Green Home Certification: What You Need to Know

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In coming years, homebuyers will hear about green-building certifications, but how do you distinguish between tough standards that make a difference and greenwash? Here’s how “green” is defined under two certifications–LEED for Homes and Green Globes–although others are sure to come. Also, keep in mind that if you can afford to custom build, you can be your own quality controller by partnering with a trustworthy builder to create a new home that meets your standards for health, comfort and sustainability.

LEED: Coming soon to a home near you

Ready to buy or build a new home? Trying to figure out how to make that easy on the environment? How do you compare all the materials and technologies available? By 2007 the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) plans to offer a rating system of environmental standards for new homes to help prospective homeowners make more informed decisions.

What is LEED?

In 2000, the USGBC established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program–the green equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal–for commercial buildings. Soon the council will offer the same kind of certification for residential building.

Redefining green

The LEED for Homes program will demonstrate that a high-performance, sustainable house includes comfort, quiet, a healthy indoor environment, low maintenance and beauty, says USGBC spokesperson Jim Hackler.

Making the grade

USGBC is working with builders nationwide to develop a point system to “re-enforce what builders are doing right environmentally,” says Hackler. Homes will be certified as silver, gold or platinum, depending on their scores.

What will it cost?

Homebuyers should be prepared to pay more for a certified home; certification fees are added to the overall home cost. The amount will vary by region: In California, Davis Energy Group certifies condos, duplexes or LEED-subdivision homes for about $1,200; custom homes cost $3,000 (up to 3,000 square feet). New England-area certification fees from Vermont Energy Investment range from $1,000 to $2,000.

Meet the future

Find guidelines for building a home at the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED for Homes Checklist identifies 87 items that earn points in the LEED-Home rating system. Although certification is still months away, these LEED criteria are great guidelines for right now–whether you’re buying a new home or planning to build.

• minimized disturbance of site
• proximity to public transportation and open spaces
• eco-sensitive landscaping and nontoxic pest control
• water efficiency inside (toilets, showers, faucets) and outside (irrigation, rainwater harvesting)
• indoor environmental quality (air filtering, humidity control, radon protection)
• environmentally preferable materials (FSC-certified wood, locally sourced)
• conservation of resources and waste control
• smaller house size (less than the national average of 2,200 square feet)
• energy efficiency (windows, insulation, appliances, HVAC, renewable energy)