Making Sense of Green Home Certifications

By Erik Fowler, Green trends expert

greenhomeThis is the fourth article in a series designed to help you make sense of the green landscape as a real estate professional. REALTOR® Magazine’s Styled, Staged & Sold blog and I are excited to be covering green home trends in America. In the previous article, I provided a quick guide to green home trends. Here, we’ll highlight green home ratings and certifications.

As we discussed in the last few articles, when discussing green homes it’s important to avoid generalizations or greenwashing, and stick to specifics. As real estate professionals, we should always insist on third-party sources of reliable and verifiable information wherever possible.

When people make “green” claims, we need to know exactly what they mean.

Below are the most widely recognized national green building and/or energy efficient programs nationwide. Keep in mind there are local and regional green building programs as well.

For instance, the Austin Green Building Program was not only one of the first programs in the country to develop a regional green building standard, but it is still considered to be one of the very best programs and models.

Commonalities Among Green Programs

All green building programs should ideally share some common attributes, namely:

  • Third-party verification;
  • Performance (points) and/or a prescriptive path designed to set green “targets” in several green categories;
  • Documentation;
  • A resource center for the builder and the consumer.

The point to note is that a standard is followed, documented, measured, and verified. We all know what happens when standards are “self enforced” with no accountability (think latest mortgage crisis).

Also, notice below the various categories of green, what each certification addresses, and recall that green homes do more than address just energy use. While very important, energy is not the only measure of green or sustainability in a home or building.

Green homes also encompass indoor air quality, water efficiency, materials use/selection (recycled or reclaimed), community and environmental impacts. Keep in mind that most green building programs address new construction or major renovations. Each organization often publishes guidelines for remodeling, but remodeling projects may or may not meet the qualifications for the green building program under consideration.

Green Organizations

Each excerpt below is quoted directly from the Web site of the organization.

“. . . LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. (Levels attainable are Certified, Silver, and Gold & Platinum.)”

  • National Green Building Certification (National Association of Home Builders):

“. . . NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines were written by a group of builders, researchers, environmental experts, and designers to provide guidance for builders engaged in or interested in green building products and practices for residential design, development, and construction. The Guidelines were also written to serve as a ‘baseline’ so that NAHB members could easily develop local green building programs. Divided into two parts, the Guidelines cover seven areas, or guiding principles: Lot Design; Resource Efficiency; Energy Efficiency; Water Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality; Homeowner Education; and Global Impact. The Guidelines offer three levels of green building- Bronze, Silver, and Gold.”

  • Energy Star Qualified Home (U. S. Dept of Energy & U.S. Environmental Protection Agency):

“. . . To earn the ENERGY STAR, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes.”

“. . .is able to offer the limited guarantee on energy used for heating and cooling your home because  the combination of special framing techniques, improved insulation systems and efficient ductwork helps manage the energy you use to heat and cool your home. The Environments for Living Certified Green program includes building science features from the program, plus additional requirements in areas such as indoor water efficiency, lighting and appliance efficiency, and indoor environmental quality.”

  • Energy Assessment/Audit and the HERS Index (Residential Energy Services Network):

“. . . RESNET Ratings provide a relative energy use index called the HERS® Index – a HERS Index of 100 represents the energy use of the “American Standard Building” and an Index of 0 (zero) indicates that the Proposed Building uses no net purchased energy (a Zero Energy Building). A set of rater recommendations for cost-effective improvements that can be achieved by the Rated Building is also produced.”


Erik Fowler

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erik Fowler is a REALTOR® with Greenwood King Properties in Houston, Texas, with 10 years of residential real estate experience. He is a national member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a board member of the Houston Chapter, an instructor for GREEN (National Association of REALTORS®), and a certified Eco-Broker®.  He maintains a green building and sustainable growth consultancy and is available for speaking engagements. He has made a lifelong commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and he speaks and writes regularly on these topics. You can contact him at:

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Great Article. Thanks for introducing the importance of third party verification. As a Certified Green Professional with NAHB I strongly agree.

    One point I might share, the NAHB Guideline is now considered a ‘standard’ as it approved by ANSI last winter. I believe it is the first green program in the nation to do so.

    BK Turner

  2. Muriel Lawty

    Thank you for this article. Please pass the idea of green on to other Realtor writers. Last week we were given articles on how to maintain your lawn with chemicals, etc.

  3. Imagine if your an owner builder who wants to build a green home. Building a house for yourself was a lot easier 10-20 years ago. Today, you need the help of a professional to get it done right the first time. GreenHomecoach helps anybody build a green home, while providing an experienced contractor to assist with any aspect of the process.
    As an owner builder, you will save money on the construction of your home, which will allow you to choose the most energy efficient building systems on the market. So, you will save money today, and save money every month in your new home. Do it right the first time with the help of a Builder Coach from GreenHomeCoach.

  4. Brian Burry

    The “Green” movement will be disappointed as it is about the least requested area of Buyers requests. Price and quality are the two High Priority areas of concern. The vast majority want “Efficiency for economics” to keep ongoing energy costs minimized. The primary objective is affordability and that is paramount to Buyers. If you can bring any cost down and use Green, then great, if not it won’t and doesn’t matter. Every thousand dollars of additional costs eliminate too many buyers.

  5. CT

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  6. The more homes to work for green certifications, the more we become accountable for our actions towards the environment.

  7. All working for better environment. What a brighter future for us all!

  8. Great info! Consumers must be well educated in all their options.