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High-rise multifamily green construction is a specialty of many NGBS Green Verifiers.

Steven Armstrong
May 28, 2014

Get Help Navigating The ‘Gray Zone’ in Green: Commercial-Grade Residential Construction

The application of the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) to multifamily construction has been very successful over the past few years with it being accepted as the green program of choice at near exponential rates. There are many factors that promote its success, including affordability, ease of understanding from a residential builder’s perspective, and less onerous time and documentation demands for builders than other rating systems. These same factors make some feel that it is not a serious certification process. However, the rigorous approach of the NGBS to meeting the various levels of certification and its requirements to meet minimum levels in each of the major construction/building categories can allay the fears of most skeptics.

As an accredited Home Innovation NGBS Green Verifier since the certification program started, I have had an opportunity to verify 41 single-family homes and 29 multifamily buildings accounting for 740 apartments. In addition to new construction, I have also had considerable experience verifying green land development and renovations of existing buildings using the NGBS. All NGBS Green Verifiers are trained by Home Innovation to verify all types of green projects eligible for NGBS certification, but on-the-ground expertise in different verification types varies from verifier to verifier.

During a recent job site visit to conduct my initial team meeting and make introductions, it quickly became apparent that the level of code controlling this particular multifamily project fell under commercial construction guidelines. The questions being asked by the architect, engineer, and the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) contractors made me realize how important it was to have the benefit of many years of experience working in both the residential and commercial construction industry.

Transitioning from multifamily low- and mid-rise buildings to multifamily high-rise buildings, it is important that your NGBS Green Verifier has experience in commercial-level construction and codes. Without this kind of experience, a verifier can be placed in a role that taxes the extent of his/her knowledge, thus requiring extra time, effort, and cost to understand the situation and research the proper interpretation. For example, construction tasks that are normally relegated to a subcontractor for smaller, garden-style projects are more typically handled by the larger nationally-oriented engineering and architectural firms for high-rise projects. Verifiers for these types of buildings are sometimes even called on to train the various subs for the project on green requirements and criteria of the NGBS. Also, ASHRAE 91.1-2007 plays a larger role in the energy and building envelope; the energy analysis for high-rise multifamily buildings is more complex. Even the building materials themselves become less familiar – high-rise buildings present a very different landscape of steel, concrete, and glass, as opposed to the wood, brick, and vinyl that are so familiar in single-family and smaller multifamily projects. You can see where there is a specialization for this type of verification work.

The housing market has seen trends towards higher-end, all-inclusive communities as multifamily living becomes the preferred residential lifestyle for many generations. With that trend increasing, more residential building will include commercial features, be located in urban areas, and be considered a high-rise structure. The NGBS scope clearly encompasses high-rise residential structures, but the proper application of certain practices is not explicit in the practice. It is therefore critical to understand the intent of the rules within the NGBS in order to provide an effective verification process for this sector of the industry. An NGBS Green Verifier’s role in confirming a building’s compliance with the NGBS is critical to the developer. However, because of the unique questions that arise with high-rise buildings, I also believe that involving an NGBS Green Verifier with appropriate high-rise/multifamily experience can offer valuable guidance and expertise that the developer’s entire project team will find useful from the beginning of the design process.

I am pleased to have been selected to serve on the ANSI Consensus Committee charged with development of the 2015 version of the NGBS, assigned to the Multifamily Task Group. I served previously on the ANSI Committee that developed the current 2012 version of the NGBS. I look forward to working with my peers on the Committee and the Task Groups to improve the sustainability practices and clarity of the NGBS, especially with regard to high-rise multifamily construction, to ensure the NGBS continues to be an affordable, yet rigorous, green building standard for all residential development.

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