Measuring Sticks

Measuring Sticks


Measuring Sticks

Six current sustainability standards and how they apply to home construction and operations.


Water filtration

IN THE NEARLY 30 YEARS since the U.S. Green Building Council began envisioning a tool to measure the benefits of sustainable design, the murky waters of certification versus sustainability remain clouded by contending interests. At the core of the conversation is how to achieve true sustainability in everyday living. Technology Designer is pleased to peek at six current sustainability measuring sticks to discern how they apply to home construction and operations.


Gerald Howard

Since its first meeting in 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has become the world’s most widely used green building system with more than 100,000 certified buildings around the world. Founded on a commitment to transforming how buildings are designed, constructed and operated, LEED-certified buildings are proven to save on operational costs, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions and create healthier places for people.

First initiated in 1998, LEED 1.0 began pilot testing with 19 projects and saw a public program launch in 2000. Since then, the LEED rating system of measuring a building’s sustainability has adapted to the changing landscape of sustainable design by expanding building certification programs to professional certification programs and dichotomizing buildings by type. LEED v2009 introduced weighted credits based on the EPA’s Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts to assign credit values based on objective scientific intentions. LEED v4, launched in 2015, increased evaluation flexibility, emphasized building materials and resources, and added a comprehensive approach to water management. LEED v4.1, the current version of LEED, was released in 2019 with updated reference standards and a capacity for buildings to earn points through performance monitoring post-occupancy.

Today, LEED continues to be an influential and informative guide to sustainable architecture. To achieve LEED certification, a project earns points by adhering to prerequisites that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. A project's points cumulatively correspond to a level of LEED certification: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80+ points).

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Administered by the International WELL Building Institute, the WELL Building Standard was launched in 2014 to improve the way people live by developing spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life. With a focus on a building’s human occupants, since 2014 more than 2,000 companies have adopted WELL as an evidenced-base roadmap to increasing human health and performance across their organization. WELL applies the science of how physical and social environments affect human health and wellbeing. Certification objectives outline key building design and organizational strategies across a full spectrum of experiences including optimizing indoor air, water and light qualities, encouraging healthy eating and fitness habits, and creating smoothing indoor environments that promote human comfort and mental and emotional wellbeing.

Projects pursue WELL ratings based on a targeted approach that focuses on a subset of WELL strategies across a specific theme such as health, safety or performance. The WELL Health Safety Rating uses evidenced-based third-party verification to address acute health threats. A WELL Performance Rating measures the building’s capacity to support human health and wellbeing against established benchmarks. The WELL Community Standard applies the principles of WELL to a neighborhood scale to inspire fully integrated, health-focused communities.

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The HERS Index is an industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency. Developed by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) a home’s HERS score gives homeowners and homebuyers a clear picture of the home’s energy performance across all dimensions of the home’s operations.

RESNET is a not-for-profit, membership corporation founded in 1995 to develop a national market for home energy rating systems and energy-efficient mortgages. RESNET is a recognized national standards-making body for building energy-efficient homes through consensus-based standards, transparent review and adoption, and formal public review and comment. By making energy use for all homes transparent, RESNET’s vision is to create a net zero energy residential sector in the United States by 2040.

To calculate a home’s HERS Index Score, a certified RESNET HERS Rater completes a home energy rating and compares the data against a simulated model ‘Reference Home’ of identical proportions. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy determined that a typical existing home would score approximately 130 on the HERS Index. Conversely, homes built to the 2006 energy efficiency standards would score 100, with the lower number indicating better performance. A home with a HERS Index score of 70 is 30 percent more energy efficient than the reference home. A home with a score of 130 is 30 percent less energy efficient.

Making home buyers aware of every home’s energy performance optimizes cost-conscious decision-making. Helping existing homeowners understand how their home is operating and where they can make beneficial modifications to improve performance is also advantageous.

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With 40 years of experience addressing America’s massive shortage of affordable rental homes, Enterprise is the only national nonprofit facilitating solutions, capital and community development under a single roof. Founded in 1982 as The Enterprise Foundation, today Enterprise organizes around three central goals: to increase housing supply, advance racial equity, and build resilience and upward mobility. To achieve these objectives, Enterprise leverages a family of purpose-built affiliates to execute their work.

