Within several green building certification programs currently available and on the cusp of release, builders are required and afforded the chance to earn additional credits for engaging and integrating fundamental design and planning steps early in the process. The goal of placing such a high value on design is to achieve optimal site orientation, responsible land use, and the ideal density for the parcel - the cornerstones of sincerely sustainable building practices.

Land development practices, determining lot design, and site preparation are among the first disciplines addressed in most green building programs. Both the forthcoming National Green Building Standards (based largely on the NAHB's voluntary guidelines) and the LEED for Homes rating system nearing release by the USGBC, put those requirements and credits up front to further underscore the awareness and importance of those steps in the green building process.

The LEED for Homes rating system, for instance, requires integrated project planning and awards extra credits toward a higher rating (beyond basic LEED) for a design-build project team and for conducting a design charrette as a preliminary planning tool. Doing so, say program managers, emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive project team to achieve higher levels of sustainability.

Among the land-use and site preparation principles outlined in both programs (and in other certification standards, as well), builders are expected to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and complete a natural resources inventory of the parcel; they also can earn extra credits toward higher rating or certification levels by choosing an infill, grayfield, or brownfield site for the project, orienting the house to achieve passive solar benefits, practicing creative stormwater management, and maintaining wildlife habitat.

Green builders have renewed their appreciation for design partners who help them achieve efficiencies in the construction and on-going performance of their homes. Builders who have dedicated themselves to green building, for instance, realize quickly that they cannot simply add green elements to their existing stock of floor plans and product specifications and achieve desired levels of performance.

Instead, with design partners, they take a systems approach to the concept, reengineering their plans for advanced framing methods and right-sized HVAC systems, for instance, to gain significant and sustainable green benefits.

Finally, the reintroduction of architects and design professionals into the housing sector will serve to present housing design that is more marketable and suitable for today's lifestyle and modern household needs, in addition to providing builders with a design partner in greener housing.