Home Innovation Insights

Find out how the 2020 NGBS may be your golden ticket to green certification.

Michelle Foster
December 24, 2020

Five Golden Things (to Know About the 2020 NGBS)

It’s been 1 heck of a year, with 2 many momentous events to cover here, but there are 3 things I know – we’re all in this together; hope and love will always conquer fear; and the NGBS Green team will always be here 4 you. In the spirit of the holiday, I’ve wrapped up a summary of the 2020 NGBS with the 5 (Golden?) Things You Need to Know to help with your 2021 certification gameplan…

The 2020 National Green Building Standard ICC-700 (NGBS) was approved by ANSI in January, and has been available for land developments and residentially-used buildings seeking NGBS Green certification since then. This fourth version of the NGBS is the most comprehensive to date and includes substantial revisions from previous editions. 

NGBS Green, the national certification offered by Home Innovation Research Labs, is currently the most widely used green building certification program for homes and multifamily buildings in the country — but don't take our word for it, read about it here. The program has been widely adopted by the industry and is broadly recognized by government agencies at all levels, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); more than 30 State Housing Finance Agencies; institutional investors and Government Sponsored Enterprises’ Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and myriad local jurisdictions. The program’s widespread recognition is based on its stringent inspection protocol and rigorous compliance requirements, strategically paired with affordable fees and streamlined documentation submissions.

In case you haven’t yet experienced the latest version of the National Green Building Standard, here are the five key takeaways:

  1. Expanded Definition of Residential

    People live in a wide variety of housing types – from single-family homes, townhouses, duplexes, quads, and multifamily buildings of all heights; to student housing, assisted living facilities, and group homes; to temporary housing such as fire stations, hotels, and motels. Until recently, however, a building could not be NGBS Green Certified unless it met the relatively narrow NGBS definition of “dwelling unit” (i.e., a single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons, including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation), nor if it were classified as non-residential in the International Building Code (IBC).

    The 2020 NGBS opened the door to being more comprehensive in defining “residential” as all Group R occupancies as defined by the IBC, and all buildings within the scope of the International Residential Code (IRC). Assisted living facilities, residential board and care facilities, and group homes classified as I-1 occupancies in the IBC are also permitted to seek NGBS Green certification.

  2. Mixed-Use Building Certification Authorized

    Multifamily buildings increasingly include space for retail or commercials tenants. These mixed-use buildings are highly desirable by renters seeking a more urban, walkable lifestyle. Previous NGBS versions only allowed the certification of the residential portion of a mixed-use building, which meant developers could not pursue NGBS Green certification for the entire building. The 2020 NGBS changes that limitation.

    The 2020 NGBS has an expanded scope that allows certification for the commercial portion of mixed-use buildings, if 49% or less of the gross floor area is occupied by commercial space. The commercial area of a multifamily building has two options for certification: Core-and-Shell or Full-fitted Out & Equipped certification. Requirements for the commercial space certification are found in the 2020 NGBS Chapter 13. 

    If certification of the commercial space is desired, the residential portion must also earn certification. NGBS Green certification is not available to buildings that are only seeking a green certification for the commercial portion of the building. Owners and developers can, however, opt to seek NGBS Green certification for the residential portion of the building only. You can find additional information about mixed-use building certification on our multifamily certification pages.


  3. New, Streamlined Certification Path for Single-Family Homes

    Single-family builders, especially high-volume production builders, have largely eschewed seeking green certification for their homes mainly because compliance for most green building certification programs can be complex and daunting. The 2020 NGBS simplifies the compliance process for single-family homes, townhouses, and duplexes by offering a new “Certified” level for compliance.

    Homes can earn the Certified level if they comply with all applicable green practices from the 2020 NGBS Chapter 12. This streamlined yet rigorous certification path requires homes to be designed and constructed to be more efficient than 2018 IECC code-compliant homes, and to include important building practices that ensure the home provides a healthier indoor environment, is more water efficient, and is more durable. To keep verification costs lower with this new streamlined option, NGBS Green Verifiers can batch multiple homes for both registration and verification report submittal. Certification fees are significantly less for this path and, as always, Home Innovation can deliver the NGBS Green certificate within days of receiving the final completed paperwork – no waiting months to present your homebuyer with tangible, display- and brag-worthy proof of certification.

  4. Water Efficiency Performance Path Option

    Until recently, energy efficiency compliance, either for the energy code or for NGBS Green, allowed a choice of performance path (usually with modeling and testing) or prescriptive path (more of a checklist approach). Water efficiency, on the other hand, only allowed a prescriptive approach. But with the 2020 NGBS, that is no longer the case.

    Architects, designers, and builders can now elect to use the Water Performance Path, also known as Water Rating Index (WRI), for compliance. The WRI establishes a uniform methodology for evaluating, rating, and labeling the water-use performance of homes and apartments, including outdoor water usage. Homes using the water performance path earn a WRI, which pegs the water use of the home seeking certification to a standard code-minimum home.

    The WRI provides a more flexible, but no less rigorous, approach to calculating water efficiency, providing architects, designers, and builders with more compliance choices.

  5. More Flexible Renovation Compliance Requirements
    Existing buildings that are incorporating green products, practices, and technologies to be greener and more efficient are an increasing portion of the NGBS Green Certified building portfolio. And now the 2020 NGBS provides some additional flexibility.

    The 2020 NGBS allows recognition of green upgrades that have been completed in the three years prior to NGBS Green registration. This recognizes that many occupied buildings are renovated in phases to not dislocate current tenants. The 2020 NGBS also allows builders to select either a performance or a prescriptive compliance approach for water and energy efficiency.  Finally, the 2020 NGBS includes more green practices that earn points toward certification to provide additional choices to fit any building type, budget, or preference.


The new and improved 2020 NGBS is streamlined, offers more choices, and provides additional flexibility. (And I didn’t even mention the NGBS Green+ badges that recognize features and attributes of NGBS Green Certified homes and buildings that may be particularly marketable to buyers and renters – 6 Golden Things just didn’t fit my theme, but you should definitely check this option out!) Our hope is that builders and developers who may have considered green certification in the past but hesitated thinking it was too complicated and the “juice wasn’t worth the squeeze,” will now find the 2020 NGBS too good to pass up.

For more information, visit www.HomeInnovation.com/Green. Questions? Contact us.

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