In the past four years, tens of thousands of homes and apartments have been NGBS Green Certified by Home Innovation Research Labs, yet the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) and the Home Innovation NGBS Green Certification program are still not as well-known as the LEED green building rating system. If you are seeking a green certification for your residential project, NGBS green certification is affordable, flexible, and yet rigorous. Below is a quick primer as to why you should consider NGBS green certification for your next project.
The NGBS and Home Innovation NGBS Green Certification Program are specifically designed for residential buildings. All of the green practices and requirements in the NGBS were selected by the NGBS Consensus Committee for their applicability and relevance to improving the performance of single-family homes and multifamily buildings. Homes are fundamentally different in their function, financing, operation and maintenance, and use than other building types. Sure, some systems, performance metrics, and objectives are similar; but the differences are significant enough that one size doesn’t fit all. Use the right tool for the job. For residential construction, the NGBS was crafted solely for residential buildings and the NGBS certification program is administered by an independent, third party with 50 years of residential experience.
The NGBS is the most rigorous national green building rating system available for residential buildings. Many people express disbelief at this assertion. How could the NGBS, whose development was facilitated by an industry trade association, be more rigorous than LEED? Like LEED, the NGBS has a set of mandatory practices (LEED calls them prerequisites) that must be successfully implemented for a project to be certified at any level. Also like LEED, the NGBS has six categories of green practices from which architects and builders select the practices they will incorporate into their homes and multifamily buildings. That is where the similarities end. For LEED certification, a building must attain a certain number of total points from any of the green building practices. For NGBS certification, a project must meet the point minimum in every category of green building practices. Each and every NGBS Green Certified project must incorporate sufficient green practices designed to increase resource efficiency, boost energy efficiency, reduce water use, minimize land development impacts, improve the indoor environment, and help ensure the building’s future performance through informed owner operation and maintenance. Further, to attain higher levels of NGBS certification, the project must incorporate an increasing amount of green building practices in every category of green building practices. This stringent requirement is designed to ensure that projects attaining higher certification levels are designed at higher performance targets for every aspect of green building. Got a net-zero energy home? Fabulous. But even with a very energy-efficient, high-performance home like that you can’t attain Emerald, the highest certification level in the NGBS, unless you also attain the Emerald point minimums for the five green building categories other than energy efficiency. If you are looking to set your projects apart from the competition from a performance perspective, only the NGBS ensures the highest level of rigor.
While the NGBS is the most rigorous rating system, there is still no other green building rating system that provides more flexibility. The NGBS is an expansive, point-based system that allows architects, developers, and builders great flexibility to select the green design and constriction practices that make the most sense for their specific project type, climate zone, budget, design, and performance objectives. Homes and multifamily buildings certified at the Bronze level must attain 321 points, yet the 2012 NGBS has over 700 green practices and 1,300 total points available. Flexibility is important for two reasons. First, the wide range of residential buildings creates diverse and myriad project goals for architects, builders, and developers. Consider the vastly different design considerations of a typical single-family home compared to a Habitat for Humanity home, let alone the differences between any single-family home and a high-rise urban apartment building. Second, the flexibility allows rational design decisions based on the project’s location. NGBS Green Certified homes in the dry Southwest typically meet their additional point requirements from water-efficient practices, while homes in the colder Northwest usually select practices designed to reduce energy use.
Every NGBS Green Certified project is twice-inspected. Even if you are constructing high-performance buildings, do you really know how high-performing they are without verification? As one of our national multifamily clients declared, “It’s easy to say you are doing anything, but quite another thing to prove it.” Every NGBS certified project gets inspected at least twice by a verifier accredited by Home Innovation Labs. The first inspection must be before the drywall is installed so the verifier can see the green practices behind the wall, such as proper insulation installation. The second inspection must be when the building is complete. Multifamily buildings will likely be inspected even more frequently as the drywall is installed in phases. Accredited NGBS Green Verifiers must visually inspect all of the green practices claimed by architect and builder before awarding points toward certification for those green practices, products, or technologies. Home Innovation Labs has stringent rules to ensure our verifiers are experienced and independent from the builder or developer. The requirements for independence and the rigorous inspection protocol provide assurance that the building complies with the NGBS and that the green practices have been installed correctly. Verifiers must submit their inspection reports to Home Innovation Labs and our certification staff reviews every single inspection report for accuracy and completeness before issuing the NGBS Green Certifiied mark.
