Boost your points in the National Green Building Standard
While the updated 2012 NGBS raises the efficiency bar, it broadens opportunities for certification.
By Cheryl Weber
In the realm of green building certification, remodelers of kitchens, baths, and basements couldn't be blamed for feeling left out. National rating programs have larger fish to fry, namely creating a clear road map for new construction and major renovations. Yet the updated 2012 National Green Building Standard (NGBS), which took effect this year, recognizes these remodeling-industry staples as important points of entry in the sustainable building discussion.
"Remodelers often get called in for kitchen remodels, and the new standard provides a green protocol for the most functional areas of the home," including additions up to 400 square feet, says Michelle Desiderio, vice president of Innovation Services at Home Innovation Research Labs, an independent subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in Upper Marlboro, Md. She adds that once remodelers are working on a green kitchen, it opens the door to a broader discussion with the owner about other energy efficiency improvements, such as an upgraded HVAC system.
The inclusion of small remodeling jobs is just one of several changes made in the latest edition of the NGBS. The standard was created in 2009 in a partnership between the NAHB and the International Code Council (ICC), and it's written in code language so it can be readily adopted as a set of green code provisions if a municipality chooses. In some jurisdictions, voluntary compliance with the NGBS qualifies a project for rebates or tax incentives worth up to several thousand dollars.
Written for new single-family and multifamily home construction and residential renovations, the NGBS offers bronze, silver, gold, or emerald certification under a checklist of categories including energy, water, and resource efficiency; indoor air quality; lot development; and building operation, maintenance, and owner education.
The program has been well received. At last count, 6,850 single-family homes had been certified and 2,203 were in progress. All of the national production builders have used it in one community or another, as has Habitat for Humanity, Desiderio says. The largest adopters are regional builders of 100 to 400 homes per year, who often use it to distinguish themselves from big builders.
While broadening the opportunities for certification, the 2012 NGBS also raises the bar. For example, a bronze-level rating requires homes to be 15 percent more efficient than the previous standard. (The 2012 standard is tied to the 2009 ICC model codes, while the original 2009 standard was aligned with the 2006 ICC. Both versions of the NGBS were set at 15 percent above baseline code.) Water efficiency also was recalibrated to a higher standard, and new scoring opportunities were added for environmentally minded lot design, preparation, and development. Among other criteria, the latter recognizes low-impact building methods and the selection of infill lots to encourage development in urban areas.
An efficient path to points
Using propane building systems and components is a straightforward way for builders and remodelers to boost their scoring in each category for a combined 100 points, according to David Brignati, an architect at Newport Ventures, an independent research group in Davidsonville, Md. For example, widely available propane-fueled appliances such as tankless water heaters and furnaceswhich have AFUE ratings as high as 98 percentearn up to 46 points for energy efficiency. The use of programmable thermostats and green buildingqualified propane HVAC installers also get credits.
In the indoor air quality category, propane contributes up to 27 points when sealed combustion appliances such as direct-vent fireplaces and furnaces are specified. Overall, it's not just about the appliances, but how they're made and installed. A possible 14 lot-design points can accrue for practices such as sharing trenches for utility runs and minimizing the time soil is exposed when the propane tanks are installed. Recycled-content tanks get a checkmark in the resource-efficiency box, too.
Energy-efficient propane-fueled systems have value beyond the point system. They help homes qualify for Energy Star ratings, and many states give significant rebates for higher-efficiency furnaces and water heaters. "We've seen a lot of rebates for upgrading an older appliance to a higher-efficiency model, or specifying it in a new home," Brignati says, adding that rebates for residential projects are usually tied to equipment efficiency, rather than to calculations showing annual savings.
At a time when the bulk of new construction is built without any environmental considerations at all, it's worth noting that "one of the best qualities of propane is that it's a clean fuel, helping to reduce CO2 emissions," Brignati says. "It's leading to a healthier planet in that way as well."
A new Propane Training Academy course, Designing and Building High Performance Homes with Propane, offers a more in-depth look at propane's role in achieving NGBS certification as well as other energy ratings and above-code energy performance programs. Visit the Propane Training Academy to take the on-demand webinar, which is eligible for continuing education credits from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).