Launched in 2004, Enterprise Green Communities is the only national green building certification program created with and for the affordable housing sector. While the program has evolved to address the growing threats of the changing climate, Green Communities' focus has always been on resident health and wellbeing. Green Communities certification is available to any housing development in the United States with affordable homes. Presently, 30 states require or encourage developers seeking affordable housing funding to follow Green Communities Criteria.

Following the new 2020 Green Communities Criteria, developments that achieve a 2020 certification will also receive a joint WELL Certification, through a partnership between Enterprise and the International WELL Building Institute.

Five themes are central to the 2020 Criteria:

1. Integrated approaches to affording residents a voice in the design process

2. Zero energy strategies to move developments closer to zero emissions

3. Healthy living through daylight, ventilation and healing-centered design

4. Water standards that promote efficiency and protect against lead poisoning

5. Resilience requirements that prepare homes for local climate hazards

To scale green building practices across the full breadth of the affordable housing section, Enterprise provides grants and technical assistance, partners with researchers, engages policymakers on every level and promotes Green Communities Criteria and certification.

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With roots dating back to 1977, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety is an independent, nonprofit scientific research and communications organization funded by the insurance industry that delivers top-tier science and translates it into action so we can prevent avoidable suffering, strengthen our homes and businesses, inform the insurance industry and support thriving communities. A key component of IBHS’ capacity to meet this objective is embodied in the FORTIFIED designation program.


Categorized among three asset types – FORTIFIED Home, FORTIFIED Multifamily, FORTIFIED Commercial – the FORTIFIED construction method is a voluntary, “beyond code” construction standard that builders and roofing contractors can use to help protect against severe weather. In each of the three categories, owners can pursue designations that validate the structure’s weather resiliency on three levels. A FORTIFIED Roof designation assures that the roof can better withstand high wind, hurricanes, hail, thunderstorms and even tornadoes up to EF-2. Features of a FORTIFIED Roof include wind-rated roof covers, wind and rain resistant vents, sealed roof decks, enhanced roof deck attachments and impact-resistant roof covers in hail-prone areas. Beyond the roof, FORTIFIED Silver indicates that the structure will similarly resist severe weather. Added layers of protection include increased bracing and anchors around gable-ends, chimneys and attached structures, areas susceptible to heavy damage in severe conditions. Finally, FORTIFIED Gold requires an engineered continuous load path, which is a specific plan that specifies how the roof is fixed to the walls and how the walls are anchored to the foundation.

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Home Innovation Research Labs was founded in 1964 as a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Originally a product testing laboratory, Home Innovation Research Labs has grown to become a full-service market research, consulting, product testing and accredited third-party certification agency dedicated to the home building industry. First launched in 2008, the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is an ANSI-Approved green building certification program focused on single-family and multi-family residential. In partnership with ASHRAE, the International Code Council and the NAHB, the NGBS certification uses a point-based system to qualify projects for one of four certification levels – Bronze, Silver, Gold and Emerald.

The NGBS provides a blueprint for builders to follow for the design and construction of new and renovated residential spaces across six key concerns – Energy Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Resource Efficiency, Lot Development, Operation & Maintenance and Indoor Environmental Quality. For a building to attain any level of certification, all mandatory provisions must be correctly implemented. For a home to reach the program’s next certification level, points must increase in all categories.

Energy Efficiency considers lighting, appliances, heating and cooling, insulation quality, and installation and air sealing. Water Efficiency includes low-flow plumbing and water-conserving appliances. Resource efficiency evaluates the quality and methodology of framing and roofing techniques that conserve natural resources, optimize structural performance and lower construction costs. Low-maintenance landscaping, walkability and tree preservation are scored in Lot Development, as is the amount of Operations & Maintenance information provided in the owner’s manual. Indoor Environmental Quality considers the proper equipment, placement, installation, and venting of components that affect indoor air quality and thermal comfort, while limiting emissions of pollutants in the home through Low-VOC materials.

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