innovation. Industry stakeholders voluntarily revised the NGBS within a shorter timeframe than required by ANSI and eagerly made the NGBS certification requirements more stringent than the previous version. Imagine that.

Notable Changes in the 2012 NGBS

First and foremost, the energy efficiency baseline got ratcheted up. In recognition of more stringent energy codes nationwide, the NGBS Consensus Committee believed that for homes and multifamily buildings to receive green certification they should need to attain higher performance levels for the entire home or building, not just heating, cooling, and water heating. Insulation installation now has to be visually inspected and if not at least Grade 2 or higher, certification is not possible.

Second, the 2012 NGBS now allows builders and developers to receive points toward certification for incorporating sustainable design elements. The Consensus Committee spent a fair amount of time discussing its belief that the ability to age in place was a tenant of sustainability they hoped to encourage. As Baby Boomers age they will be able to find a green home where they can age gracefully and safely over many years.

A third improvement of the 2012 version is the addition of more land development and building practices that align with contemporary land use and planning issues. For example, the 2012 NGBS has more practices designed to reduce stormwater impacts from construction and incentivize community gardens, and bike- and car-sharing programs. Builders and developers seeking certification that incorporate these practices into their projects can help their local municipalities more easily achieve some of their local community goals.

Finally, the 2012 NGBS started with a clean slate with regard to remodeling and renovation, aiming to make the certification process simpler and more streamlined without diminishing its rigor. The Consensus Committee's aspiration was to further encourage the renovation of older homes and residential buildings to be more energy and water efficient. Because let’s be honest — while a new green certified home or apartment building will be more efficient and have reduced environmental impacts in comparison to code-minimum new buildings, the benefits of renovating our older housing stock far exceed the benefits gained from new construction. If we want to make appreciable gains nationally in reducing water and energy use and improving the quality of the living environment for most Americans, we need to offer builders and developers a green remodel path that is rational, cost-effective, and easy-to-implement. In the 2008 NGBS, renovation requirements were sprinkled across practices and throughout multiple chapters. In the 2012 NGBS, the renovation requirements are consolidated and accorded a two separate stand-alone chapters. The consolidation alone is a vast improvement, but the Consensus Committee made additional improvements such as clarifying the mandatory requirements, setting reasonable energy and water efficiency reductions, and providing remodelers a set of additional green practices that would further improve the performance of the existing building.

The 2012 NGBS also provides new certification opportunities for small projects such as kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Many remodelers urged the Consensus Committee to include small projects because they believed they could more easily incorporate green practices into their everyday renovation projects if there was a certification path. A number of remodelers also believed a small project remodel option would make it easier to convince homeowners to consider whole-house retrofits, further improving the green benefits.

Onward and Upward

The 2008 version of the National Green Building Standard has been helping to transform the residential construction industry. Since it was published in January 2009, over 15,000 homes and apartments have been certified by Home Innovation Research Labs. Even more impressive, almost 19,000 homes and apartments have registered with Home Innovation Labs to be certified. Builders, remodelers, and developers have enthusiastically embraced the NGBS as a challenge to build green high-performance homes. I look forward to the even greater transformation that the 2012 NGBS will bring.