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  • Jackie Orsa

The Three Major Home Certifications for Sustainability

What makes a home sustainable? Descriptors like green, eco-friendly, environmentally-conscious,

energy-efficiency and sustainable can sometimes blend together and you may be left not knowing what these terms actually mean. Similar to advertisers that market a product as “natural” without a consistent meaning or much regulation, sometimes homeowners can say their homes are “green” without much definition or standard measurement of “greenness”.

A good way to determine a home’s "green" qualities is to look for home certifications. There are three major national home certifications to familiarize yourself with. Each certification is difficult to achieve, setting a high standard for resource-efficient homes. They are incredibly involved and detail-oriented, assessing almost every element in the home. While every label represents different goals with unique requirements and verification processes some elements are common throughout. Homes with any of the certifications below are designed to use less energy, fewer resources, and provide a positive impact on the homeowner and the surrounding external environment. All of the certifications are designed to help homeowner’s maximize financial benefits through lower utility bills, tax breaks, deductions on homeowner’s insurance, and potentially increase the value of the home. Let’s take a more detailed look at the three certifications below.

ENERGY STAR | The Energy Star rating is not just for appliances and other household products; did you know your home can be Energy Start Certified as well? Since the certification was introduced in 1995, more than 1.5 million homes have earned the blue Energy Star label. Homes with this certification are at least 10% more efficient than homes built to code. The goal is to reduce air pollution generated, use less power, water, and other resources, and save homeowner’s money over time.

Energy Star certified homes must meet strict requirements set by the EPA. The requirements differ by region and include a specific energy-efficient performance in all areas of the house including the building envelope, windows, doors, lighting, appliances, heating and cooling elements, and water heating elements. While any home that meets the requirements can earn the Energy Star label, because the program requires quality assurance inspections during the build, usually only new homes achieve this certification. Look up your region’s requirements here.


LEADERSHIP IN ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN (LEED) | LEED certifications are available for all building types and all building phases, including residential new construction or major retrofits. LEED-certified buildings focus on human beings and creating safe and healthy places for humans while also positively impacting the environment. Since its introduction in 2007, over 150,000 homes (including multifamily) have been awarded this certification. LEED-certified homes are "predicted to use an estimated 30-60% less energy than a comparable home" built to code. In LEED-certified homes you will see a reduction in water and energy usage, a design that minimizes indoor air pollution and toxins while maximizing fresh air, and opportunities for financial incentives like discounted homeowner’s insurance and tax breaks. Three major components with the LEED certification are health, savings, and value. The certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council and there are four different award levels for all building types: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The certification process is intensive and includes inspections for building envelope and duct leakage, HVAC refrigerant charge, outdoor air flow, local exhaust, and supply air flow. For more information on LEED-certification for residential buildings, click here.


NATIONAL GREEN BUILDING STANDARD GREEN CERTIFICATION (NGBS) | National Green Building Standard Green Certification is awarded by a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) called the Home Innovation Research Labs. This Certification was introduced in 2005 and is designed specifically for residential buildings. There are over 54,000 homes with one of four of the award levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Emerald. This certification takes into account six focus areas: site design, resource efficiency, water efficiency, energy, efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and building operation, and maintenance. The home must meet certain requirements in EACH of these six areas. The NGBS ensures that homes and buildings who earn this certification are up to par with their high standards when it comes to healthy homes, low operating costs, and a sustainable overall lifestyle. Read more about the NGBS Certification.

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