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Understanding Energy

Green Building

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Green Building Programs for High Performance & Energy Efficiency

When people look to buy or retrofit a home or other building, they consider purchase price (the first price tag), number of rooms, the floorplan, and the overall “look.” An increasing number of buyers are also considering the “second price tag” that addresses the operation and maintenance of a building. They are asking questions about energy and water bills, maintenance and durability, indoor air quality, and comfort. In other words, how will the building perform?

If you see the value of both price tags and want to build or buy a better home or building that is “above code,” review the programs listed. Their guidelines take an integrated, whole-systems approach and address the energy and natural resources required to build, operate, and maintain buildings. They recognize the impact buildings have on the environment and the pocketbook.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program

The LEED Program (www.usgbc.org/LEED) promotes green building design, construction, operations and maintenance strategies for homes, institutions, and commercial and industrial buildings. It also promotes sustainable building interiors and neighborhoods. The program considers performance in the following categories: Site Selection; Water Efficiency; Materials & Resources; Energy & Atmosphere; Indoor Environmental Quality; Location & Linkages; Awareness & Education; and Innovation. Points are earned in each category leading to four possible levels of certification.


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The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) National Green Building Standard

NAHB’s National Green Building Standard (www.nahbgreen.org) is for single and multifamily homes, home remodels, and site development projects. The program considers performance in the following categories: Lot Design, Preparation and Development; Resource Efficiency; Energy Efficiency; Water Efficiency; Indoor Environmental Quality; and Operation, Maintenance, and Owner Education. Points are earned for four possible certification levels.

Earth Advantage Institute

The Earth Advantage Institute’s program (www.earthadvantage.org) includes new and existing homes and is currently developing a program for commercial buildings. Program categories: Energy, Water, Health, Land, and Materials.

Environments for Living

The Environments for Living Certified Green program (www.environmentsforliving.com) addresses Energy Efficiency, Durability, Indoor Air Quality and Water Efficiency for three possible certification levels.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star Program

The EPA’s Energy Star Program (www.energystar.gov) is an energy efficiency based program for new and existing homes and commercial/industrial buildings.


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The Passive House Institute, U.S. (PHIUS)

PHIUS (www.passivehouse.us) has developed one of the highest building energy standards that can be applied to new construction and retrofits of homes, institutions, and commercial buildings. The standard saves up to 90 percent of space heating costs. A PHIUS-certified building is very well-insulated, virtually air-tight, and primarily heated by passive solar gain and internal heat gain from people, appliances, equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized through air-tight construction and few if any thermal bridges. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Summer heat gain is avoided through shading and window orientation eliminating or reducing the need for air conditioning. A heat or energy recovery ventilator provides a constant and balanced fresh air supply.

Every program listed entails either a point-based rating system and/or computer verification tool. Neutral, third-party certification (on-site inspections and testing, etc.) is required to ensure quality and high performance.

State and Local Programs

The listed programs may have state or local chapters with websites that provide contact information of trained and certified individuals and companies that can help design, build, remodel, and certify your high-performance building.

Renewable Energy Design Strategies

Most of the listed programs provide certification points for renewable energy design strategies and considerations: