No one specs wall-to-wall carpet on the first floor of a new home in Tucson, but there are easy credits to be earned for using recycled-content, low-VOC-emitting versions of that floor finish if a local builder follows the National Green Building Program checklist.

With that and other dilemmas in mind, Pima County [Ariz.] Development Services devised its own set of green building guidelines and certification standards to reflect the local building culture without penalizing builders—and, in the meantime, reducing costs.

Now available to builders and endorsed by the local HBA, the Pima County program actually awards credits for what builders don’t do as they achieve green. “Builders were chasing points with things they really didn’t want to do,” says program manager Susan Buchan. “We zoomed out to allow and credit them for using local customs and products.” Tile and exposed concrete instead of carpeting, carports instead of garages, and bare walls rather than paint are among the specs that now earn points rather than going uncredited despite buyer desires and a builder’s budget. There are also extra credits for smaller homes—one point for every 200 square feet under the county’s average of 2,300 square feet. “We’ve lowered the cost of going green, or at least allowed builders to put that money toward another green feature or a lower sales price,” says Buchan.

The practice is rare but not wholly unprecedented. In Seattle’s Built Green specs for single-family housing, builders can get points for not specifying turf grass, gas or wood-burning fireplaces, air conditioning, or PVC piping, among other ­features. In the latest draft of the National Green Building Standard, more points are awarded for smaller homes and footprints as well as for products that do not require additional on-site finishing. “There are plenty of other points to gain if you put in a pool or slightly exceed the square footage threshold,” says Buchan. “We just wanted a program that was as accessible and sensible as possible.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Seattle, WA.