Thiel Butner, is the Managing Principal of Pando Alliance and has been an NGBS Green Verifier for 10 years. Thiel’s credentials also include RESNET HERS Rater, PHIUS+ Rater, BPI Building Analyst & Envelope Professional, and LEED for Homes Green Rater. She has worked on projects related to each of these certifications as well as Enterprise Green Communities, the ENERGY STAR residential programs, Indoor airPLUS, and Zero Energy Ready Home. Pando Alliance, a Women’s Business Enterprise, provides third-party rating and verification services to multifamily developers for projects located in Maryland and the surrounding region. The company’s passion for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship is evenly balanced by its real-world practicality.
For many project teams, a Green Verifier is an unfamiliar new addition. When seeking a green certification for the first time, even successful and seasoned teams may decide they can go it alone. Unfortunately, many learn the difficult lesson that a Green Verifier is not only a valuable addition, but one that can save time, money, and frustration. The case study below details the results of one such scenario.
Verifiers Can Serve as an Accountability Partner for the Project Team
A certain developer had been working with the same team of professionals for many years. Together, they had established a comfortable process that typically ran like clockwork, so when they learned of a big tax incentive for an NGBS Green certification, the team was confident they could pull it off without a hitch. The architect downloaded the free checklist available from Home Innovation Research Labs, filled it out, and included it with their permit submission. Then the plans reviewer asked, “Who’s your NGBS Green Verifier?” Uh oh.
The architect had worked on a LEED commercial project before and just assumed that the same project team would verify their NGBS compliance. They soon learned that NGBS Green certification requires independent, third-party verification using an accredited NGBS Green Verifier.
With such a big tax credit on the line, the developer wanted to avoid any further missteps, so they decided to hire the Verifier directly. With this arrangement, the entire team would be accountable to the Verifier, and the developer would have a direct line to the project’s certification status.
Verifiers Overcome Compliance Challenges
Brought in late to the project, the NGBS Green Verifier still needed to review the plans and specs for program compliance. It was clear from the design team’s initial checklist that they did not understand the nuanced requirements of certain practices. They learned that more work was necessary to meet some requirements, but the bigger surprise was that they had left many unclaimed points on the table due to their lack of experience with the program.
Verifiers Are Key Problem Solvers
The Verifier then evaluated the NGBS scoring against local code requirements and the developer’s design standard. The Verifier was able to offer some cost-saving suggestions based on experience gained from other projects. The team agreed with many of the Verifier’s recommendations, noting that several had a minimal or neutral impact on hard costs. Some measures promised reduced operating costs, so the developer also updated their design standard. Upon completing the review, the Verifier was able to show the developer a path to a higher certification tier that would earn an even greater tax credit.
Verifiers Keep the Project on Track for Certification
In addition to reviewing the project’s initial design, the Verifier explained that they must be kept in the loop as other key conversations took place, particularly those about Optimum Value Engineering (OVE). The Verifier was invited to the remaining design team meetings where they shared their broad perspective on successful NGBS certifications, as well as lessons learned from past projects. The Verifier came to understand the developer’s priorities and continued to make cost-effective suggestions that aligned with these preferences. Having followed the project through completion of design, the Verifier was able to confirm to the developer that if built as designed, the project would be able to be certified.
Verifiers Help Manage and Streamline the Certification Process
As the project moved toward construction, the Verifier kept an eye on submittals from the builder to ensure that NGBS mandatory requirements and selected optional measures were not inadvertently sidelined by last-minute product, system, or technique substitutions that appeared to be equivalent.
It was now time for builder orientation. To position the builder for success, the Verifier met with the super and their subs to review NGBS Green program requirements, inspection criteria, and scheduling of the required inspections. The Verifier emphasized that the crew must follow the plans exactly as drawn to ensure a successful certification outcome; and, when questions arose, they must be sent back to the design team for resolution. The Verifier also stressed that the super must allow time in the schedule for the required rough and final inspections.
The developer actively supported the Verifier and strongly encouraged the builder to heed their advice and directives since failure to do so could result in costly re-inspections and construction delays, or may even jeopardize the tax credit. Everyone seemed to understand their roles and agreed to the game plan. And then things got real.
Framing was up with air sealing and insulation well underway when the super remembered that they had forgotten to schedule the Verifier for pre-drywall inspections. Drywall was still a few days out, so the Verifier was able to fit in a visit. Unfortunately, the insulator had experienced significant turnover since the builder orientation meeting, so when the Verifier arrived, they found that none of the instructions provided in that meeting were evident in the insulation work that had been completed. Corrections and a re-inspection were required before drywall could be hung.
The Verifier took the opportunity to review the air sealing and insulation requirements with the new crew, which happened to be working on the next floor during the Verifier’s inspection. They walked through the first apartment and explained Grade I insulation requirements and the nuances of air sealing for compartmentalization. The super and crew lead were paying close attention and taking notes throughout; because they had those notes as a guide to check the crew’s work before the Verifier’s next visit, the re-inspection was a success. Potential for major cost and scheduling disasters averted.
Verifiers Deliver Results
Were there other hiccups and failures along the way? Absolutely. But, when issues arose, the Verifier served as a valuable conduit between the builder and design team, applying their expertise to suggest program-compliant solutions that would keep the certification on track.
With their NGBS Green certification and tax credit in hand, and a fuller understanding of the value a skilled NGBS Green Verifier brings to the team, this developer ultimately decided that all of their future projects would seek NGBS Green certification.
This could be your story too. If you haven’t explored the possibilities available through NGBS Green certification, now is a great time to check it out – the 2020 NGBS has opened up loads of new options for builders of all types, sizes, and in all regions of the country (including the Tropical Zone). The Builder’s Resource Guide is a great place to start; talking to an accredited NGBS Green Verifier (maybe even one with particular expertise in large multifamily buildings?) is your next best step.
Thanks for your insights, Thiel! Check back for more “Verifier Takeover” posts in the Home Innovation Insights blog in the coming weeks.