Green Homes

A "green home" is a residence that has fewer environmental impacts than a conventional home, whether through energy efficiency, responsible material use, water efficiency, indoor air quality, or other sustainability factors.
Credit: Garreth Wilcock

The Green Homes Market

The green homes market, including both new construction and retrofits, is expected to experience significant growth over the next ten years. This could have a lasting impact on the world’s energy consumption, because Pike Research estimates that more than half is attributed to buildings.

McGraw-Hill Construction anticipates that by 2016, the market may have grown by up to thirty-eight percent. The company also estimates that home building professionals will use green technologies in 90% of homes by 2016. Similarly, a survey of home remodelers found that 34% expect to do mostly green projects by 2016. This figure is an 150% on 2011’s percentage of green projects.

Pike Research expects an additional 120 billion square feet of green homes, including both new construction and retrofits, by the end of this decade. The research group defined energy efficient homes "as properties that are built to exceed the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code by at least 15% on a kilowatt-hour per square foot basis". Pike Research believes that the European Union is currently the green homes leader, but that this market will continue to grow this decade because of energy efficiency and carbon regulations.

Green Home Certification

While green homes do not require certification to be considered "green", certification can verify that a house or residence has met specific sustainability or energy efficiency standards. LEED for Homes, GreenPoint and ENERGY STAR are common green home certifications that guarantee a residence's sustainable design and operation.

1. LEED for Homes

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building program has a rating system specifically for homes, which launched in 2008. It certifies residences that have met or exceeded sustainability standards in various categories, including site development, water conservation, responsible material use, energy efficiency, etc. The rating system has become popular, with over 20,000 homes certified as of June 13, 2012. At that time, it had an additional 79,000 homes registered for certification.

To earn LEED certification, the building must meet all of the rating system’s prerequisites, and then earn a minimum number of points by achieving optional credits. The number of points translates to certification levels, which include Certified, Gold, Silver and Platinum (in order).

The LEED for Homes rating system is the only one that requires the help of a Green Rater, who must be present from the design through construction to verify that the home meets the requirements.

2. GreenPoint

Build It Green, a California nonprofit organization, administers the GreenPoint green building rating system. It has similarities to LEED, because it requires that homes earn points in sustainability categories, including energy efficiency, resource conservation, indoor air quality, water conservation and community. Like LEED, it has minimum requirements (or prerequisites) in each of these sections, and has a minimum score for certification.


ENERGY STAR is the Environmental Protection Agency’s free certification program for homes. Unlike LEED and GreenPoint, it only addresses energy efficiency, not other sustainability metrics. ENERGY STAR certification is a component of the LEED for Homes rating system’s Energy and Atmosphere credit category.

Green Homes: Return on Investment

"The Value of Green Labels in the California Housing Market", a study by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley, found that residential properties with LEED, GreenPoint or ENERGY STAR certification sold for nine percent more on average than traditional homes. A home that would usually sell at $400,000 would sell for $34,800 more with a green certification.

The study, which was published on July 19, 2012, analyzed 1.6 million California homes that were sold during the last five years. The study found that certified homes have more value in warmer areas, because they are easier to air condition. Also, areas with more Toyota Prius registrations priced green homes higher, which was coined "the Prius Effect". This suggests that the homes were valued more by consumers with greater green awareness.

Residential Energy Audits

While you may not be interested in building a new home or certifying your current home, a residential energy audit can help you to determine which areas in your house are the best to target for energy efficiency.

Plus, the ENERGY STAR program for New Homes requires that eligible houses are inspected by a Home Energy Rater (HERS Rater) or an equivalent energy auditor.

Some local governments and utilities and governments have energy auditing programs that you can take advantage of. Alternatively, you can look for a local certified energy auditor.

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) certifies HERS Raters to inspect homes, prepare home energy ratings and recommend home energy efficiency improvements.

Similarly, the Building Performance Institute (BPI) provides a variety of green building certifications, including certifications for professionals who provide energy efficiency retrofits. The Building Analyst certification specifically demonstrates a professional's ability to perform whole-home energy assessments.

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