As it enters a second decade of existence, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) finds itself embroiled in a controversy that has significant financial repercussions.
By Mike Collignon and Laureen Blissard
At stake is the continued use of the LEED program by the United States General Services Administration (GSA). USGBC has used LEED to encourage the building industry to raise the environmental bar. But this time, they may have aimed too high. Many material providers are pushing back against the most recent proposed changes, and taking their complaints to Washington, DC.
Sources of Conflict
The first version of LEED was developed around 2000 through an open, consensus-based process led by its committees. The process continues to be utilized today.
LEED v4 has raised hackles because of some of the changes being proposed—in three main. First, there are new credit categories--as well as new prerequisites for products that qualify for inclusion in LEED projects. Second, revised point distribution is intended to tie the rating more closely to the priorities of the USGBC community. Third, and probably most contentious, is a change to LEED’s technical content. Some of the changes would include increased stringency, changing the standards upon which some credits are based, and potential automatic adoption of the changes to standards outside of LEED--which may or may not be on a similar update cycle to LEED.
Putting Version 4 on Hold
As of today, LEEDv4 (formerly LEED 2012) has undergone four public comment periods. The original intent was to ballot this version in June 2012. Per USGBC, as a result of numerous public comments, the balloting has been delayed until June 2013. The official position is that stakeholders in the community need more time to absorb the changes as well as prepare for any impacts to their current business models. In the interim, there will be a fifth public comment period from October 2nd until November 10th.
In order for new versions of LEED to pass, a two thirds approval of the voting membership is required. When USGBC was in its beginning stages, membership was heavily weighted within the professional membership category which included architects, engineers and designers. Recently, it appears that membership group has been surpassed by contractors and builders. Product manufacturers are currently the third largest segment behind professional firms.
Posted: 11/20/2012 9:34:30 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments
Contributed by Cati O'Keefe
What happens when a developer requires every builder to provide a HERS rating for each new home?
The Residential Energy Services Network Home Energy Rating System (HERS) is becoming the standard to gauge a home’s predicted energy performance. While HERS ratings have been used by energy-efficient builders for years, Kennecott Land raised the bar in mid-2011, becoming the first land developer to ask builders to get a third-party HERS score for all homes built in its Salt Lake City development: Daybreak. This TND is projected to include 20,000-units, and is about 15% complete.
According to Cameron Jackson, marketing manager for Daybreak, the company move was a success. “The topline result for why we did it at the time and why a year later we see it as a success is that it gives builders in our community a key differentiator between their new homes and existing homes.”
Kennecott Land says that its HERS requirement dovetails nicely with its other sustainability initiatives, including walkability and efficient land use. The company opted for a program involving energy efficiency, because that is what consumers are focused on. “I think there is a subset of buyers who are after energy efficiency to control their monthly budgets, and there is another subset that looks at the program and simply sees it as a cool plus,” Jackson says.
The builders in Daybreak got on board with the rating requirement with little fuss. “With some builders, it was new and we had to educate them. But once we talked them through it, they saw the value. For many of them it is something new—a challenge.”
The program is simple. When a buyer chooses a house plan, he is given a proposed HERS rating, based on the plan and the selections. Then, when the house is completed, it is tested by a HERS rater, and the buyer is given the actual score.
But what if the final score doesn’t track with the projected score? This doesn’t seem to be an issue according to both Jackson and Steve Baden, RESNET’sexecutive director, who says his organization strongly encourages builders to be conservative with projected scores. “I’ve cautioned builders to do a worst-casescenario HERS score, so if there is a difference it is to the consumer’s benefit.”
Baden is optimistic about the adoption of the HERS rating for new homes. In 2011, he reports, 40% of all houses built in the United States (approximately 120,000 units) had a HERS rating. “Since the [Daybreak] project, we have had 7 of the 10 largest home builders in the United States—including Pulte, KB Home, and Meritage—make the commitment to provide a HERS rating on their homes, as well as 130 local and regional builders,” he says.
Baden believes that the relatively quick adoption of the rating stems from the intense competition between new homes and existing homes, particularly foreclosures. “You can’t ‘Wal-Mart’ a new home anymore; it’s much more expensive to build now, and new homes will be more expensive than existing foreclosed homes. So the differentiator is that the new home is so much more efficient and comfortable than the foreclosure,” Baden says. “HERS becomes like a yardstick, and an easy tool for consumers to understand. They get that a 60 rating is a heck of a lot better than 120.”
Consumers also understand that when they buy a new efficient home, they can expect lower maintenance and lower utility bills, which hypothetically will pay back the higher up-front cost of the house.
“It’s more expensive to retrofit an existing home as energy prices go up,” Baden adds. “And I think people understand that energy prices are going up, but in the past, the [energy efficiency] language was too hard for people to understand, and there was no third party [validation].” The HERS index makes it easier to for consumers to understand and builders to communicate to their clients.
“Putting the HERS index on an advertisement is a lot easier than publishing three paragraphs explaining the energy story,” he adds.
The move toward an increased adoption of the HERS index and a general interest in energy efficiency by consumers bodes well for green building as a whole, Baden asserts. “Once consumers understand one part of green building, like energy efficiency, you see them move to consider other green features as well.”
Posted: 11/11/2012 8:08:54 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments