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How NGBS Green complements building codes, adds value.

Michelle Foster
May 6, 2022

Why is it Important the NGBS is Part of the I-Codes?

The National Green Building Standard ICC-700 was developed as a collaboration between ICC and NAHB to create a rating system for homes and multifamily buildings that would be used as voluntary, above-code program. Two aspects of the NGBS were innovative and helped propel NGBS Green to become the most widely used green standard for residentially-used buildings in the United States.

First, the NGBS is written in code language. This doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking, does it? Yet, perhaps more than any other reason, this simple fact has helped the widespread use and adoption of the NGBS because it has made the NGBS accessible to everyone on the project team. Architects, specifiers, general contractors, MEP engineers, subs, insulation crews, HVAC installers – all know and understand the building code. As a result, the NGBS’s compliance requirements are easily understood by the project team. No one has to take special training or hire someone special to understand how to design and build an NGBS compliant building.

Second, the NGBS is designed for a specific type of building occupancy, not type of construction. The NGBS is designed for the buildings where we live. Many building experts scoffed at this idea when the NGBS was being developed. Traditionally, homes and mid-rise or higher multifamily buildings have been governed by separate codes, and green rating systems carried forward the same separation. There are many life safety reasons for this, and commercial construction does present different considerations than residential construction as typically defined by the codes. BUT, there are vast differences between the way commercial office buildings are used, financed, operated, and designed, in comparison to multifamily buildings. And it is these differences that are critical in deciding what green, efficient, and sustainable practices and products are cost effective and provide value. Consequently, green building rating systems written for commercial/office buildings are irrelevant, costly, and provide less value for multifamily developers. Proof of this point can be seen in the evolution of many of the other green rating programs that have been re-written in the last few years to include a compliance path specifically for multifamily patterned after the NGBS.

If we have robust building codes, what value does the NGBS offer?

Building codes are minimum standards for the design, construction, renovation, and maintenance of a structure. Codes protect building occupants from multiple hazards and promote the overall welfare of the community. For the most part, codes are designed to focus on life and safety issues, but also address issues of efficiency and accessibility.

The NGBS is a value-add to the existing suite of building codes. The NGBS sets the current IRC, IBC, and IECC as its baseline and then provides a comprehensive, complementary system by which a building can be designed and constructed to one of four performance levels above the baseline codes. It acts as both code and rating system. As a code, it sets a performance baseline. As a rating system, it allows flexibility as to how buildings meet the performance targets.

The NGBS addresses issues such as resource efficiency, to ensure that buildings are more durable and require less maintenance; indoor environmental quality, to ensure the air inside our homes is fresh and has fewer pollutants; and high-performance construction techniques and systems so residents are more comfortable in their homes while saving on utility bills.

One of the most important ways that the NGBS complements the codes is the requirement for training of building owners, maintenance staff, and residents. Codes typically don’t address training, yet we know that training is key to ensure a building designed and constructed to be high performing is operated in a high-performance manner.

The codes and the NGBS work seamlessly together. As a voluntary above-code system, the NGBS allows builders and developers to incorporate innovative construction practices and new technology to achieve performance levels before they are mandated by code. NGBS Green certification is the reward builders earn by building above code, but eventually when the codes are updated, builders are prepared to be code-compliant because they have had a trial run with these new practices, products, and systems without the risk of being red-tagged by a code official.

How does NGBS Green complement building codes?

NGBS Green is an independent, third-party certification administered by Home Innovation Research Labs, that confirms a building is compliant with the NGBS. Buildings seeking NGBS Green certification are inspected at least twice by an Accredited Verifier who has been qualified, trained, tested, and approved to provide verification services. Verifiers work closely with the project team from design through construction, with a goal of helping the team deliver a high-performing real property asset. 

Because the NGBS baseline is the I-codes, many of the NGBS mandatory practices are also in the code. That means an NGBS Green Verifier will first and foremost inspect the home or apartment building to ensure the building is compliant, and this acts as an additional safety net for compliance. Once a building meets the mandatory provisions, the Verifier confirms the building’s above-code compliance using the NGBS’s comprehensive provisions.

What impact has the NGBS had on the places where we live?

Since the first NGBS version was released in 2009, over 350,000 homes have earned NGBS Green certification. And almost 340,000 homes are under construction and seeking NGBS Green certification. That is a lot of homes that will be using less energy, wasting less water, and having a smaller overall impact on the environment for years into the future.

But these numbers are inconsequential to the average homebuyer or tenant. Do they care if there are 350,000 NGBS Green Certified homes? Probably not. But they do care that their NGBS Green home is healthier, more comfortable, costs less to operate, and requires less maintenance. They care that their kids or grandkids can comfortably sit on the floor in the winter to play and not be cold and drafty. They care that their home presents an efficient fortress to outside weather, and simultaneously ensures the indoor air quality is healthier than a code-minimum home. They care that NGBS Green certification makes theirs a better place to call home.

Why should code officials support the NGBS and NGBS Green certification?

Code officials have a difficult job. Every day they are tasked with making sure that the buildings in their jurisdiction are code compliant. Over the past 20 years, the codes have become increasingly complex, and they are changing rapidly. Non-compliance with the electrical, structural, or even plumbing code can be catastrophic. At the same time, building department budgets are shrinking, or at least not keeping pace with growth, placing code officials under an enormous workload burden.

Most NGBS practices are not as critical as the code’s life safety provisions. But, because NGBS Green requires 100% inspections, building officials can be assured that when presented with an NGBS Green certificate of conformance, these performance criteria are met and the building is compliant. This allows code officials to focus on structural and electrical compliance, while NGBS Green Verifiers ensure insulation, vapor retarders, and capillary breaks are installed correctly; equipment such as HVAC systems are sized and tested properly; and other green practices are installed correctly.

While the NGBS Green certification adds additional cost to construction, the fees are small relative to other construction costs, and the certification can provide additional value. First, it serves as a quality assurance measure for the builder and the eventual owner or tenant. Second, certification often accords the building owner with preferred financing, as with the HUD Green MIP or the Fannie and Freddie preferred green financing, higher valuations, and or local utility credits. Finally, many institutional and international investors are only interested in green certified real property assets.

How else can the NGBS complement the codes in local jurisdictions?

The IECC allows a local code official to deem a national, state, or local program as exceeding the IECC’s energy efficiency baseline as equivalent and use for alternative code compliance. A few jurisdictions are looking at the 2020 NGBS as an equivalent to the 202 IECC to provide alternative compliance options for builders and developers. The NGBS’s innovative compliance scheme allows architects and builders some additional flexibility, while still having to meet the IECC’s performance baseline for energy consumption.

Builders are more likely to support higher baseline requirements when they have flexibility for compliance plus a team standing behind them to help them achieve compliance. NGBS Green can help local jurisdictions gain higher performing buildings, while developers and owners can enjoy the value of a green certified building. For example, a local jurisdiction can simply mandate a higher code, such as the 2018 IECC. Or a local jurisdiction can adopt the 2018 IECC and formally recognize 2020 NGBS Green certification as an alternative code compliance. Builders get to choose. For builders who choose to be code compliant using the 2020 NGBS Green path, they can demonstrate compliance with the local code using the NGBS Green certificate. And, at the same time, NGBS Green certification can earn them preferred financing from FHA or Fannie Mae, marketing value for being green, and investor accolades toward their ESG goals. Just being code compliant wouldn’t earn a builder all these other value-added benefits. With certification comes benefits, and that doesn’t even account for the fact that the local jurisdiction also gets a building that is more water and resource efficient, among other benefits.

Is your local jurisdiction looking to promote higher performing buildings? The NGBS Green Team is here to help in any way we can. Contact us for more information.

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