8 Most Popular Green Building Certifications

Updated: Jan. 24, 2024

Interested in sustainable living? Gain insight into popular green building certifications for single-family homes in the U.S.

Digital generated image of house icon made out of leaves on white green background.ANDRIY ONUFRIYENKO/GETTY IMAGES

The Power of Green Building Certifications

In recent years, the concept of sustainability has gained momentum in the field of construction and has led to widespread adoption of green building certifications. These programs offer a framework to assess and improve the environmental performance of new and existing residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

Earning certification provides an array of benefits, such as reduced energy consumption, lower utility bills, improved indoor air quality and a reduced carbon footprint.

Upfront investment in green building certification also makes properties more valuable. According to Energy Star, studies have shown that certified energy-efficient homes have sale and re-sale price premiums ranging from 2% to 8% higher than non-certified homes.

Here we’ll focus on the certification process for single-family homes from a homeowner’s point of view, delving into the key features and requirements of eight popular green building certifications.

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Fhm Green Building Certifications Leed Leadership In Energy And Environmental Certification Courtesy Usgbc
Courtesy Usgbc

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization, created Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) as a certification system for sustainable and environmentally sound buildings. LEED certifications are awarded in levels ‘Certified’ through ‘Platinum,’ based on points earned for sustainable sites, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, material selection, water efficiency and waste reduction. Some categories are required, others are optional.

There is a LEED certification suitable for all building types in all building phases. For individuals wishing to have a new construction home built to achieve LEED certification they can complete the following five steps themselves or have their builder complete them on their behalf, however all certification costs are the responsibility of the homeowner.

  1. Register the project with the USGBC for a flat fee between $325 to $525.
  2. Hire a Green Rater certified through the USGBC to oversee the project. Costs will vary depending on the scope, size and locality of the project. Walker Wells, a sustainable building expert at Raimi and Associates, a San Francisco area consulting firm, says homeowners should expect to pay a Green Rater, “between $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the level of certification that is being pursued, what green features or materials need to be reviewed and what on-site tests are conducted.”
  3. Verify project milestones and achievements through on-site Green Rater inspections.
  4. Submit the LEED application to USGBC for review. This is included in the registration fees.
  5. Receive the certification from USGBC, which can be used during home sales to verify construction elements to prospective homebuyers.
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Fhm Green Building Certifications National Green Building Standard Courtesy Ngbs
courtesy NGBS

National Green Building Standard

The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is a third-party certified, residential green building rating system approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a private, non-profit organization that oversees voluntary conformity standards in the United States.

Both new and remodeled single-family homes can be awarded a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Emerald certification level, depending on the number of green practices successfully incorporated into the design and construction. Certification focuses on lot design and development, water and energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and building operations and maintenance.

While builders can attain certification to present to prospective buyers and renters, individuals who would like a home built or remodeled to meet the NGBS have six general steps to follow.

  1. Hire a builder familiar with NGBS certification.
  2. Hire an NGBS Green Verifier who will conduct required inspections and handle all administrative tasks throughout the course of your project. Verifiers work independently, have varying rates and can be found online.
  3. Register the project with Home Innovation Research Labs (HIRL), a third-party certification agency in the home building industry. There is no cost to register and Verifiers will complete this step.
  4. Work with the builder to plan and design the project to determine which high-performance, sustainable amenities and products to include.
  5. Pass two Verifier inspections during the construction phase, one before drywall installation and one at project completion.
  6. Submit the signed final report to HIRL who will issue certification if all requirements have been met. The final cost of certification falls between $100 to $200.
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Fhm Green Building Certifications Courtesy Energy Star
Courtesy Energy Star

Energy Star

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star home program aims to increase the energy efficiency of new construction homes and multifamily projects. Certification requirements include an enhanced insulation system, high-performance windows, airtight construction and ductwork, efficient heating and cooling equipment and Energy Star-rated lighting and appliances.

While there is no fee associated with an Energy Star certification, homeowners should expect to pay for a third-party verification process. Energy Star is also developing a database of licensed professionals willing to provide this service for free.

Individuals seeking certification for residential projects should follow five steps.

