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Green Home Certifications

Why Certification Is Important

For homebuyers interested in green homes, it is important to learn more about the various green home certifications programs in the market today.

Some certification programs offer multiple certification levels which are based on tiered points the home achieves. Certification provides an independent thirty-party verifier who inspects and verifies the home meets all specific requirements and final approval has been achieved.

Each certification program may take a slightly different pathway to green certification, and the level of rigor and criteria for the certification requirements are based on the level achieved.  However, each program typically addresses green practices such as responsible material selection, sustainable land development practices, site selection, and waste reduction.



Built Green Washington

Built Green™ Washington is a nonprofit cooperative representing local Built Green programs throughout the State of Washington. Built Green programs have been serving as a resource for Washington homebuilders and homeowners since 1996 and are among the most respected local green building programs in the nation.

Built Green programs encourage environmentally responsible building and construction by certifying homes that meet specific criteria. The local Built Green programs are administered by local home builders associations, using a tiered checklist-based system.

There are four Built Green certification levels, 3-Star, 4-Star, 5-Star, and Emerald Star. Each Star certification level requires a certain percentage of improvement above Washington’s state energy code. For 5-Star and Emerald Star added criteria is required. The Emerald Star requires  both clean energy production and Net Zero Energy.


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)®

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a member based-based non-profit formed in 1993, created and manages all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED, rating systems. LEED is the most widely recognized global standard and certification for green buildings. LEED for Homes was introduced in 2008 in recognition of the environmental impact within the residential sector. The LEED for Homes Rating System applies to homes that are newly constructed as well as existing homes which are going through a major remodel.

Homeowners and builders pursuing LEED rating system adhere to the areas of concentration. Projects pursuing LEED for Homes Rating System are built around eight credit categories of sustainable design: Sustainable Sites, Location & Transportation, Energy & Atmosphere,  Water Efficiency, Indoor Air Quality, Materials & Resources, Innovation in Design, and Regional Priority. The weight of each credit category is driven by a point system for certain planning, design, and building decisions. Each of the eight categories carries a different weight in the rating system, energy being the largest and therefore the most important.

Certification can be achieved at four levels. It should be noted that any level of certification requires that all prerequisites me met.

Certified: 40 for base level certification

Silver: 50 points

Gold: 60 points

Platinum: 80 points




The  Living Building Challenge  is  the world’s most advanced and rigorous proven performance standard in the built environment. It was created in 2006 , and is administered by the International Living Future Institute, this standard challenges designers and green builders to create buildings that provide:

  • Regenerative spaces that connect people to light, air, food, nature, and community
  • Healthy and Beautiful
  • Self-sufficient within the resource capacity of their site. Living Buildings produce more energy than they use and collect, as well as treat all water on site.
  • Living Buildings need to be designed and built to operate for a hundred years

The Living Building Challenge certification is comprised of seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty.

Petals are subdivided into a total of 20 Imperatives, which includes net-zero energy, over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy. The imperatives can be applied to almost any building project of any scale-be it a new building or an existing structure.


Passive House Institute US

PHIUS (Passive House Institute US, Inc.) is a non-profit organization dedicated to making high-performance passive buildings the mainstream market standard. PHIUS  third -party certification  incorporates a thorough passive house design verification protocol, with a rigorous Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) program.

PHIUS works to establish specific standards for low energy for buildings, as well as providing training for green building companies and professionals. Passive House has partnered with the Department of Energy (DOE) to incorporate The Zero Energy Home (ZERH) which allows homes and units to become high performance homes, by means that all energy consumption can be offset with renewable energy sources. Passive House homes utilize both solar and superinsulation to build extremely air-tight homes that are incredibly energy-efficient. PHUIS+ buildings offer superior indoor air quality, resilience, and a very quiet, comfortable indoor environment.


National Green Building Standard

The  National Green Building Standard  certification goes well beyond saying a home is energy efficient. It provides independent, third-party verification that a home, apartment building, or land development is designed and built to achieve high performance in six key areas: Site Design, Resource Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Building Operation & Maintenance. NGBS is currently the only residential green building rating system to be approved by ANSI as an American National Standard.


