Green is the buzzword of this decade and we seem to find it cropping up in some of the most unlikely places. In general, most people can agree that managing the environment and controlling our consumption is a responsibility that humans share. But what does green really mean when it comes to shelter? Certainly homes and businesses could be more energy efficient, and some practices in building can manage consumption in a positive and renewable manner. One thing is certain, “green building” is a complicated concept and there are as many definitions of what constitutes “certified green” as there are opinions in Congress.

So, we decided that an overview of some of the green building and construction programs available would help you to determine which one is best for your own definition of “green” when constructing your log home. These programs each focus on one aspect of the building process to determine the “green” quotient: compiling points, builder training, energy efficiency and materials.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Originally applied to commercial building, it has now been adapted to residential buildings as well. According to the USGBC website, the LEED for Homes® system “awards levels of third-party verification that a building…incorporates strategies aimed at improving performance, increasing energy and water efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, thoughtfully utilizing our natural resources, and improving indoor environmental quality.” The LEED designation offers a homebuyer the assurance that a home meets certain standards for comfort and efficiency without being a detriment to the environment.

The LEED program works by assigning points for various elements that are part of the building process, from design and site use, actual construction and materials, waste reduction, conservation of water and energy resources, and indoor air quality. A certain minimum level of points must be documented though these different stages, and the overall total of points determine the level of qualification: platinum, gold, silver or certified.

The LEED project should have the program in mind from the very start and necessitates a LEED for Homes® provider and green raters who oversee the design and execution of the home. Though the paperwork can be daunting, and LEED homes can be more expensive, the ultimate benefit is to own a home that has documented proof of its sustainability, and characteristic that will become increasingly meaningful in years to come. Registration and certification fees are $375 for USGBC members and $525 for non-members. The LEED Provider will also charge a fee for services and documentation processes during the course of building.

One of the downsides of LEED is that some developers become so engaged in amassing the points necessary for certification, that perspective can be lost. Homeowners should consider whether a tradeoff for a “green” component is equal to or greater than any long-term benefits such as energy efficiency, comfort and esthetic enjoyment. Some products that have achieved LEED approval may be “sustainable” but may develop problems with consistency or durability. Most materials in LEED do not take into consideration the energy consumed to transport the product from distant locations, so the sustainability loses to carbon pollution.

Unlike programs (like LEED for Homes) that certify buildings, Green Builder Certification is awarded to those builders who complete a 40-hour on-line course. An educational program developed by Green Builder Magazine, Green Builder College uses a systems approach to the entire process of designing and constructing a home. It trains builders to understand the “fundamental principles of green building relating to energy efficiency, building durability, indoor air quality, resource efficiency, and water efficiency,” according to course materials. The program builds a compelling rationale for making green building a priority. The introduction focuses on the necessity of creating a balance between the natural environment and the built environment. The course of study encourages builders to make a commitment to building a green team of professionals and materials suppliers. To build green, the course indicates, “(I)t’s not enough to just provide a few green materials and call it a day. Every aspect of the green home bears scrutiny, and every player in the completion process has a role in creating a green end-product.”

The curriculum covers seven major aspects of the green building process: an overview of green building approaches and philosophies, energy basics, energy efficient homes, managing moisture, indoor air quality (IAQ) fundamentals, green building materials and water efficiency. The courses really delve into the physics and science of a building’s relationship with its occupants and its surroundings. For many builders who have learned their profession at the end of a hammer, the reasons behind doing something a traditional way or with a green approach become apparent. Often the differences are not overwhelming, but the results are dramatic. Green Builder Certification seemed to provide the most commonsense and comprehensive approach to building a home by delving into the reasons why “green” provides tangible advantages to the homeowner.

Energy Star Certification applies to the home itself and addresses a range of construction systems all relating to the energy consumption of a new home. According to the Energy Star website energy efficiency is a good place to start when considering building green because, “…the energy used in homes often comes from the burning of fossil fuels at power plants, which contributes to smog, acid rain, and risks of global warming. So, the less energy used, the less air pollution generated.” The Energy Star certification is based on a number of “tried and true” energy efficiencies to reduce the amount of energy consumed and ultimately air and water pollution. The program lays out six areas where energy efficiencies can be designed to meet the certification’s requirements. The six components to the Energy Star rating are: efficient insulation, high performance windows, efficient heating and cooling equipment, efficient products (such as appliances, lighting fixtures and ventilation) and third party verification to ensure that the combination of these efforts result in an energy efficient home. In many respects, Energy Star Certification addresses the biggest contributor to environmental problems, the consumption of energy. 

Certified Green Dealer
is promoted as being the nation’s only program for certifying green lumber and building materials dealerships. It has been developed by a building trades publication called LBM Journal, which targets lumberyards, building supply centers and other building materials retailers. According the company’s website, the program certifies the dealership once “75% of the sales personnel view a series of eight web-based training videos (and pass eight individual quizzes) about building basics, green building, and green building products.” The website offers a sample course offering which explains the sources and consequences of mold in building, and offers ways for building materials dealers can help to educate their customers on how mold can be avoided in construction. The course also offers construction materials manufacturers opportunities for sponsorships of pertinent class modules where their product can be showcased and its proper use can be highlighted. The Certified Green Dealer does offer some green building information to the lumberyard dealer that might not otherwise be available, but the program does not appear to address much beyond the building materials arena.

These are but a few of the green certification programs available in the home building market today. As outlined above, a program might certify the building, the builder or the materials. The route you select to make your own log home “green” may include one or a combination of the certifications noted above, depending on the resources available in your location, your budget and your approach to the balance between you home and its environment.