exploring green interiors – certifying sustainable homes

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exploring green interiors – certifying sustainable homes – By Beth Haley

Through this series of articles and products, it is my hope that you are beginning to feel a little more knowledgeable about sustainable and green building products, practices, processes, and goals. Our aim is to break down barriers of confusion on the subject.


Hopefully, you understand the components that include energy and water conservation, environmental protection, improved indoor air quality and health, enhanced comfort, and durability. If you are overwhelmed by the concepts and how to best achieve these goals, there are several programs that can assist you in the process as you decide to what degree your home can become sustainable. Programs can assist homeowners in the process, evaluation, and completion of their project. Each is independently certified, providing assurance verification of the strict guidelines set forth by each organization’s programs. Four programs available in our area are:  Energy Star, EarthCraft, NHBA National Green Building Program, and LEED.

Let’s break down the differences in these programs. Energy Star’s single focus is on energy reduction and efficiency and is therefore the least complicated to achieve. Goals are determined by the US Environmental Protection Agency and are set to achieve 20 to 30% more energy efficiency than standard homes. Areas reviewed are the home’s building envelope, air ducts, equipment (heating, cooling, and water heating), lighting, and appliances. The cost for evaluation and certification is the least expensive or involved of the four discussed here. Source: http://www.energystar.gov.

EarthCraft, created in 1999 by the Atlanta Home Builders’ Association and in partnership with Southface, measures energy and resource efficiency. EarthCraft certification allows flexibility in the level of performance and can be achieved by any size or type of home, whether new or remodeled. EarthCraft homes start with Energy Star certification and must achieve diagnostic tests for air infiltration and duct leakage. EarthCraft guidelines include site planning, building and systems energy efficiency, resource design efficiency, resource-efficient building materials, waste management, indoor air quality, indoor and outdoor water conservation, homeowner education, and builder operation.

EarthCraft remodels start with an EarthCraft house inspector who inspects the home and writes an evaluation along with recommendations. The homeowner’s level of participation in meeting the recommendations determines whether the home is certified EarthCraft, and a scoring worksheet determines the level of certification. Source: http://www.earthcrafthouse.com.

The National Association of Home Builders’ (NHBA) National Green Building Program, developed in 2005, sets standards for lot design, resources, energy and water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, homeowner education, and global impact. You can achieve bronze (entry-level), silver, gold, and emerald certification depending on your level of participation. Certification can be achieved by single-family, multi-unit homes, commercial projects, residential remodels, and site development projects. As with each of these programs, certification comes from a certified third party. Source:  http://www.nahbgreen.org.

The first, and probably the most comprehensive and well-known program, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, was developed in 1998 by the US Green Building Council. LEED was created to define “green building” by establishing common standards of measurement; promote integrated  whole building design practices; recognize environmental leadership in the building industry; stimulate green competition; raise consumer awareness of green building benefits, and transform the building market. The rating system covers sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation, and the design process. Achievement can be made at four levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum. Source: http://www.usgbc.org/ LEED.

Each of these programs requires written documentation and outside third-party certification to protect the program’s integrity as well as consumers. Certification allows homeowners and the institutes who created the programs the ability to test, monitor, and improve the programs.
What does this means to you and me? We are able to measure and benefit from the performance. And when selling our homes, we stand out among the rest, as certified, better performing, sustainable homes. Benefits from start to finish! —By Beth Haley of Beth Haley Design

Editor’s Note: Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, assists clients with all phases of renovation, remodeling, new construction, and décor. Haley has won awards from the Tennessee Chapter ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). She is a member of ASID, ASID Sustainable Design Council, HGTV Designers Portfolio, Home Builders Association Remodelers Council, National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and the USGBC. E-mail your questions to her at ngregg@ ngregg.com or visit http://www.bethhaleydesign.com.

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