Consumers coming to value green home ratings
To the construction layman, HERS ratings might as well be females’ favorability of a particular building. And for that matter EarthCraft certification, to them, could denote something made of natural resources.
Either way, the typical consumer has little idea about the relevancy of perhaps two of the most important markers of a home’s ability to perform efficiently.
Such ratings, those who develop and build high-performance homes say, legitimize their efforts in deep-green construction and gives them a competitive edge. Without them, prospective buyers have little more to go on than a builder’s word.
“Certifications are bragging rights,” said Matt Belcher, a St. Louis builder who also serves as chairman of the Green Committee of the National Association of Home Builders. “The end result is trying to get to a better building.”
Those focusing on high-performance construction equate the Home Energy Ratings System (HERS) to the miles per gallon listing for a vehicle. It tells a potential homeowner what they can expect in terms of a home’s efficiency.
Though HERS scores are the industry standard on efficiency, they are not widely known among the purchasing public. In fact, many within the residential construction industry have advocated that HERS scores be posted on the face of new homes, much like restaurants must post their health safety grades to the public.
Standard new homes typically receive HERS scores of 100, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A home with a HERS index of 70 is 30 percent more energy efficient than a standard new home, while one with a score of 130 is 30 percent less energy efficient.
EarthCraft certification means a home has been designed to suit unique climate conditions. EarthCraft projects are built for energy, water and resource efficiency, durability and superior indoor air quality. All are considered key factors in achieving a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.
Certified third-party raters conduct assessments for HERS and EarthCraft certification.
The Proud Green Home at Serenbe, which was unveiled to the public in August, stands at the pinnacle of the ratings systems. It received a HERS score of -2, which means the home, once occupied, is projected to actually produce more energy that it consumes. The structure also earned EarthCraft platinum status, the organization’s highest rating, based on factors such as site planning, resource efficiency, indoor air quality and durability and moisture management.
“This is a better way of developing and building,” said Luis Imery of the Imery Group and builder of the Proud Green Home.
See a slideshow of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.
For many builders, certification standards provide a new, more stringent degree of targeted quality. What they tell consumers is that a builder has been held accountable to reaching a higher level of achievement.
Belcher said the pursuit of strong HERS scores and other efficiency certifications reshaped his company’s approach to building. Rather than simply constructing something they perceived as efficient, the programs refined his company’s processes and got it focused on the “right” areas.
“It raises the bar for all builders,” Belcher said. “They made me a better builder.”
There are a number of certification programs across the country. While they might issue scores based on different factors, all of them are the closest things to quality assurance in home building, said Dennis Creech, co-founder and executive director of Southface, which administers the EarthCraft certification system.
“Code is the bare minimum of building a home, so you can’t build a house anything less than code,” he said. “But that’s not what green is about. Green certification provides the extra quality people are looking for.”
Of course, the value of certifications will depend on those who live in a particular home, Creech said. Generally speaking, though, certification defines a structure as a “special house.”
“When done well, green homes are always healthier,” he said. “Few of us don’t value the health of our families. Most of us value the hard-earned dollars we have. So when done well, a green home is going to have less operating costs, not just on energy and water bills, but also on maintenance costs on the life of the home.”
Many clients who work with Belcher are initially oblivious to home ratings and certifications. But their mindset quickly changes once the relevance is explained.
“At the end of the day, they feel a lot better about what they’re doing,” he said. “All of a sudden, that rating that wasn’t important at all when we first met … now they’re proud of that. They see it as a milestone for them, too.”
Story by Steve Arel
Photo by James Moses, Bisig Impact Group © 2013
Read more about the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.