Green Building Certifications

The goal of green building certifications is to evaluate and mitigate a project’s overall environmental impact and establish a baseline of comparison between projects. Standards vary widely in terms of both what they evaluate and how they evaluate it. These range from easily achievable standards that improve a project’s baseline environmental impact to those that push the envelope in terms of energy efficiency or other metrics. When evaluating the approach that best fits a given project, a certification’s ease of implementation, cost, and environmental impact are all considerations.

Points-based standards evaluate elements of a design individually. Often these are prescriptive standards in which you pick which points or credits you achieve with a given design, and certification is awarded based on achieving a given number of them.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED  is a prescriptive (checklist-based) approach to making features of a project environmentally friendly. There are 5 different major LEED rating system categories aimed at specific project types, including single-family homes, multifamily buildings, commercial new construction, and existing buildings. Each system uses a point based metric to evaluate local infrastructure, site conditions, building design, materials, and other design elements to determine a projects final LEED rating. Ratings range from Certified to Platinum.

On average, LEED-certified buildings use less energy per floor area than conventional counterparts. However, some may use more energy than their conventional counterparts as not all LEED credits are related to energy use conservation. Energy use performance-based standards like Passive House and Zero Energy have been shown to reduce energy use more successfully. However, prescriptive design standards like LEED address elements of a design that are outside of the scope of energy use performance-based standards, like water efficiency, materials and resources, and site design. In those ways, LEED is a useful complement to a performance-based standard.

For some of our example LEED projects see:
Sky Apartments
Leilani Apartments
Fort Peck Sustainable Village Housing

Built Green is a realistic and achievable complement to most projects—at its base level, it is the low-hanging fruit of green building certifications. Projects in King County and Snohomish County, Washington can be certified based on completing a checklist of environmentally-friendly action items. Certification ranges from three to five stars depending on how many action items the project complies with.

For some of our example Built Green projects see:
Delano Apartments
Capitol Hill Apartments
Beacon Hill Townhomes

Salmon-Safe’s Urban Development standards are catching on in downtown Seattle and elsewhere. Salmon-Safe requires management practices that protect water quality and restore habitat. The standards within the scope of Salmon-Safe include landscape management practices and stormwater systems performance, rather than the energy use targets or other environmental impacts assessed by other certifications.

The National Green Building Standard certification goes well beyond saying a home is energy efficient; it provides independent, third-party verification that a home, apartment building, or land development is designed and built to achieve high performance in six key areas: Site Design, Resource Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Building Operation & Maintenance.

For some of our example NGBS projects see:

Performance standards set their bar for certification based on “as-designed” performance. This is achieved using energy models: simulations that forecast how much energy a building will use.

The Passive House standard represents substantial improvements in energy efficiency over conventional buildings. Projects are certified based on a simple but rigorous performance standard: a limit on per-square-foot energy use. Buildings that meet this very high level of energy efficiency have carefully detailed envelopes and mechanical systems, and as a result use very little energy for heating and cooling. Buildings that are Passive House certified use, on average, 40% to 80% less energy than a conventional building (LINK)

Zero Energy buildings generate as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. A Zero Net Energy building would have solar panels or another way to generate renewable energy on-site. There are various standards that certify buildings based on this approach, including Earth Advantage, the Department of Energy, and the International Living Future Institute 

These standards are based on actual performance assessed when a building is built and occupied. Therefore, certification with an outcome-based standard can only be achieved when testing the building after a specified duration of time, typically post-occupancy.

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) sets a higher bar than any other standard, requiring projects to be regenerative, self-sufficient, and give more than they take. The LBC is the most holistic green building standard; it concerns not just water, energy, and materials, but also place, equity, beauty, health and happiness. These criteria are evaluated based on actual performance over the course of 12 months after the building is built. One building that attained Living Building certification is the Bullitt Center in Seattle.

The 2030 Challenge pushes for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

Financial incentive programs promote specific efficiency measures and are often compatible with green building certifications. In other words, certifications offer a standardized goal to strive for, and incentive programs help us get there.

Built Smart is an incentive program offered in Seattle that applies to projects with at least five living units. Financial incentives are offered by Seattle City Light to offset the cost of improvements to mechanical equipment and lighting. Built Smart is an opportunity that complements other green building certifications.

For Seattle projects certified as Built Green, LEED, Living Building Challenge, Passive House U.S., or a similar Alternative Path, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections will shorten the time it takes to get a new construction permit through it’s Priority Green Expedited Program.