After our recent interview with a GreenPoint Rater, several people wrote to us and we realized that since our last coverage in the Chronicle, many of our site visitors aren’t architects or building officials. They’re interested homeowners, or just plain interested.
Some confusion is perhaps justified. Even a cursory web search for “green building rating systems” turned up a pile of competing standards and organizations, some of which merely promote green building without issuing standards. (Mark, Alan, and myself have all contributed to the answers below.)
What is GreenPoint rating?
Green Point Rating is a system developed specifically for green building in California, with a checklist to guide a project while it is still in the planning stages, followed by several visits from a Certified GreenPoint Rater to verify that all measures are actually implemented during construction. Many jurisdictions, cities and counties are now both requiring the checklist at permit submittal, and a full GreenPoint Rating after construction.
The GreenPoint Rating system includes a wide series of recommended measures, and the home gets additional points for each measure that is followed. The final rating is a cumulative score of some possible 290-300 points. Of course, no home is ever going to get a “perfect” score by doing every possible thing. The intent is to provide enough options so that everyone can find at least a few improvements that they can do. And, according to my sources, it’s not that hard to even score the minimum of 50 points.
However, GreenPoint Rating is really about going beyond the minimum. All new construction must meet Title 24 requirements, but GPR is about exceeding the Title 24 requirements. When a green measure listed in the GreenPoint Rating system becomes part of the California Code, it drops out of GPR, because it is no longer beyond the requirements.
What’s the difference between a GreenPoint Checklist and a GreenPoint Rating?
The GreenPoint checklist is an Excel spreadsheet file that anyone can download straight off the BuildItGreen site. The checklist can serve as a guide to choosing among the many options and possibilities for green homes. On this same download page, you can find PDF manuals that explain each GreenPoint measure in greater detail.
If you refer to the checklist during the design stages, as Klopf Architecture did in this case study, your home can be more efficient both energy-wise and water-wise, with better indoor air quality. The checklist is what gets included with the permit submittal, if your jurisdiction requires or encourages the use of the GreenPoint Rating system.
Who’s behind the GreenPoint rating system?
The GreenPoint rating system was created by a non-profit organization called BuildItGreen, which is located in Berkeley, CA. BuildItGreen was founded by a wide consortium that includes public agencies, building professionals, construction manufacturers and suppliers, and architects. Its aims include raising consumer and industry awareness of the benefits of green building, and serving as a trusted source of information for designers, builders, manufacturers, municipal agencies, and the general public.
How’s GreenPoint Rating different from LEED?
For one thing, it costs a lot less! Green Point Rating costs between $800 and $2000 to complete, and occurs fairly fast. LEED certification is far more elaborate, and can easily cost $10,000 to $15,000. It takes a long time, too.
Many of our design and engineering colleagues at the AIA have expressed the general opinion that LEED for Homes isn’t worth it, although they’re always quick to add that they support green building. And, one of our Title 24 clients is going for LEED Platinum on a remodel – so, in special cases, it might be worth it for the recognition.
What’s purpose of having GreenPoints? Why create a new system if we already have LEED?
Our guess is that LEED proved too cumbersome and expensive for anything other than large commercial or public projects. Despite its good intentions, LEED essentially put green building out of reach of the “average” homeowner.
By contrast, it’s not that difficult to achieve a baseline GreenPoint score of 50-75 points, even for the most basic of homes, lowering the barrier to entry. The GreenPoint system is a simpler collection of options and ideas, which are specific enough to be a real yardstick, yet straightforward enough that you don’t need advanced training to understand it – although to be a fully certified GreenPoint Rater, you do need a fairly strong background in architecture, construction and/or engineering.
What happens during a rating?
You’d most likely use the Checklist in conjunction with actual energy-efficiency improvements, or because it’s required for a permit submittal, and then get the improved home rated after the fact. However, if achieving a higher GreenPoint score is important for you, then it’s a good idea to involve a Certified GreenPoint Rater early in the design process.
Some jurisdictions are now require a GreenPoint Checklist to be submitted along with permit materials. The checklist usually doesn’t have to be filled out by a certified GreenPoint Rater, although there has been some reported initial confusion among Planning officials on this point.
Then, at specific points during construction, a Certified GreenPoint Rater comes out to your house and looks underneath everything to certify that the correct building products and techniques are being employed. After completion, the GreenPoint rater takes all the information and completes the scoring.
Why should I get my home GreenPoint Rated?
