AGC Looks at Developments in Residential Green Programs: Day Four of Earth Week

AGC is celebrating Earth Day (officially April 22) all week long by releasing an article a day exploring how the construction industry contributes to building a green future.  You can help us get the word out by linking to these articles via social media during “Earth Week.”  Today’s article (the fourth in AGC’s five-day series) features some of the available green programs in the multifamily and single family homes markets.

No discussion of building a green future would be complete without addressing developments related to residential green building programs.  In crafting this overview, AGC considered that (as a general rule) its membership includes firms that build multifamily residential projects and prepare sites and install the utilities necessary for housing developments; AGC members do not typically build single-family houses.  With that understanding, AGC provides the following overview with the purpose of informing those members who want to stay up-to-date with green developments within the residential market.

The overarching goals of residential green programs are similar to commercial building programs although the materials, products, systems, design, and development reflect the existing differences between the traditional residential and commercial markets.  Green buildings—residential and commercial—aim to: (1) maximize the efficiencies of how a building uses water, raw materials and energy resources; and (2) enhance the well-being of the building’s occupants often through the materials used in the interior spaces or by providing a connection to nature, daylight, and community amenities.

High-Rise Multifamily Residential Programs

Larger multifamily residential projects seeking green certification would use the same codes and standards or rating systems as commercial green buildings.  (Click here for a related article on green building programs.)  The International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code (IgCC) provides model code language that if adopted in a jurisdiction it would apply to structures four stories or taller above grade.  The same applies for the Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings (ASHRAE Standard 189.1), which is a compliance path for the IgCC.  Likewise, high-rise multifamily residential programs would also use the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system for New Construction (or Building Design and Construction) or the Green Globes rating system for New Construction.  Multifamily residential projects (and single family homes) can also seek certification under the Living Building Challenge and its associated Net Zero Energy certification.  ENERGY STAR certification is available for multifamily apartment and condo units.  Neighborhood-scale development projects may choose to use LEED for Neighborhood Development.  In addition, as described below, LEED for Homes rating system covers single family homes as well as low-rise and mid-rise multifamily residential projects.

According to the Green Multifamily and Single Family Homes SmartMarket Report (McGraw Hill Construction, 2014), only 6 percent of multifamily builders report as high as 90 percent of their projects as green in 2013, a number that is expected to grow to 18 percent by 2018.  In addition, nearly all (97 percent) of multifamily firms are aware of LEED for New Construction.  (This SmartMarket report is available on the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) website, click here.)

Single-Family Homes and Low-Rise Multifamily Residential Programs

“Over one third (34 percent) of those building new single family homes are currently doing 60 percent or more of their projects green, and by 2015, 62 percent anticipate being at that level of green involvement,” according to the SmartMarket Report referenced above.  In addition, the two certification programs with most awareness and use are the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard and LEED for Homes.  Below are short introductions to several green programs specific to homes.

  • EarthCraft Sustainable Preservation – Southeast. EarthCraft Sustainable Preservation (ECSP) is a regional green building certification program created specifically for historic buildings.  ECSP offers third-party certification for environmentally responsible design and construction practices for historic buildings in the Southeast. The program is designed to evaluate and highlight what is inherently sustainable about historic buildings while providing guidance on appropriate alterations to make them more energy and water efficient.  Launched by Southface and The Georgia Trust.  Information courtesy of EarthCraft.
  • ENERGY STAR Certified New Home – ENERGY STAR homes must meet energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and undergo third-party verification by a certified Home Energy Rater.  Information courtesy of EPA’s ENERGY STAR Program
  • Enterprise Green Communities – Enterprise aligns affordable housing investment with environmentally responsible building practices.  The certification program for multifamily and single-family projects seeks to ensure that people living in affordable housing are healthier, spend less money on utilities, and have more opportunities through their connections to transportation, quality food and healthcare systems.  Enterprise is launching the 2015 criteria and will phase out the 2011 criteria this year.  Information courtesy of Enterprise.  
  • ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS) – Developed by the NAHB and ICC in 2007, the NGBS provides criteria for green homes four stories or less in height.  Homes can be certified bronze, silver, gold or emerald.  The standard promotes healthy homes, operating efficiencies and sustainable lifestyles.  Certifications are managed through the Home Innovation Research Labs.  Information courtesy of Home Innovation Research Labs.
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes - A rating and certification system that focuses on location and community resources, site issues, water and energy efficiency, materials use, and indoor environmental quality such as radon-resistance and protecting against pollutants in garages.  LEED for Homes applies to single family homes and multifamily buildings both low-rise multifamily (between one and three stories) and mid-rise multifamily (between four and eight stories). Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC); the GBCI certifies buildings and administers the LEED credentialing program.  Information courtesy of the USGBC.
  • Living Building Challenge - In 2014, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) released v3 of its Living Building Challenge.  A building certification program, the Living Building Challenge is comprised of seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty.  The Institute uses the Living Building Challenge as a framework for its Net Zero Energy (NZE) Building Certification program, the only program in the U.S. currently to certify NZE building performance.  The Living Building Challenge is one of three challenges; the other two are the Living Product Challenge and the Living Communities Challenge.  Information courtesy of ILFI.
  • Passive Houses – Within the home building market, several developers will offer passive house (reduced energy load requirements) and/or net zero energy (NZE) house designs.  The Living Building Challenge’s NZE certification can be used for homes (see above).  In addition, a new certification is now available for passive houses.  The PHIUS+ Certification was developed by the Passive House Institute US.  Certification under PHIUS+ also earns designations under the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program and EPA’s ENERGY STAR Certified Home.  Information courtesy of PHIUS.

AGC’s Earth Week Article Series

Read AGC’s article on green buildings for Earth Week Day 1 here.
Read AGC’s article on green roads for Earth Week Day 2 here.
Read AGC’s article on green infrastructure for Earth Week Day 3 here.

AGC also reports on green or sustainability news through its @AGCEnvironment Twitter account.  AGC’s upcoming 2015 Contractors Environmental Conference on Sept. 2-3, 2015, will also feature sessions on green buildings, roads and other infrastructure, click here for the conference details.  For more information, contact AGC’s Melinda Tomaino at or (703) 837-5415.