Green building labels demystified: What's best for your marketing

Focus, and level, of standards vary from one label to another

When it comes to green building, there are some clear "best practices" to consider, including ensuring a tight envelope and good insulation, determining how a building's orientation to the sun will affect its interior comfort and energy use, and using materials that have a low impact on the environment and create a healthy home.

The tricky part comes when you're considering whether to use a labeling system to promote your green commitment. There are many such labels, ranging from those that focus only on energy efficiency, to those that are more related to material choice and broader environmental impact.

To help you assess different labels, we've compared and summarized some of their key points [PDF, 107 Kb].

So which do you choose?

"That's hard to say," says Richard Kadulski,  an architect who has been involved with energy efficient and green building standards and systems since the 1970s.

Kadulski is also author of the bimonthly green building newsletter Solplan Review. "A lot of it ends up being a marketing decision, since a lot of time builders pick up on this as a niche to help differentiate themselves," he says.

Green building labels help builders differentiate themselves from competitors through the promotion of the quality of their building practices. Kadulski's work with the R-2000 program since its inception has proven this out.

"R-2000 was a program driven very much by energy performance, but very quickly it became evident that it was also better building, better construction," he says. "Builders were finding themselves in a niche for being able to deliver better housing and using that to differentiate themselves.

"The big challenge is that the specific upgrades required for energy efficiency sometimes do cost money. But they have the added benefit of enhanced performance. It's measurable over time in terms of lower energy bills, but it also means the home is delivering better comfort and healthier outcomes for the occupants, and the home will be more durable.

"It's a subtle, qualitative kind of thing, but it's deliverable."

Kadulski offers the following comments about green building labels:

  • EnerGuide: useful because it gives a buyer something to compare, from home to home (both existing homes and new homes). (See Marketing 101: the EnerGuide report)
  • Energy Star for New Homes: mainly prescriptive program offering 25-30% better performance than code or standard building practices. Performance option only available to date in B.C.
  • R-2000: probably the highest standard available, with absolute pass or fail criteria; 50 percent more energy efficient than current construction practices (and coming energy code upgrades).
  • LEED: administratively expensive; strong focus on materials but energy standards can vary.
  • BuiltGreen: probably the easiest way to get into a green building program; tiered structure allows builders to test the waters. Energy standards vary widely.
  • Passive House: European standard approximately equivalent to a current EnerGuide rating of 86-88 (and the newly revised R-2000 standard). Administratively intensive.
  • Power Smart New Home: a label that demonstrates a home has achieved an EnerGuide 80 rating.

For more details, contact Kadulski and request the September 2011 issue of Solplan Review.

Where does Power Smart fit in?

"The Power Smart New Home Program provides up to $2,200 per home in incentives for homes that achieve or exceed EnerGuide 80, the nationally recognized level for an "energy-efficient" home," says Power Smart program manager Kari Reid. "We support all green building label options but there must be a minimum focus on energy efficiency — EG80 — to benefit from our incentives and marketing support.

"That level of efficiency assures homebuyers of comfort and value in their new home."

Kadulski expects that green building standards will continue to capture attention in the market. 

"I think there is a growing awareness of environmental impact and energy bills. Energy costs are going up, no matter what. So it becomes a savvy marketer's thing."

For more information contact your New Home Program Advisor, Doug Overholt.