The National Association of Home Builders gained a feather in its cap last week when its National Green Building Standard, also known as ICC-700, was formally approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  With this accreditation, the new green standard joins rank with other well-known programs overseen by ANSI, including the globally-recognized ISO 9000 (quality) and ISO 14000 (environmental) management systems.

Positioned in many ways as an alternative to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system, the new standard expands upon existing NAHB green building guidelines that have been in development since 2004. Going forward, it will serve as the framework for third-party certification through the NAHB's National Green Building Program, NAHB Green.

"Builders and home buyers who have been confused by the many characterizations of green building in the marketplace now have a clear, flexible, bona fide criteria defined under the [new standard]," said Michael Luzier, president of the NAHB Research Center.

More rigorous and comprehensive in scope than previous iterations of the NAHB's green guidelines, the ANSI-accredited standard was developed in partnership with the International Code Council (ICC) to jibe with the international residential building code. It provides a framework for safe and sustainable building practices in all housing types--including single family homes, townhomes, apartments, and condos--and includes provisions for both new construction and remodeled or rehabilitated residential structures. The standard also includes a separate green rating system for entire subdivisions, similar to the LEED for Neighborhood Development system.

For builders, a major benefit of the ANSI-approved model, its creators point out, is that it addresses and preempts the potential for compatibility roadblocks in the code framework.

Through collaboration, "we've avoided potential barriers that building fire and safety codes might present to green standards and certification," Dominic Sims, COO of the ICC said during a press teleconference yesterday. "In the field, you often hear anecdotal stories about how two regulations are inconsistent, which can create slow-downs in the construction process and result in costly delays. Coordination here was key to eliminating those barriers and reducing the impact that an uncoordinated system might produce."

Described by its proponents as rigorous yet flexible, the ANSI-approved standard requires participating builders to earn a minimum number of points in areas such as:

• Land conservation and environmental mitigation;
• Site design, remediation, and lot orientation;
• Resource efficiency (e.g., use of recycled and locally-available materials);
• Rainwater collection;
• Construction of smaller homes to conserve resources;
• Energy performance starting at 15 percent above the baseline requirements of the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code;
• Use of low-VOC materials and detached garages or carports to improve indoor air quality; and
• Homeowner education on proper maintenance and operation to maintain green benefits throughout the life cycle of a home.

"There are mandatory requirements across all sections, meaning applicants can't bunch all of their points in one area," Luzier explained. "At the higher levels, a third of the points are discretionary. Once builders meet the mandatory requirements, they can then choose how they want to meet the remaining requirements for additional points."  The result, he says, is a voluntary framework that includes baseline criteria but also leaves room for free-market choice. The standard includes options for bronze, silver, gold, or emerald levels of certification. 

Don Ferrier, a custom home builder in Dallas who has been building "dark green" homes since 1982 and who prototyped the NAHB's new standard before it became official, said the criteria that will be required henceforth to obtain NAHB Green emerald status are comparable to those required for LEED platinum certification. "There was a home I scored yesterday that we'd already scored under LEED-H and the scores were almost identical," he said during the teleconference.

Applying for certification through NAHB Green is a two-step process. In step one, the builder visits NAHB Green online and plugs project-specific information into a scoring tool (an application similar to Turbo Tax) to determine whether the project meets the criteria necessary for certification. Once the project design and specifications are completed, the builder locks down the profile in the software. A third-party verifier, approved by the NAHB, is then retained to visit the project at the rough-in stage, and then again upon completion, to verify that every criterion cited in the scoring tool has been met.  

The cost of home certification through NAHB Green is $200 for members and $500 for non-members. This amount does not include inspection fees charged by third-party verifiers, which are individually negotiated. The NAHB now has 335 approved third-party verifiers in 50 states.  Ferrier, for one, estimates his costs for NAHB Green certification will come in around $600 per house.

Approximately 4,000 projects have been scored online thus far using the National Green Building Standard.

Jenny Sullivan is senior editor, design, at BUILDER magazine.