standards and incentives: overview » introduction » energy rating systems
In contrast to energy codes, which are usually mandatory, energy and green building rating systems are models of excellence in performance that are not generally enforceable. To achieve a high rating in one of these systems -- which some owners use to help market the properties as energy-efficient -- building owners or developers typically apply to the third-party entity that has developed the standard for certification to verify that their development meets specified criteria. Common energy and green building rating systems include: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes Rating System), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council; the U.S. government-backed ENERGY STAR for Homes; the National Association of Home Builders' Green Building Standard; and Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, which focuses exclusively on affordable homes.

Learn more about energy and green building rating systems that are commonly referenced in above-code programs.

Relationship between codes and rating systems

Energy codes are mandatory minimum requirements that must be met by all buildings that are newly constructed or, in most cases, substantially rehabilitated. Some states and localities choose to go beyond adoption of a code to adopt a voluntary "above-code" option that layers energy rating systems and green building rating tools on top of existing building energy codes. Compliance with the above-code option, which may be included as an Appendix to an existing energy code, results in energy savings greater than those specified in the code.

To receive certification in many of the rating systems discussed in this toolkit, builders and developers must also implement a wider range of green building and environmental sustainability measures, beyond those that improve energy efficiency. Testing is used to verify that the requirements of the rating system have been met, which qualifies new homes or rehab projects in some jurisdictions to receive expedited permitting or other special incentives.

In addition to adopting voluntary above-code measures, some jurisdictions go a step farther to reference energy rating systems in their energy codes. For example, San Francisco's mandatory energy code calls for certain types of residential buildings to meet LEED standards. A local jurisdiction that builds its energy code around an existing energy standard may be able to reduce
Solutions in Action
With passage of the Green Building Act in 2006, Washington, DC became the first major city in the US to require both public and privately-owned buildings to meet energy-efficiency and green building standards. [1] Phased in over a five year period from 2007 to 2012, the Act establishes Enterprise Community Partners' Green Communities criteria as a standard to be met by all publicly-owned residential new construction or substantial renovation projects over 10,000 square feet, as well as by all privately-owned buildings that receive public financing (a) through the DC budget or (b) in an amount over a specified threshold (15 percent) of total project cost. (Commercial developments over 10,000 square feet must achieve LEED Silver certification.)

The Act also created a nominal green building fee, which is assessed on new construction and rehab projects valued over $1,001. The fee helps to fund several related activities, including expedited permitting and other incentives for developers who use LEED standards in their projects and public education initiatives on how to build green. Fee proceeds are also used to expand green building plan review and inspection capacity at the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
implementation and enforcement costs, as a third party takes
primary responsibility for developing and maintaining the standard and verifying that associated requirements have been satisfied.

However, this approach also preempts use of a model code and shifts the added cost (and time) associated with obtaining certification to builders and developers. (While up-front costs associated with obtaining certification may be significant, lower operating and maintenance expenses over the lifecycle of the building should balance out this initial investment.) In an effort to balance these competing demands, some communities require that projects be certifiable under a specified green standard, but fall short of requiring developers to obtain certification. For a thoughtful analysis of these and other approaches, view the City of Seattle's Green Building Task Force report.

Solutions in Action
In 2007, Boston's Zoning Commission adopted a Green Building article requiring that all new and rehabbed buildings larger than 50,000 square feet be built to the appropriate LEED Certifiable standard. The City's Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) also established a Green Affordable Housing Program, which requires developers of all DND-funded affordable housing to build to LEED-Homes or LEED-New Construction Silver standards (depending on project size). Some DND-financed projects must also meet the Energy Star for Qualified Homes standard. (This requirement applies to residential buildings up to 3 stories tall and 4- story mixed-use buildings with ground-floor commercial and 3 stories of residential units.)

Importantly, the City and DND require only that homes be LEED "certifiable" - not that developers actually obtain LEED certification - a process that can be both lengthy and expensive. Certifiability will be determined through a design and construction review process, including requisition approvals, coordinated by DND. (Visit DND's Green Affordable Housing web site to learn more.)

The City has worked with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), a quasi-public state agency, to provide grant money to help developers comply with these standards. Through its pilot Green Affordable Housing Initiative, MTC partnered with eight organizations involved in the development of affordable housing to provide funding and help them build to energy-efficiency standards. The program, which is funded with proceeds from the state's systems benefit charge, also features a renewable energy component that provides assistance with the installation of energy-generating photovoltaic systems or wind turbines.

Click here to leave this site and learn more about the Green Affordable Housing Initiative.

Listen to a podcast from June 2008 with Dana Bourland, senior program director for the Green Communities Initiative at Enterprise Community Partners. She highlights how Enterprise's Green Communities Criteria provide affordable housing developers with proven, cost-effective standards for creating healthy and energy-efficient homes. Also in this podcast, Paul Freitag, development studio director for Jonathan Rose Companies, discusses David and Joyce Dinkins Gardens, Harlem's first green building for low-income families, and the many ways that the development benefits its residents, the community and the environment.

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Energy rating systems and green building rating tools complement energy codes but encompass additional sustainability measures that may result in greater energy savings

Other pages in this section:

West Washington Street Homes
Energy codes, similar to traditional building codes, establish minimum requirements and guidelines for the performance of new construction and existing homes undergoing substantial renovation

Matthei Place
Point-of-sale efficiency upgrades
and audit requirements provide a mechanism for reducing energy use in existing homes when they are put up for sale

Broadway Crossing
Energy saving and emissions reduction laws
create incentives for utility companies to implement energy-saving measures, including home retrofits

Harold Washington Unity Coop
Other incentive-based programs, including density bonuses and rebates on the purchase and installation of energy-efficient products, reward developers and residents that take steps to reduce energy consumption

[1] Legislating Green Communities. January 2009. By Casius Pealer. GreenSource.