Green home certification is a market-driven tool. Builders and developers typically seek NGBS Green Certification voluntarily, because they value the marketing benefits and quality assurance that third-party green certification provides.
But what about communities where builders are less familiar with green building practices and don’t realize the benefits they may accrue by taking the first steps toward green? Sometimes local jurisdictions can help prime the pump for green home demand by consumers and interest by builders in their market.
In Washington’s Clark County, community leaders saw green home construction as an opportunity on several fronts. Primarily, they believed green home building would reduce demand on local infrastructure. Following that belief, they sought to drive market demand for green homes through builder and community education. Mike Selig, the county’s building safety program manager, explained that his team observed a “chicken-and-egg problem” – builders claimed homebuyers weren’t interested in green construction; meanwhile, residents were either unaware of the benefits of green construction or couldn’t find professionals who could build them a green home.
To help move Clark County in a more sustainable direction, its Board of Commissioners adopted the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) as the county-wide voluntary green building code. They determined it was easier for the building department to learn one rating system and train all towns/villages within the country on the same system, to ensure permitting consistency and knowledgeable support staff for builders. According to Selig, the commissioners selected the NGBS as their preferred green building rating system because it was the most code-compliant and easiest to navigate of those they investigated. “It was also the only ANSI [approved] code, which lent a lot of credibility,” Selig said.
In addition to systematizing the building department to use the NGBS, Selig was also able to use it as a springboard for community and industry training and outreach, and a re-engagement of department staff with related expertise who had been previously riffed during the market downturn. With federal funding from the Recovery Act, Selig rehired staff and deployed a county-wide program that performed home energy audits, contractor training, and community outreach/education based largely on the NGBS.
The resulting Planet Clark program that was initiated under the grant monies continues today due to sustained community interest. One of the primary outreach tools of the program is a 20-ft long demonstration trailer, which is equipped with energy-efficient products, children’s play and learn displays, and building safety information. It began traveling to community fairs, home and garden shows, and schools to teach residents about sustainable living practices, energy efficiency, and green home construction practices.
In 2012, the county worked with Quail Homes and the Evergreen Habitat for Humanity chapter to construct the Planet Clark Emerald House (photos available in the NGBS Green Home Gallery), the first Emerald-level NGBS Green Certified home in the area. Emerald House was designed to maximize natural light and heat to reduce energy use, and served as a demonstration home for several months before being occupied by a local family. The home also includes high-performance fixtures, low-maintenance landscaping, and rainwater collection systems for water efficiency.
Selig said the NGBS and green home building education is really affecting positive change in both the residents of Clark County and its home building community. He recounted to me an “ah-ha” moment that a local builder had at a community event. Upon review of the NGBS requirements, the builder proclaimed that green building was the “best kept secret” in the industry and said he couldn’t imagine building any other way now that he was more aware. That builder’s company is currently ramping-up to seek Bronze level NGBS Green Certification on all newly-constructed homes.
Clark County efforts provide a great example for NGBS Green Partners looking to create demand for certified green homes within a local community. Home Innovation is always happy to help those in and around the home building industry by providing resources for education and advocacy. In fact, Michael Luzier, president and CEO of Home Innovation Research Labs, will be traveling to Clark County later this month to help further educate local builders and consumers about green home building and the NGBS.
If you’re active in local green advocacy efforts, contact me for presentations, marketing materials, and talking points. We might even be able to arrange in-person visits by key members of our staff.