ENERGY STAR Certified Homes

Energy Star program rates products such as appliances, electronics, and lighting fixtures, on their energy efficiency. Energy Star also has a certification that is given to new homes that have superior energy.

The blue ENERGY STAR label on a new home means it was designed and built to standards well above other homes on the market today. When ENERGY STAR’s rigorous requirements are applied to new home construction, the result is a home built better from the ground up, delivering better durability, better comfort, and reduced utility and maintenance costs.

The  Energy Star Program  is run by the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  and is one of the most recognizable eco-labels.



Pearl Certification is a practical, valuable tool for homeowners who want to understand how their homes perform.

A home can earn Pearl Certification no matter when it was built , if the improvements the homeowner has completed have achieved the necessary threshold.

As the homeowner continues to make improvements in the home, they can achieve a higher level of certification.

With Pearl Certification, assignment of points to a home features are based on how the specific features contribute to the home’s performance. The more points a specific feature earns, the more it contributes to the energy efficiency, renewable energy, comfort, and other beneficial factors for the home.

The home earns points for each high-performing feature within these categories: Building Shell, Heating & Cooling, Baseload, and Renewable Energy & Storage.


Earth Advantage

Earth Advantage ®  is a non-profit organization, providing numerous green building certifications, including Earth Advantage Home Certification, Passive House (PHIUS+), LEED for Homes, and Earth Advantage Net Zero. Based in Portland, Oregon and serving most of the West Coast. With over 17,000 homes certified in SW Washington and Oregon and serving most of the West Coast, Earth Advantage is expanding the availability of sustainable homes for homebuyers and their families.


Energy Rating Certification

HERS Index                      

The Residential Energy Network (RESNET) Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index is an industry recognized system by which a home’s energy efficiency performance is measured and labeled. It’s also a nationally recognized system for inspecting and calculating a home’s energy performance. To calculate a home’s HERS Index Score, a certified RESNET HERS Rater does an energy rating on a home and compares the data against a ‘reference home’– a designed-model home of the same size and shape as the actual home, so a score is always relative to the size, shape and type of house tested. The standards, developed by the RESNET, are officially recognized by the federal government for verification of building energy performance for such programs as federal tax incentives, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America Program.



The  Energy Star Program  is run by the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  and is one of the most recognizable eco-labels. This voluntary program rates products such as appliances, electronics, and lighting fixtures, on their energy efficiency. Energy Star also has a certification that is given to new homes that have superior heating and cooling efficiency and feature Energy Star-certified appliances and fixtures.



The Water Sense label allows consumers to recognize products and programs that save water without sacrificing performance or quality. This label is issued by the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  for products that are 20% more water-efficient that average products in the same category. The products must also perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts in categories such as toilets, faucets, urinals, and showerheads.



This certification accredits forest managers, manufacturing companies, and controlled wood products that exhibit responsible consumption of forest products. FSC  is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and the certification is completely voluntary.



Based on the renowned book by William McDonough and Michael Braungart of MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), the  Cradle to Cradle  Certification verifies that a product uses environmentally safe and healthy materials and is designed for material re-utilization, recycling or composting. It must also consider energy efficient manufacturing and the use of renewable energy. Finally, the manufacturing process must make efficient use of water and protect water quality.


The Nutrition Label for Building Products

Developed by the International Living Future Institute, this database is considered the “nutrition label” of building products.  The Declare platform gives the consumer transparent key product database information that is concise and simple to understand.   It only provides building products whose ingredients have been Third-Party Verified.


GREENGUARD certification helps identify healthier products.

Their certification ensures that a product has met some of the world’s most rigorous and comprehensive standards for low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into indoor air.

This certification has been widely adopted as a trusted standard for low-emitting products. In fact, more than 400 green building codes, standards, guidelines, procurements policies, and rating systems give credit for GREENGUARD Certified products.




FLOORSCORE is the most recognized indoor air quality (IAQ) certification standard for hard surface flooring materials, adhesives, and underlayment. This certification was created by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) in conjunction with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) to test and certify hard surface flooring and flooring adhesive products for compliance with rigorous indoor air quality and low-VOC emissions requirements.


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