[Editor’s Note: The Earth Advantage Institute is our latest column guest, talking about how they help to educate others on green building choices. Tom Breuning penned this piece for them.]
If you’re looking at building green, the options can be confusing. In the Northwest alone, there are multiple green building programs for new homes, green rating systems for new homes and remodels, energy efficiency standards, and beneficial new technologies and equipment to consider.
The Earth Advantage Institute staff are happy to explain it all to you. Spun off from PGE in 2005 as a nonprofit green building resource, the organization shepherds regional green building efforts. Earth Advantage Institute (EAI) works primarily with builders and designers, educating them through classes and coaching them during new construction projects so that their homes and commercial buildings can reach certification. EAI outreach staff also instruct builders on how to earn financial incentives that typically more than pay for the cost of certification.
At the same time Earth Advantage Institute seeks to be a resource for consumers, homebuyers and homeowners, and other professionals in the home industry. Its website offers a searchable database of green builders participating in its programs, as well as how-to articles, newsletters, an online magazine and blog.
A Range of Green Building Programs
The organization offers builders a range of points-based home certification programs run by expert consultants who come directly from the building industry. Builders who are thinking for the first time about sustainable construction may want to consider the Northwest ENERGY STAR program that certifies homes as 15% more energy efficient than Oregon code.
Builders who are considering moving beyond energy efficiency towards more sustainability may want to build to the Earth Advantage New Homes standard. This certification requires earning points across 5 categories: health, land, water, resource efficiency and energy efficiency. These homes offers healthier indoor air through low-VOC finishes; sustainable materials that last longer and protect the home; low flow fixtures that reduce water usage, and resource-wise construction techniques that use less lumber, produce less waste, and minimize the impact on the site.
Experienced green builders may want to aim for LEED for Homes certification, which can require more interaction with the verification organization in creating a high performance home. Like the Earth Advantage standard, it scores across multiple categories and includes points earned for innovative techniques.
Getting an Edge through Professional Certification
EAI’s education department offers courses for professionals and homeowners, ranging from the introductory two-hour “What’s Green Building?” class to the 12-day (over six months) in-depth “Sustainable Homes Professional” (SHP) certification course for builders and architects.
“Since receiving my SHP certificate in the fall, I have been able to up-sell two different projects on energy/efficiency upgrades, expand a smaller kitchen/bath remodel job into a much larger whole-house approach that addresses a long-term vision of efficient living,” says Ryan Weeden of Foursquare Design Build LLC. “I am currently proposing another whole-house retrofit.”
The department’s mission is also to bridge the various “silos” in the home industry so that each professional group, from realtors to appraisers and lenders, can understand the green building value proposition and help pave the way for more green home building. EAI has already trained close to 1000 Earth Advantage real estate brokers who form the front line in discussing the benefits of sustainable construction with clients, contractors and lenders.
Technical and Research Services Push the Envelope
EAI seeks to be at the cutting edge of the green building industry by providing technical services, consulting and research that can help clients and industry partners assess green building results and obtain access to much-needed data. In partnership with the Energy Trust of Oregon, EAI developed the Energy Performance Score, a voluntary miles-per-gallon style label for homes that enables homebuyers to compare energy consumption and related carbon emissions between two houses based on design. The Energy Performance Score is being rolled in pilot programs across the country, funded by local cities, states, and the U.S. Department of Energy.