All green certification programs have three buckets of cost, no matter what the program. First, the compliance costs, or sticks and bricks. In 2009, we did a comprehensive analysis to determine the increased cost for a code-minimum home to attain NGBS certification. Our analysis demonstrated that the Bronze certification level cost approximately 1.7% more for a $250,000 single-family home. Four years later we regularly hear from our builder partners that with experience that cost can be considerably lower. For multifamily buildings we typically hear the increased cost is approximately 0.12% of total construction costs. The second bucket of cost is the certification fee. Our fees are reasonable and simply calculated. Single-family home certifications cost $200 and multifamily buildings are $200 plus $20 per unit. There are no hidden fees for interpretations, technical assistance, or registration. We provide all of those services as part of the certification fee to our clients. Finally, there are the verification costs. NGBS Green Verifiers set their own rates and with over 400 accredited nationwide the market is quite competitive. They are not assigned “territories” and travel freely which ensures you can get the best price. This will be the largest bucket of costs associated with your NGBS certification, however, most of our architect, developer, and builder clients find it well worth the value, as discussed in #6 below.
So what do you get for the additional costs of a NGBS green certified building? Simply put, you are buying market differentiation from the competition; an independent, third-party certification for your high-performing asset; a risk mitigation strategy for future energy price volatility; and a risk mitigation strategy for higher appraisal values. Every credible consumer survey in the past 10 years has indicated that consumers value the benefits of high-performing homes even if they don’t specifically ask for “green” or “environmentally-friendly” features. Consumers overwhelmingly want homes that have healthier indoor environments, lower operating costs, and are part of a more sustainable lifestyle. Some consumers will pay more today for these features, and in some markets statistically significant data has demonstrated that green certified homes and buildings are selling for more and/or selling or leasing faster. But marketing green homes can be tricky, and frankly, many builders get it wrong. Home Innovation Labs can provide you with the marketing collateral and expertise necessary to promote your NGBS certified projects and stay on the right side of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidance on green marketing. Our website allows homebuyers and renters to search for NGBS certified and in-progress properties. Likewise, our verifiers work to ensure that the high-performance building you have designed or commissioned is what results from the construction process. Verifiers can help avoid or even correct myriad construction issues such as poor insulation installation and wrong product installation (even when the right products were specified and ordered). Their on-the-ground expertise can help builders implement additional green practices they hadn’t considered. For architects, liable for the performance of the building for years, on-site verification can help ensure the plans they design are actually constructed as designed. For builders and developers, it is an independent validation system to ensure the quality of the asset. Last, while green certified homes and multifamily buildings may not attain an appreciably higher value today, if commercial properties are any indication, the green certification mark may very well command higher valuation in future years. If that is the case, seeking a credible national green certification, so long as it is affordable and practical, is a smart risk mitigation strategy for any builder or developer.
Selecting a green building certification program may seem daunting, and understandably so. Too often the design and construction requirements are difficult to understand; the certification process unclear; and common professional advice is to hire an expensive consultant to shepherd you successfully through. Our philosophy is quite different. We believe the process should be simple and streamlined so that any industry professional can see their way through the process and requirements on their own.
Still have questions? Please feel free to contact us directly. Our goal is to respond within one business day. We advocate for architects, developers, and builders to have a choice in green building certification programs so you can select the program that serves your projects best. We aim to be your certification program of choice. With over 50 years’ experience in residential building science research and testing, we look forward to putting our team to work for you.