A Step in the Right Direction

Up is down and black is white when the National Association of Home Builders creates a building standard that costs builders money. After all, NAHB has traditionally fought most types of regulation (think fire sprinklers).

So, why would NAHB push to have their National Green Building Standard accepted by the American National Standards Institute? Why would they push the acceptance knowing that these requirements could eventually find their way to acceptance by the International Code Council which will require builders to comply with potentially costly building practices?

Well, one thing driving NAHB’s efforts is to find a way that builders, remodelers and developers can divorce themselves from the “square-foot-pricing” approach to valuing projects.

I bought a partially finished new home in North Carolina a few years ago and remodeled the third floor, from the studs out. I did it green, green, green. I installed a separate, high-efficiency balanced HVAC system; used no-VOC products, sound-attenuated and gasketed drywall; woven wool carpets; Energy Star everything … and on and on.

When I tried to sell the house the following year, I offered to give my realtor a tour of my work to show her why I wanted to get a premium for my “green” house. She declined, saying, “Just tell me your square footage, and I’ll tell you the asking price.” She didn’t want to see what was behind the walls because she was pricing the home on a square-foot neighborhood comparison. I was defenseless because I didn’t have a benchmark — a verifiable third party — to point to when justifying the premium I wanted to get for the extra dollars I put into the green remodel.

Now, the NAHB has created that benchmark with its National Green Building Standard, which was accepted by ANSI. If a project achieves a National Green Building Standard rating, multiple third parties (NAHB, ANSI) have documented why that project is green. The realtor or the buyer can ask, “Why are you asking 10 percent more for this house, given the neighborhood comparison?” The response can now be: “This house was built green and here is the standard we used; moreover, here is the verified evidence of its materials and performance.”

“The standard provides home builders and remodelers with a much more expansive third-party rating system that they can use to achieve green certification under NAHB Green [scoring tool] and the National Green Building Certification Program,” says Mike Luzier, CEO of the NAHB Research Center. “Consumers are looking for authentic, verifiable green building practices, and now they’ll find them with a true industry consensus standard for residential green building.”

Joe Robson, a home builder in Tulsa, Okla., and chairman of NAHB adds, “The approval signals a new era for the nation’s builders, remodelers and developers and also provides an extra measure of reassurance for home buyers.”

As admirable as the emerging green building standards are — and many aspects of these standards are needed, no matter who pays for compliance — the whole-house, third-party, green-verification systems are in part a strategy for builders to recover their investments by citing something other than “take my word for it” at the time of sale. It’s a good thing because nothing has done more to compromise house quality in my lifetime than square foot pricing. If third-party green verification is the beginning of the end of that broken approach to valuing houses, all the better. It’s something builders and designers of green homes should welcome with open arms.