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 (5) - Green Certification Systems

As green building goes mainstream, it is at risk of being diluted by those who seek to
“green-wash” their product, or make it appear greener than it really is. How can you tell “green-washing” from authentic green building? The answer - through certification by a recognized local or national green building program.

There are 3 major national residential green building certification programs, and many local ones. The 3 national are:

1. LEED-H (or Leadership for Energy Efficient Design – for Homes)

2. Building America

3. Energy Star Homes


Energy Star only looks at the energy efficiency of the home, whereas the other 2 look at a more comprehensive picture. The system for rating the energy efficiency of a house that Energy Star utilizes (HERS rating system) is also the basis for determining the compliance with energy efficiency requirements on 2 other national systems.

LEED for Homes is replacing Building America as the national certification program of choice. The LEED-H guidelines are a product of the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), and were modeled after the commercial green building guidelines that were produced prior to the residential (and which have become very popular in recent years). The system is based on

There are many local green building programs around the country, some of which have been around since the early nineties. Most are sponsored by the local HBA (Home Builders Association), partnered with a variety of nonprofit and governmental groups. And most have a fairly limited scope, and often involve limited verification requirements.

But there is a new breed of local certification that was introduced in 2006 – it is a program which takes the HBA/community group partnership model, and couples it with a newly created set of guidelines developed by the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders). These guidelines raise the bar on green requirements, and they require third party verification. Just as with LEED-H, the builder earns points towards achieving a level (in this case Bronze, Silver, or Gold)

For now, there are two leading options for green building certification – LEED for Homes and NAHB/local HBA certification programs. Both are in their infancy and growing quickly. It does not appear that one will “beat out” the other any time soon. They are both very rigorous, although LEED-H is believed by some to be a little more entailing than NAHB.

GNP Homebuilders will certify homes under either system – one or the other or both, depending on what is called for, or what a custom build client prefers. We also ensure that every home we build receives the Energy Star certification. When you buy a home from GNP you get a metal plaque installed permanently in the house (see picture), verifying that it is certified green under the HBA Green Building Program. You also get a homeowners guide that will help educate you about the green features of the home and how to get the most from them. Every home GNP builds will be certified, and we will refuse to build a home that would not be certifiable. We believe third party verification and a rigorous certification process are essential to honest green building.

When it comes to green building materials, it can be very difficult to separate the good from the not so good. In fact, if you really want to know how  green a particular product is you have to research how it is made, what it takes to ship it to the end user, if it is made of easily replaced resources, if its production results in , if it is recyclable, if it can be disposed of easily at the end of its useful life, how sustainable (long lasting) is it, is it safe for humans to be around, and many other complex questions.

Most green products have a downside. Bamboo flooring, for instance is considered green due to the fact that bamboo is easily replaced (it grows very quickly); but it is also produced in Asia primarily, which means that it must be shipped to the US via barges that are big polluters of the air and water. So deciding what deserves to be called green is a complicated and research intensive affair. That is why a number of independent certifying organizations have come into being.