Sorting Out Green Building Standards

Posted by Farmhouse Media, Dec. 26, 2016

What is a green home anyway? I’d say it’s a home that uses fewer and greener materials and methods to achieve a smaller overall environmental impact, while minimizing energy use and providing healthy shelter.

Oak Terrace Preserve in North Charleston is a neighborhood of EarthCraft homes and townhomes. Photo courtesy of North Charleston via Flickr.

Oak Terrace Preserve in North Charleston is a neighborhood of EarthCraft homes and townhomes. Photo courtesy of North Charleston via Flickr.

The following are among the most prominent, though some states and cities also have their own green building standards.

name description
Build It Green A California standard that merits inclusion just because of the size of the state’s building market. This nonprofit, member-supported organization trains building professionals in current best practices, works with governments to create favorable policy, and offers the GreenPoint Rated brand to help homebuyers learn the value of green-labeled homes. That’s about 9% higher than comparable non-labeled homes in California, according to a recent study. 
EarthCraft A standard developed in and for the hot, humid climate of the Southeastern United States. “Homes, businesses and communities certified through the EarthCraft program must meet a number of criteria that ensure sustainable, efficient design and function. Areas of focus include:

  • Indoor air quality
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency
  • Resource-efficient design
  • Resource-efficient building materials
  • Waste management
  • Site planning.”


EnergyStar Run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; requires homes to use at least 15% less energy than a home built to the International Residential Conservation Code standard, which results in a HERS score of 85 or better. 
HERS The Home Energy Rating System was developed by RESNET to grade the energy efficiency of new and existing homes as compared to a same-sized home that meets the requirements of the International Energy Conservation Code, which scores 100. 
LEED for Homes Run by the U.S. Green Building Council; requires independent, third-party verification, and focuses on eight areas:

  • indoor air/environment
  • site development
  • site selection
  • water savings
  • materials selection
  • energy efficiency
  • resident awareness of a home’s performance
  • and innovation.
  • LEED homes can score at Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels, with energy savings of 29-46%.


Living Building Challenge “Incremental change is no longer a viable option” according to the Living Building Challenge.This aggressive performance standard, probably the most ambitious anywhere, encourages design creativity in all facets of the built environment, from individual buildings to neighborhoods to communities. The standard addresses site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty through design and construction that make the world a better place. The standard requires projects to gather and treat water on site, harvest energy on site, and be built on previously developed sites, for example. 
Passive House Standard developed in Germany and results in a house that uses only 10-20% of the energy of an average American home thanks to:

  • airtight building shell with 0.6 or fewer air changes per hour
  • annual heat requirement less than 4.75 kBtu/square foot/year
  • primary energy (heating, hot water, and electricity) use less than 38.1 kBtu/square foot/year.


NAHB National Green Building Standard A home can achieve a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Emerald rating by incorporating “a minimum number of features in the following areas: lot and site development; energy, water, and resource efficiency; indoor environmental quality; and home owner education.”
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