If You Fail to Plan, You Should Plan to Fail

 How builders can plan and prep for green builds to make it easier to achieve green

By Jerud Martin

Throughout my home building career, I have been asked many times, “What is the secret to building green homes?” The answer is simple:  You have to build a “green plan” before you start to build a green home. Included in every responsible builder’s plan should be a reputable, green scoring tool and a third-party rater/verifier to ensure your build is successful.

The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is my green scoring tool of choice. Not only is it ANSI-accredited, it’s one of the most rigorous, thorough, and nationally recognized green building scoring methods that exists in our country today. The NGBS has several “chapters” or areas of consideration that, when implemented, provide a holistic approach to green building. These chapters focus on lot design, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor air quality, and owner education. 

Planning for a thorough approach to building and scoring across all chapters is critical when building a home to any NGBS level. Unless a certain number of points are scored in all chapters, the home will not be able to reach a desired level of certification. However, if one of these key areas is more important to our clients than another, the NGBS allows for extra focus, or earning of additional “points,” in any one particular chapter. It is very important to understand each key area and to communicate the value that each aspect brings to our clients. 

As an example, if any of our clients has asthma or other respiratory illness, it is important to look closely at the indoor air quality chapter of the NGBS. Understanding air sealing techniques, fresh air ventilation, heating and cooling equipment requirements, building material off-gassing, etc. are all essential in creating a healthy indoor environment. Because clean and healthy indoor air is the focus, it is critical to plan for best design practices and material selections prior to materials being delivered to a jobsite and installed in the home.  

“Proper planning will not only eliminate potential surprises during the build, it will allow clients to have an improved home design and higher level of performance when it is complete.”

The end of the framing phase should not see the HVAC contractor and job superintendent standing inside the framed home figuring out where to place the ductwork, or surprised that the air handler needs to be in a conditioned space, or that this space needed to be large enough to handle both an oversized media filter on the furnace cabinet and a heat recovery ventilator. Proper planning will not only eliminate potential surprises during the build, it will allow clients to have an improved home design and higher level of performance when it is complete.

The best way to build out an effective green plan prior to constructing a home is to work closely with a third-party rater/verifier. Discussing goals and talking about best practices, prior to building any home, keeps the level of design and quality much higher with regards to the finished product. Our third-party rater/verifiers are competent in all chapters of the NGBS and they are there to offer help prior to, during, and after a home is completed. Testing performance, verifying best practices and installation methods, and offering ways to improve our craft are all extremely valuable to me as a high-performance home builder. With a competent, third-party rater/verifier as a part of our team, we are much more successful at putting a good plan into place and ensuring all of our homes are built to a superior level of quality.

Understanding our clients, using the NGBS scoring tool, and working closely with our third-party rater/verifiers are the best ways to plan for green building success. By sticking with these three principles prior to constructing any home, the path to achieving a high performing, green built home will be much smoother. In the end, design and performance will excel, and our clients – or any future owner of a green constructed and certified home – will benefit from the forethought given to  promoting their comfort and well-being.

Jerud Martin is the owner of Washington-based Urban NW Homes and an NGBS consensus committee member. He can be reached at jerud@urbannw.com