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Energy-Efficiency Certification: A Green Seal of Approval for Your Home

October 31 2009

Provided your home meets a minimum threshold for energy efficiency, you may be eligible for certification under a range of national and regional energy-efficiency certification programs. Even if you don’t already meet required thresholds, a few inexpensive improvements may be all that stand in your way.

Certification through programs such as ENERGY STAR, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Green Building Program, LEED for Homes and others can show potential buyers that a home promises significant utility cost savings over homes without certification – a major selling point in today’s economy. Certification also helps ensure that homebuyers and sellers alike are making greener choices that reduce overall environmental impact.

Read on to learn more about a range of energy-efficiency certification programs and how to participate.


To qualify for certification under the ENERGY STAR program, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Homes must be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and typically include energy-saving features that make them as much as 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes. Some of these features include effective insulation, high-performance windows, tight construction ducts, efficient heating and cooling equipment and energy-efficient appliances.

According to ENERGY STAR, homes certified through its program use substantially less energy for heating, cooling and water heating, resulting in average savings of $200 to $400 annually. Additional savings on maintenance can also be significant, and ENERGY STAR homes are eligible for financing through energy-efficient mortgages.

The EPA reported in July 2009 that nearly 17 percent of new homes built in 2008 earned the ENERGY STAR label, up from 12 percent in 2007. According to the EPA, American families living in ENERGY STAR homes slashed more than $250 million in annual utility bills in 2008 alone, saving enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 29 million cars.

NAHB Green Building Program

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) launched the National Green Building Program in February 2008 – an education, verification and certification initiative for builders located anywhere in the United States. For a home to qualify, an independent home energy rater must verify that it adheres to the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and the ICC 700-2008 National Green Building Standard, which award point values across a range of categories, including lot and site development; resource, energy, and water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and homeowner education.

The NAHB website features an interactive scoring tool that helps homebuilders and homeowners alike guage how a home will score according to the Guidelines and Standard. The scoring tool also provides continual feedback, helping those who use it to understand what steps they can take to make a home more green.

Both single- and multi-family homes, including renovations, are eligible for certification through the NAHB program. To locate an accredited National Green Building Program verifier, use the state-by-state listing on the NAHB website or call the National Green Building Hotline at (877) NAHB-GRN.

LEED for Homes

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998. LEED ratings measure the overall performance of homes in the following eight areas:

1. Innovation and design process
2. location and linkages
3. Sustainable sites
4. water efficiency
5. Energy and atmosphere
6. Materials and resources
7. Indoor environmental quality
8. Awareness and education.

There are four levels of LEED ratings – certification, silver, gold, and platinum – awarded according to the  number of points a home earns in each of the above eight categories.

Participation in the LEED for Homes program requires third-party inspection and verification through LEED for Home Providers and Green Raters. LEED for Home Providers are organizations selected by USGBC to provide certification services in local and regional markets, and Green Raters are individuals who work as part of the Home Providers team to perform field inspections and performance testing. The USGBC maintains an updated list of providers on its website.

New homes, renovated homes, and multi-family homes that meet LEED standards can be marketed and sold as LEED-approved, which can significantly increase their resale value.