Jamie Carr, Partner at Eco Achievers and NGBS Green Accredited Master Verifier
Eco Achievers is an established green building and energy rating firm operating since 2008. We provide testing, consulting, and verification services for residential green building standards including the National Green Building Standard (NGBS), ENERGY STAR, LEED, Enterprise Green Communities, and Passive House (PHIUS). Since our inception, we have certified thousands of single-family homes and multifamily units in hundreds of projects throughout North America.
How to Get the Most from Your NGBS Verifier
The best way to get the most from your NGBS Green Verifier is to engage them early in the design and development process. First, a Verifier can help advise you on the green standard that will be the best fit for the project. If you’re undecided about which certification to pursue, most NGBS Green Verifiers are well versed in other residential green building standards and can help explain which path might be the best option, given your project’s baseline design and the specific financing, tax credit, or utility incentives. If you already know that NGBS Green is your chosen path, it’s still important to have a conversation with your Verifier early about whether the 2015 NGBS or 2020 NGBS makes more sense. Sometimes the NGBS version a project team selects doesn’t make a difference; other times it can have significant design implications and associated costs. And if it is a substantial rehab, it’s worth talking through with your Verifier whether the new construction path or remodeling path is a better option.
Second, an NGBS Green Verifier can identify mandatory practices early in the design process and help the project team think through NGBS compliance options. Following every initial call about a project, the Eco Achievers team creates a spreadsheet for the client that lists all the mandatory NGBS practices. We advise project teams, especially those pursuing Bronze-level certification, to focus on nailing these mandatory requirements and not get overwhelmed by the optional points.
Thinking strategically and pro-actively about compliance options relating to energy efficiency and ventilation is particularly important early in the design process because it helps establish exactly which measures are required. Depending on the facts and circumstances of a given project, the energy efficiency compliance path selection can have an enormous impact. I also believe that ventilation always merits discussion early in the life-cycle of a project. Many developers are relieved to hear that NGBS doesn’t require direct-vent kitchen exhaust, however implementing whole unit ventilation that complies with ASHRAE 62.2-2010, Section 4, is required in certain circumstances. It’s important to discuss those potential triggers for this requirement, and how the mechanical design will address it, long before construction begins.
Third, remodel projects present special concerns that merit early consideration. There are several substantive differences between the 2015 and 2020 NGBS that can have a major impact on the required scope of work. One example is that the 2020 standard allows a three-year look-back for energy and water efficiency measures that a project has already implemented; the 2015 standard does not, which can increase the number of additional efficiency measures that will be required. Another example is that the 2020 standard has a prescriptive compliance path for water (and energy) efficiency. This can be particularly important for projects that already have relatively low-flow fixtures and might otherwise find it hard to meet the 20% water efficiency improvement threshold. While both these examples suggest 2020 is a better fit for rehab projects, it is not always case. There are definitely scenarios where 2015 will be the better path.
In addition to helping remodel project teams determine which version of the standard to choose, an NGBS Green Verifier will also help identify early on which measures will be mandatory. To identify these mandatory measures for remodel projects, we’ve developed a standard list of questions, several of which have multiple parts depending on how the project team responds. For example, we ask if there is a pool or spa with surface area greater than 36 square feet. If the answer is ‘yes,’ we explain that a dedicated water meter needs to be installed. It’s much more practical to have these types of conversations with the team early so the necessary changes can be incorporated into the work scope, rather than needlessly scrambling to figure things out at the end of a project. On NGBS remodel projects involving ASHRAE Level II audits, there are also some really important coordination issues that should be addressed and resolved as early as possible in a project.
Finally, engaging an NGBS Green Verifier early begins building the relationship of trust between the project team and the Verifier. This is essential for a smooth and efficient certification process. One of the ways we begin building that trust in the initial video call is by using a slide deck to explain each step of the certification process. Doing this allows us to emphasis not just the substance of the standard (e.g., the requirement for RESNET Grade I insulation), but also the importance of process throughout the certification (e.g., before you hang that first sheet of drywall, we really, really need to be notified so we can conduct an insulation inspection). Having your NGBS Green Verifier clearly communicate expectations reduces the risk that non-conforming aspects of the design or construction might jeopardize certification, and it also helps ensure the long-term durability, comfort, efficiency, and proper functioning of the building.
Thanks for your insights, Jamie! Check back for more “Verifier Takeover” posts in the Home Innovation Insights blog in the coming weeks.