Founded in 1999, EarthCraft House is a highly regarded residential green building program for the Atlanta area that continues to receive accolades from green building professionals around the country. In fact, as one of the oldest green building programs in the country, EarthCraft House was influential in the development of the USGBC’s LEED for Homes and the NAHB’s National Green Building Program.

EarthCraft House is sponsored by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association in partnership with the Atlanta-based nonprofit Southface Energy Institute. With support from state agencies and home builders associations, EarthCraft House certifies homes in the 28-county Atlanta region as well as South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia.

As a verifier for EarthCraft House, Todd Usher knows the program inside and out because he also builds EarthCraft House dwellings as president of Greer, S.C.-based Addison Homes. In addition, Usher is a verifier for LEED for Homes and the National Green Building Program, which has given him a unique perspective on the regional nature of EarthCraft House.

“EarthCraft is a little more straightforward than either of the two national programs; one of the real benefits is the simplicity and straightforwardness of the scoring sheet,” he says. “In fact, the two national programs looked hard at EarthCraft when developing their criteria.”

Energy Efficiency

Priority No. 1 for homeowners in the steamy Southeastern states served by EarthCraft House is energy efficiency, says Obie Hammons, construction manager at Atlanta-based Brock Built, an EarthCraft House builder. “Especially with the economic conditions we are facing now, clients want to know what their utility bills will be,” he says. “They know that an EarthCraft home is an energy-efficient home.”

Besides hot weather, the region’s inhabitants also deal with pollen and air-quality issues for much of the year, says Dina Gunderson, director of marketing for Monte Hewett Homes in Atlanta. “How all of that relates to indoor air quality is one of the biggest things people ask about, especially families with elderly members, children, or asthmatics,” she says. “And that’s one of the big things an EarthCraft home can deal with especially well.”

EarthCraft House certification requires a home to meet energy-efficient standards and more. The program follows a systems approach to home building that stresses an understanding of how the components of a home work together. Guidelines address energy efficiency, durability, indoor air quality, resource efficiency, waste management, and water conservation for any size or style home at any price point.

To achieve EarthCraft House certification, each project must achieve a minimum of 150 points from the program’s scoring sheet. Select and Premium status are awarded to homes that meet additional criteria and achieve 200 and 230 points, respectively. In addition, homes must meet Energy Star certification criteria, including diagnostic tests for air infiltration and duct leakage.

A Simple Process

Pros like Hammons appreciate the program’s streamlined checklist and user-friendly process. “You just submit your scoring sheet at the beginning and wait for the inspection,” Hammons says. “Then they do the inspection and let you know if you need any changes.”

The program is also lauded for its flexibility. “How you get the points on the worksheet is up to you,” Gunderson points out. “So the way we build a Monte Hewett EarthCraft house is different from the way another builder does it, so we are able to differentiate ourselves from other EarthCraft builders.”

More than 5,200 single-family homes and 2,500 multifamily units have been EarthCraft House-certified region-wide, according to communication manager Ted Cater. In addition, five developments in the greater Atlanta area are recognized as EarthCraft House communities.

Participating builders say they appreciate the local nature of the program and how it is tailored to the area’s specific--but diverse--green building market, which includes projects ranging from urban infill homes, suburban bedroom communities, and rural farmhouses.

“One of our EarthCraft homes was for a cattle farmer from Oklahoma who moved to the area and wanted an energy-efficient home on his ranch,” Usher recounts. “So his high-performance home is in the middle of 100 acres, surrounded by cows and farmland.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome magazine.