What defines a “green” home? There are certain adjectives we associate with green building: high-performance, energy-efficient, durable, sustainable, healthy, environmentally benign, and so on.

As early as the mid-1990s, innovators in the residential building market began to recognize the value of establishing certification programs to make green a quantifiable attribute. Examples such as the Green Building Program in Austin, Texas; Built Green Colorado; and Atlanta's EarthCraft House resonated with developers, builders, and home buyers to transform regional markets. But with more than 70 regional green home programs operating across the country, the definition of green still varied. Beginning in 2005, green residential-certification programs took to the national stage for the first time with the introduction of LEED for Homes.

In the past several years, the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED products for commercial buildings have emerged as the dominant brand in green building, and LEED itself has become the dominant national environmental design standard. As the former chair of USGBC, I am a leader of LEED for Homes, the council's first foray into the residential sector. The LEED for Homes program is currently in its pilot phase in select markets around the country. The pilot rating and delivery systems will be revised as needed, based on feedback from pilot participants and the public, and will be balloted by USGBC before the fully chartered program begins sometime this summer.

Under the LEED for Homes system, builders are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the materials and practices installed in the field meet stringent criteria aimed at rewarding the top 25 percent of homes with best-practice environmental features. But good green buildings ultimately begin with design. In fact, the teams that have been approved by USGBC to administer the program and certify homes—officially designated as LEED Providers—are finding that the impetus for green building often comes from the architect. LEED for Homes and other green home standards give designers a framework for creating a building that maximizes occupant comfort while minimizing impact on our natural resources and the surrounding environment. The following guidelines are intended to give architects a taste of what to expect when designing to meet established green home standards.

small but strong

Design for durability. To the uninitiated, the mention of a “green” home brings to mind glamorous products and technologies—bamboo floors, cotton insulation, photovoltaics, and ground-source heat pumps, for example. Designers might be surprised to learn, however, that virtually every green home standard we have encountered places far greater emphasis on durable construction techniques that are later hidden from view than on flashy finish products. Proper details for flashing, drainage, and pest resistance ensure that the building materials have the longest possible useful life. Low-maintenance design of everything from flooring to landscaping ensures that less time and money and fewer chemical products are consumed throughout the life of the home. Green building standards offer significant incentives for homes designed for maximum durability. Architects wishing to learn more about durable home design can seek out building science research from such sources as the National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) database, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Building America program.