Increased home value, smoother permitting process – and, for professionals, green design credentials.
For homeowners, just having your home rated may boost the value or potential value of your home. Adding GreenPoint Rating to a home provides other professionals such as realtors, lenders, and appraisers with a reliable litmus test that this home not only exceeds California’s building and energy codes, but also is healthier and more environmentally friendly than a non-rated home.
Architects who have GreenPoint-Rated homes in their portfolio will enhance their credibility with new clients who care about green homes. Statistics unearthed by our own Alan Hugenot indicate that 28% of homeowners doing remodels want more environmental features in their existing homes. In addition, 43.5% of new home buyers would be more likely to purchase a new home if it offered an energy-saving guarantee.
How does GreenPoint Rating help with a smoother permitting process?
Submitting a permit set with the GreenPoint Rated logo in it sets the tone in advance with building department officials and local governments. The GPR logo tells them that this residence is being built responsibly, and creates a favorable response with the building inspectors.
Local governments are encouraged by state agencies to go above and beyond the minimum requirements in Title 24 in order to meet additional goals set forth in California Law AB32. California’s Climate Change Initiatives Law AB32 requires state agencies to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, by 2020. Coincidentally, 2020 is the same year that all new homes in California are intended to be Net Zero Energy homes. Constructing GreenPoint-Rated homes that reduce a city’s carbon footprint makes good business sense, and thus building officials are predisposed to support plans with the GPR logo.
How widespread is GreenPoint Rating among building officials?
Building officials in both the Central Valley and the Bay Area have endorsed GreenPoint Rating. As of October 2008, 70 local governments had actively begun using GreenPoint Rating in their jurisdictions, and some 200 additional local governments were in discussion with BuildItGreen to begin implementation of GreenPoint Rating. Jurisdictions such as Stockton, St. Helena, Los Altos, all now require some level of GreenPoint rating, or at least a checklist, in order to apply for a building permit. According to John Klopf (case study), the City of Cupertino is actually willing to pay for the GreenPoint Rater for any home that scores 75 or above.
When should I get my home GreenPoint Rated?
You have to get it rated if you’re getting a construction permit in certain jurisdictions. In other cases, a good time might be when you’re already planning some renovations, or you’re planning to put the home on the market.
How can the GreenPoint Rating system help me to turn my home an energy-conserving dynamo?
To really “green” your home, you will need to make informed decisions that match your personal priorities. Depending on which choices you make, you will need to involve various types of building professionals. For example:
- To improve heating and cooling efficiency, you might start by consulting with an engineer who’s accredited through CalCERTS, CABEC, or ASHRAE to offer home energy audits, find out where your home falls as of today, and then move forward from there.
- In some cases, a good contractor can help. In the Klopf case study mentioned previously, the architect did more than go through the checklist; he worked closely with Starburst Construction, a Certified Green Builder, to evaluate materials and and mechanical systems. Many of the GreenPoint credits come from use of proper construction techniques during building, so having an experienced green builder is essential.
- If you’re tired of high energy bills, it might even be time to go all out and convert your home to a Net Zero Energy home. The Monterey Energy Group, a residential mechanical engineering firm featured earlier on this blog, has completed 60 NZE homes to date.
- And of course – last but not least – if you’re considering a major renovation or even just a small addition, consider working with an architect to coordinate your remodeling efforts and maximize space-planning potential. After all, if you’re already making all this effort, why not improve your home’s beauty and comfort while you’re at it?
The good news is many of these professionals are also now becoming Certified GreenPoint raters, and if your GreenPoint Rater can’t provide one particular service that you need, they’ll most likely be able to recommend someone who can.
Does GreenPoint Rating satisfy San Francisco’s Green Building Ordinance?
SF’s Green Building Ordinance is mostly voluntary at this point, and only really applies to commercial buildings. We don’t know exactly when they will implement the standards with enforcement. It’s possible that they don’t yet have the personnel to carry out the task.
How can I find out the GreenPoint “score” for a particular home?
BuildItGreen doesn’t appear to have a registry of the ratings themselves, so you’d have to ask the owner or see if it was filed at your local Planning or Building Department. If it’s a sale property, ask the realtor. Just saying that a home is GreenPoint Rated doesn’t tell you enough specifics about how well it scored and why.
About the author
Rebecca Firestone has been working in the Bay Area since 1998 as a technical writer, business content developer, architectural filing lady, marketing director, and sorcerer’s apprentice.