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Michelle Foster
August 8, 2014

Which Costs More - Getting Third-Party Verification, or Not Getting It?

When compared to other national third-party green certification programs, Home Innovation’s NGBS Green Certification fees are remarkably affordable for single-family green homes, and even more so for green multifamily buildings. The “bricks and sticks” costs to comply with the NGBS are also relatively affordable for most projects, mostly due to the standard’s expansive point-based system to achieve green certification. So, verification costs end up being the biggest bucket of “added cost” for projects seeking NGBS Green Certification.

For some builders and developers, the cost of verification is their barrier to seeking green certification. But, probably with very few exceptions, our experienced NGBS Green Partners will attest to the benefits and value that independent, third-party verification provides green projects.

What does verification cost?

The cost of verification depends on a number of factors. Each verifier’s scope of services is different, and each project and project team is different. Therefore, you will need to decide what verification package best suits your project’s needs. Home Innovation encourages our certification clients to request bids from multiple verifiers. Like any fee-for-service provider, our NGBS Green Verifiers are diverse in their experience, services offered, fees, and personality. We want you to find the right verifier for your project, at the right price.

Of course, every verifier must perform certain minimum requirements for all projects that will be part of his or her bid.

  • First, they must register the project with Home Innovation. While Home Innovation does not assess any registration fee, it does require time of the verifier to get all the necessary information entered into our database correctly.
  • Second, the verifier will need to review (and/or help you complete) the NGBS Green Scoring Spreadsheet to see what NGBS practices you are claiming for points toward certification.
  • Third, the verifier must perform at least two inspections of the project. At a minimum, buildings must be inspected at least once before drywall is installed, so the verifier can inspect the green building practices that are inside the wall cavity (such as correct insulation installation or sealed ducts); and once when the building is complete and all of the green practices are fulfilled. While the process for single-family home verification tends to be more straightforward, multifamily building verifications are more complex due to volume (each apartment must be inspected twice) and more staggered contractor schedules (i.e., insulation on the first few floors may be complete and the walls closed up before insulation installation on the upper floors even begins). Thus, the verifier must coordinate inspection visits to match with the rolling drywall schedule for larger apartment buildings.

What else factors into the cost? 

Once the minimum number of inspections is covered, here are a few other things that are likely to factor into a verifier’s proposal:

  • Level of Certification: Projects aiming for Emerald-level certifications by definition are going to have significantly more green practices for the verifier to inspect than a Bronze-level building.
  • Performance vs. Prescriptive Path: The Performance Path requires an energy model of the building. Some verifiers offer this service, others may work with an independent HERS rater. The builder may also choose to contract separately for this service. If the project would not otherwise need an energy model (i.e., as a requirement of local code), the energy model may increase the verification costs.
  • Testing: Certification points are available in Section 704.5 for testing the building envelope’s tightness or the duct system’s air leakage. If a builder expects points for these practices, the verification bid will likely include the additional time, and perhaps equipment costs, needed to perform such tests.
  • Consulting: Some verifiers offer comprehensive green building consulting services to clients.  Additional consulting is not required to attain NGBS Green Certification, but some builders may find value in having a verifier help them more deeply integrate green practices into their design and construction process, or compare the cost implications of various green practices. For example, 5 to 10 Energy Efficiency points are available for higher efficiency windows. Alternatively, 5 to 10 points are available for additional performance verification. Both earn the same number of certification points, but the costs to implement the practices may not be so comparable. An accredited verifier could help you chart your best, and most practical, course to getting those point.
  • Documentation Preparation: Documentation review is an integral part of the NGBS Green verification process. Builders who have well-organized documentation make it faster and, therefore, less expensive for the verifier to review. Some builders request the verifier’s help to gather documentation necessary for compliance (e.g., do the adhesives and sealants meet the VOC levels necessary to earn points for improved indoor environmental quality). Verifiers may charge more if they are expected to put time into gathering this kind of documentation.
  • Schedule & Travel: On large multifamily projects, it is never possible for all the units to be ready for inspection at the same time, which means a verifier needs to make multiple trips to the site. Fewer trips and/or shorter travel distances generally result in lower costs. Verifiers with multifamily building experience are generally proficient at effective inspection scheduling. Be sure you understand how re-inspections will be handled, as it is not unusual for a verifier to have to come back to make sure a practice has been corrected if it is identified as non-compliant on initial inspection.
  • Verification Volume: If your company plans to seek NGBS Green Certification for multiple projects and use the same verifier, inform your verifier candidate(s) upfront so that they can generate a volume-based price.
  • Training: Verifiers can provide various types of training to prepare your project team and contractors, thereby smoothing the verification process and ensuring everyone is invested in attaining NGBS Green Certification.
  • Geographic Pricing Differences: Project location can also affect verifier pricing. Large urban areas may command higher market prices for verifiers than other areas.

Is it really worth the added cost?

The simple answer is yes. The overwhelming verdict of builders and developers nationwide is that they value the benefits they accrue as a result of the third-party inspections our NGBS Green Verifiers and NGBS Green Certification in general provide. Tangible benefits like a larger pool of investment funding, faster entitlement processes, Federal Trade Commission-safe marketing, superior construction quality, buildings chock-full of the sustainable qualities that buyers and renters are seeking, and, perhaps best of all, a potentially higher property valuation on resale.

Verification costs are inevitable for projects seeking NGBS Green Certification. But as a percentage of total construction costs, verification costs are small. Once you consider all the benefits inherent with third-party verifications, we believe you’ll find them to be a worthy investment.

Let me know if you have any questions about the NGBS Green Certification process, or deciding if it’s right for your company.

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Comments

Fadi Braiteh
June 20, 2016 9:04 PM
"I am not sure if you can help
I am building a custom designed house, with high end finsihes,, and supposedly green house, paying almost 500 USD/ SQF.
I am looking to hire a third aprty evaluate that the QUALITY of completion is up to standard, since the quality , even in teh eyes of non expert as myself, looks shady. Whom should I hire? This is not jsut about Green hosur, but all inclsuive"