Greener than green: Seek ‘Emerald’ status for you home

It is the highest level of energy resourcefulness and earth-friendly design in a new or remodeled home.

If you want to make your neighbors green with envy — and make Mother Nature blush red with affection – don’t just settle for building green, aim for the Emerald, as in a home that’s been certified as Emerald status according to the National Association of Home Builders’ National Green Building Standard.

Indeed, green comes in many shades in the construction and remodeling industry. NAHB’s newly formed Emerald level is the target for those aiming for the purest verdant hue.

“An Emerald-certified home has an exceptionally high environmental performance in all six categories of green practices: lot design and development; resource efficiency; energy efficiency; indoor environmental quality; water efficiency; and operation and maintenance,” says Michelle Desiderio, director of Green Building Programs at the NAHB Research Center in Upper Marlboro, Md.

A builder, remodeler or developer must incorporate a minimum number of features in these six areas. To verify that the NGBS criteria are met, an impartial third party must inspect the finished home and tally points for every category met. The more points accrued, the higher the score. A minimum threshold score is required to achieve Emerald certification — a quite difficult but not impossible task, Desiderio says.

“[It’s] like the Good Housekeeping seal for homes,” she says. “The buyer doesn’t have to take the builder’s word that he has complied with the standard. Instead, the buyer is assured that every home has been inspected twice by an independent party to make sure that all or the necessary green building practices were incorporated.”

Alan W. Flenner, a Norristown, Pa., real estate attorney, says the Emerald certification raises the bar across all green building standards. “A home with Emerald certification is at least 60 percent more energy-efficient than a home that meets the minimum requirements of the International Energy Conservation Code, which is standard in many jurisdictions,” he says.

In an Emerald-certified home, water and energy usage is reduced by more than 50 percent. “This is significant because single-family homes represent over 21 percent of carbon emissions,” says Philip Beere of Green Street Development in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If all homes followed the NGBS and the Emerald rating, we could reduce carbon emissions nationally by over 10 percent.”

Beere’s firm recently remodeled a home to Emerald certification, yielding a $2,000 annual reduction in utility bills for the homeowner compared to the pre-remodeled structure. “The cost to remodel this home to Emerald standards was not significant,” he adds.

Desiderio says the NAHB Research Center recently evaluated the costs and technical requirements of bringing two sample code-compliant production houses in Dallas and Washington, D.C., into NGBS compliance. The cost of compliance with the Emerald level was estimated to be approximately 16 percent more than the typically constructed home.

However, “it is not necessary to strive for Emerald certification to achieve real and permanent benefits form a green-certified home,” says Desiderio, noting the lesser but still effective Gold, Silver and Bronze certification levels.

“Even at the Bronze level, which we estimate to cost less than 2 percent additional over the cost of a typical code-compliant home, the environmental benefits and operational cost savings are tangible. A green-certified home is affordable for all housing types and at all income levels,” she adds.

And, aside from being better for the planet, an Emerald home “can be a very valuable selling point,” adding plenty to your home’s resale value, says Flenner.

Desiderio says the NAHB’s Web site will soon provide a “find a builder” feature that will help buyers locate builders who construct Bronze- through Emerald-certified homes. In the meantime, you can contact your local homebuilders’ association for a referral to a green builders and remodelers in your area.

— CTW Features

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