How long does it take to be certified as a green home?
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I am planning to design and build a green home in the U.S. and wondering how long we should expect for whole certification process, from design through construction completion.
I think it’s fair to say that all of us reading this site want our homes to be at least somewhat green. I mean, look at the title of this site. But does a certificate make a home green? (What does make a home green? Energy efficiency? Healthy air quality? Resource efficiency? All of these?)
Where does certification fit into the picture? What kind of certification? For what purpose?
OK, let me try answering some questions instead of posing them.
You asked about the certification process from design through construction completion. What you didn’t mention, though, was which certification you’re inquiring about. There are actually several, sometimes competing, green home certifications out there.
I’m guessing -- and not just because this site is hosted by the USGBC -- the one you’re curious about is LEED for Homes. LEED is one of a few options that include Passive House, Energy Star Homes and Living Building Challenge, as well as some regional ones like EarthCraft. Each of them takes a different approach in terms of what is rated and how the certification is achieved.
In terms of the length of the process, they all have one thing in common: to be done right, there should be a pre-planning stage, before pencil is put to paper (or mouse to CAD program), in which the goals are determined with as many of the relevant parties as possible. That would include the homeowner of course, but depending on the project might also include an architect, an interior designer, a landscape designer, a contractor, some of the subcontractors, consultants, and maybe the rater.
The idea is to get everyone on the same page to brainstorm the project, and then to make sure everyone is aware of the environmental aspects of the house. If, for instance, you decide to use super-efficient triple-pane windows, that may mean that your heating and air conditioning systems can be smaller -- you’ll save some space, but more significantly you’ll spend less upfront for the systems (offsetting some or all of the window costs) and the systems will run more efficiently.
So you need to allocate some early design time. If this is done well, though, you may gain back some of that time during construction because there should be fewer snafus and changes if the work is well coordinated.
The next time factor is in fulfilling the certification requirements. This will vary quite a bit with the certification you are pursuing. LEED is probably the most paperwork-intensive of the processes, though it has become more streamlined than it was at first. Whether that extends the amount of time to get the certification depends on who is handling the process. If it’s someone familiar with LEED (as in a LEED Accredited Professional), and who focuses on that while others handle construction, then it might not add much time at all.
Then there is the verification part of certification. This is at the core of a burning controversy in the green certification world. Some certifications can be awarded almost as soon as the building is complete. This is how LEED has worked until recently. The problem is, without checking on how the house actually performs after completion, there is no assurance that it works as it was designed to. Was the insulation installed correctly? Was the air conditioning system balanced well? Are those south-facing window overhangs actually shading the glass in the summer?
I bring that up here not to take sides in this debate, but because it will make a difference in the time it takes to get certification. If you are pursuing Passive House certification, there is extensive testing involved to make sure the home performs as designed. With the Living Building Challenge, the building must have been in operation for twelve months before certification can be awarded.
Green home certification compliance can also get expensive. If it’s LEED that you are thinking of (and I hope my USGBC friends will pardon me for saying this), it’s worth asking what your goal is. Is it the green aspects or is it the actual certification, the plaque outside the building? Plaques may be useful for businesses wanting to promote their environmental responsibility, but I’m guessing that’s not as important to you as a homeowner -- unless perhaps it’s useful for resale value.
Why not, then (and, again, with apologies to the USGBC and LEED), save the filing and paperwork fees and instead apply that money to further greening your home. Let it pay for the solar thermal collectors or the triple-pane windows. The caveat here is that the process of fulfilling the certification requirements helps to verify that things are done right. Without someone looking over your shoulder, the right insulation might not get installed or you might be tempted to skimp on a more efficient heating system.
A long-winded answer -- sorry about that. But we needed to go down that road in order to get back to your question about how long it takes. And the answer is… anywhere from a few weeks of planning, to a year past completion. That’s a matter of what certification you’re seeking, but I think the more important question than how long it will take is what your goals are.