Home Innovation Insights

Michelle Foster
February 14, 2013

NGBS 2012: What's In It For Consumers?

A couple weeks ago I attended a press conference at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas announcing ANSI’s approval of the 2012 version of ICC 700 National Green Building Standard™. When the official comments were over, a Chicago newspaper reporter asked a great question, “What does ANSI approval of the 2012 National Green Building Standard mean for my readers, home buyers and home owners?”

In the end, while ANSI’s approval of a green building standard is a notable accomplishment to the International Code Council and the National Association of Home Builders, the real noteworthy element is how it will impact individuals and families looking for a home to buy or an apartment to rent. For both home buyers and renters, the 2012 National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is an important milestone for several reasons.

First, the NGBS offers a national, rigorous, and multi-faceted definition of what a green home is so buyers and renters know what they are getting and, as importantly, what they are not getting. “Green” is a common, but often unhelpful marketing claim. Too often there is a disconnect between what a builder means by green and what consumers infer. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looked at how consumers viewed green marketing claims and found that most consumers interpret general “green” claims to construe specific environmental benefits. Some builders use this to their advantage. Claims about “eco-homes,” “living green,” and “sustainable” are widespread. But are all these homes green? And if so, by whose definition? Some builders believe that as long as a home is more energy efficient than the local building code, it is worthy of the green tag. Other builders toss “environmentally-friendly” around their websites and marketing collateral but rue the home buyer that wants to figure out how it earned that label. Buyers and renters who consider NGBS Green Certified homes have a national benchmark by which they can evaluate the home.

Second, the NGBS offers a comprehensive set of green building practices and products. Not just energy efficient. Not just water efficient. An NGBS Green Certified home compared to a code-minimum home has practices that make the home more energy, water, and resource efficient; has improved indoor air quality; and reduces land development impacts. Further, an NGBS-certified home comes with a manual to help ensure that long-term operation of the home maintains its high-performance features. Why should the consumer care about the balanced approach the NGBS has for defining green? Because the balance makes an NGBS Green Certified home more affordable for consumers. Land development practices like low-impact stormwater techniques and reduced paved area can help builders reduce their construction costs. These savings can help offset the additional costs for high efficiency equipment and technologies. So for consumers, a holistic green home can actually cost them less to own and operate than a home that is merely energy efficient!

Third, the design target energy savings of a 2012 NGBS-certified home are knowable and rigorous. At best, many jurisdictions currently only require new homes to meet the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC); some are still implementing the 2003 IECC. The 2012 NGBS sets aggressive energy performance goals that build from the regulations currently enforced at the local level. Homes certified to the 2012 NGBS will be designed to achieve energy savings 15% above the 2009 IECC for a Bronze level home, and increasingly higher for Silver, Gold, and Emerald level certifications. Consumers will be hard pressed to find any green designation – on either a local or national level — that has upwardly-tiered, measurable energy saving targets as rigorous as the 2012 NGBS.

Last, the NGBS provides four certification levels so buyers can select the level of green that best suits their budget. Bronze-level NGBS Green Certified homes cost 1.7% more than a code-minimum home on average. Emerald homes, which are extremely high performing and commonly have alternative technologies such as solar or geothermal, can cost up to 16% more. Emerald is an admirable housing performance goal, but not every consumer can make such an expensive green commitment. With the NGBS they don’t have to — green is affordable for everyone.

So builders, code officials, remodelers, and yes, even Home Innovation Research Labs can celebrate the release of the 2012 NGBS. But the real winners are home buyers and renters. The National Green Building Standard benefits them most of all.

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