green certification

What is the value of green certifications?

In today’s home improvement and construction market, the word green seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time. Nearly all products, repairs, upgrades and new projects are attempting to take advantage of the green industry.

While the industry’s intentions are good, the market is so saturated that homeowners are often left in the fog about what green changes are worth their money. While helping the environment is a noble pursuit, it doesn’t always turn people to action. However, if those green changes come with some big savings, then people will line up to sign up.

One of the emerging trends in the green industry is the certification of entire homes under national and state sponsored green certification programs. As with any new green trend, we want to evaluate its value for concerned homeowners. Understanding your options will ensure that your home is green and affordable, rather than just the victim of the most recent marketing campaigns.

National Certification Programs

David Cohen from Energy Upgrade California says,

“The national appraisal organizations have created appraisal processes to help appraisers document all of the green upgrade work that may have been done in a home, but a green home certification is the only way those improvements can be vetted through a third party, leading to credibility and confidence in the information.”

There are a wide variety of national green certification programs available. These larger companies often carry the most clout because of their wide recognition and partnerships with other nationwide companies. LEED is the most prominent green certification program, while the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard, Build Green, Energy Star and Greenpoint Rated programs are close behind. Choosing between these programs is often a matter of personal preference. They each have fairly similar requirements, though homeowners should consider the associated certification fees and how they may differ.

Grand View Builders adds,

“The NAHB has great information on green certification, including a spreadsheet rating system displayed here which compares different certification systems and their cost and technical requirements.”

State Certification Programs

Nearly every state also has its green certification program. In some cases, these programs are sponsored by larger national brands like Energy Star, while in other instances they are managed by the state’s energy department. Many of these programs bear resemblance to the larger national initiatives. However, homeowners may find more value and opportunity with smaller state run programs.

Considerations

Choosing to get your home certified is for many people, a straightforward matter of money. Of course, the exact amount that a home certification program will return to you varies depending on each homeowner’s situation, but there are several steps you can take to determine if you can expect a positive ROI. First, consider all the costs of meeting the program’s requirements. This includes everything from new appliances, parts, labor, and green certified inspectors. If you are having a retrofit done, you may have to pay for additional repair and inspection costs.

Check the real estate market in your area to see if there are other homes that have whole certifications and how that has affected their resale value. Consider that in some real estate markets, prospective buyers can specify that they only wanted certified homes. If your home is located in a market where this is prevalent, you may consider the benefit of being included in those searches.

If you live in an area where green certification is not prevalent and unknown, then the program is probably not worth the cost.

Sam Lazarus notes,

“In the current soft residential real estate market, I am not so sure if such certifications are worth the benefit. There may be a time and place for that, however generally speaking this direction does not convince me as a worth-while investment.”

Alternatives

Across the board, our experts generally agreed that whole home certifications were not worth the investment. Their argument is popular: stating that a homeowner can get the same energy savings and ROI simply by upgrading their existing home appliances and not seeking third party recognition. Upgrading insulation, appliances, heating units, etc. can have huge economic benefits that you’ll start saving on immediately. Furthermore, if you do sell your house, you can use your previous utilities bills to clearly illustrate the house’s energy efficiency. The bottom line: whole home certifications represent a residential space that is exceptionally efficient, but certification is costly and commonly used as a marketing incentive. If those labels are relevant in your home’s real estate market, then they may be worth it. If not, homeowners are far better off upgrading as their finances allow and creating the greenest home they can.