Voluntary. Flexible. Market driven. National.

That's how the National Association of Home Builders touted the launch of its trademarked National Green Building Program during the International Builders' Show in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday. That launch includes a new Web site that builders can eventually use to score the design of their houses to the specifications of green standards that the association is currently seeking approval of from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It also includes a training program for the army of verifiers this program is going to need to certify projects submitted by builders and developers.

Speaking before a standing-room-only audience at the convention, Emily English, who manages the program for the NAHB, noted that more than 100,000 homes had already been certified under other HBA-related programs. She added that the national program is not meant to supplant local home builder association (HBA) green programs. In fact, English anticipated opportunities for co-branding the respective programs. "Our program is for builders that don't have an HBA program to go to," said English, adding that one of the major benefits of the association's program would be its "national recognition."

This launch, though, adds NAHB's Green Building Program to the growing list of green building certification regimens, including most prominently the LEED for Homes program that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) launched in December. A few days before IBS, USGBC added 20 "providers," thereby doubling its number of consultants who help builders comply with LEED certification standards. To date, more than 540 homes have been recognized at LEED certification levels of Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Another 12,940 have registered under the program and are currently under development.

Some builders and developers with LEED-certified homes or communities see the NAHB's program as a possible stepping stone for builders that might eventually move up to LEED. "We believe a rising tide raises all boats," says Michelle Moore, USGBC's senior vice president of policy and market development, who recently took over the residential component its is program.

During her presentation, however, English asserted that the NAHB's program-whose standard will be known as NAHB ICC-700 and is expected to receive ANSI approval by May-would be comparable, in its certification stringency to LEED, and would be more cost effective. (For example, English assured builders of homes larger than 4,000 square feet, which often have difficulty complying with LEED standards, would be able to achieve certification under its new program.) And where LEED for Homes essentially targets the top 25 percent of builders and developers, any builder (including nonmembers) can participate in the NAHB's program, which has three basic steps:

  • Builders must register their projects on a new Web site, www.nahbgreen.org, and can then use a "scoring tool" that allows them to keep track of what they want certified in seven areas of concentration: lot preparation, resource efficiency, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, operations/maintenance/homeowner education, and global impact. Tom Kenney of the NAHB Research Center, which is administering its green program, said that the scoring process is similar to using Turbo Tax software. One hundred points of the total needed to earn one of four certification ratings-bronze, silver, gold, or emerald-relate to market-specific standards that, according to English, "make our standards relevant."
  • Builders must hire verifiers who have been trained by the NAHB Research Center. Those verifiers cannot work for the association or the builders whose projects are being assessed. Before being accepted as a verifier, the persons must have at least one year of professional experience in the home building industry. Their performance will be audited by the NAHB Research Center on a regular basis. The association has three training courses scheduled for prospective verifiers through May, although Kenny indicated that more would probably be scheduled soon. However, he was unable to answer a question from the audience about when verifiers would be on the ground and ready to be hired.
  • The NAHB emphasized that any analysis of a builder's construction practices would be kept confidential, and that verifiers had to receive builders' permission before submitting their evaluations. The NAHB is charging a $150 verification fee per project (higher for nonmembers). The verification can be submitted several ways: by mail, fax, or e-mail.

While the program is set up to be voluntary-in that the builder decides which components of the house it wants scored-the energy-efficiency rating requires compliances with some mandatory standards based on the International Energy Conservation Code.

While English pointed out that the National Green Building Program is certifying homes, not builders, the NAHB is also offering a Certified Green Professional program, that trains people to help their companies comply with the new standards. For more information on this program, go to www.nahb.org/CGPinfo.

This article was revised with additional information on Friday, February 15, 2008.