  1. Hire a builder who is familiar with obtaining an Energy Star certification.
  2. The builder chooses an Energy Rating Company (ERC) to work with for the duration of the certification process. The ERC is responsible for conducting inspections, testing and energy analysis on the designated home. This service will cost between $1,000 to $1,500 and is paid by the homeowner either directly or through the builder.
  3. The builder signs a partnership agreement with EPA acknowledging their roles and responsibilities.
  4. The builder designs the home according to energy requirements set forth by program guidelines, including HVAC system design, insulation, windows and waste management systems.
  5. Design plan requirements are followed during the construction phase with two scheduled ERC inspections, before the drywall and at project completion.
  6. The ERC submits the home’s report to a Home Certification Organization (HCO) who issues the Energy Star certification. HCOs are independent organizations recognized by EPA to implement certification programs.
  7. When the final rating has been issued, the home receives an Energy Star certificate.
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Fhm Green Building Certifications Indoor Air Plus Courtesy Epa
Courtesy EPA

Indoor Air Plus

Another EPA certification program, Indoor Air Plus (IAP) aims to improve indoor air quality. Certification builds on Energy Star requirements for new homes and adds extensive indoor air quality protections.

Construction standards include moisture control systems, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, combustion-venting systems, radon-resistant construction and low-fume-emitting building materials.

Indoor Air Plus certification involves three steps for homeowners.

  1. Hire a builder or architect to design the project to be Energy Star certified.
  2. The builder or architect includes additional design and construction features in accordance with IAP standards.
  3. Upon completion, the home is inspected by an independent third-party to ensure compliance with EPA’s rigorous guidelines and specifications. Costs for this verification will vary and is the only fee incurred for this certification.
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Fhm Green Building Certifications Water Sense Courtesy Epa

Water Sense

Water Sense is a third-party-verified certification program also offered by the EPA that focuses on a home’s water use efficiency. Certification is not tied to an Energy Star rating, but instead requires that new-construction homes have Water Sense-labeled toilets, bathroom sink faucets and shower heads, which use 20% less water than regular models.

The home must also be free of water leaks from all fixtures, appliances and water piping and have low water-use landscaping. Verification costs associated with a Water Sense certification vary based on the size, scope and location of the project, but expect to pay between $400 to $1,000.

Individuals seeking Water Sense certification for their new-construction home have five steps to follow.

  1. Hire a builder who is familiar with the Water Sense certification process.
  2. The builder partners with a Water Sense verifier.
  3. All Water Sense program specifications are implemented during the construction phase.
  4. The Water Sense verifier inspects the home upon completion and uses an HCO-approved certification method to determine if all requirements have been met. Verifier costs will vary.
  5. Assuming all criteria are met, the HCO issues a Water Sense certification for the home.
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Fhm Green Building Certifications Zero Energy Ready Home Courtesy Us Department Of Energy
Courtesy U.S. department of Energy

Zero Energy Ready Home

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) is a third-party-verified certification program available for new single-family homes and multifamily residential buildings. The certification requires that homes are ready to become Zero Net Energy (ZNE) in the future, producing as much energy as they use. To qualify, projects must first pass Energy Star and Indoor Air Plus certifications, then incorporate additional requirements including electric vehicle charging stations and readiness for solar energy systems.

There are five steps for homeowners looking to have a ZERH certified home built.

  1. Hire a builder who is a DOE-registered ZERH partner.
  2. Have the home designed to meet Energy Star and Indoor Air Plus certifications, as well as ZERH additional requirements like renewable energy readiness.
  3. Adhere to all design requirements during the construction phase.
  4. Have the home verified by a third-party verifier. Verifiers charge varying rates for this process.
  5. The verifier will submit their findings to the DOE for certification.

If desired, there is also a performance verification that can be conducted to generate a home-specific certification.

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Fhm Green Building Certifications Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology Courtesy Bre
courtesy BREEAM

Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology

Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) is a global sustainability building standard administered in the U.S. by Building Research Establishment (BRE) Global, a subsidiary of the BRE Group, a center of building science in the United Kingdom. BREEAM offers certifications for new and existing commercial, industrial and residential projects by measuring a building’s performance against established BREEAM standards and benchmarks. Point-based certifications are awarded in six categories from Adequate to Outstanding based on a variety of sustainable building design categories. There are three residential certifications based on project type.


BREEAM In-Use certification encourages property owners to improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of existing buildings.

BREEAM residential In-Use certification involves six steps.

  1. Register your home with BREEAM and pay the $1,200 fee.
  2. Use the provided online tool to measure your home’s performance against the BREEAM In-Use standard.
  3. Receive an instantaneous unverified score.
  4. Hire a licensed BREEAM Assessor to verify the score.
  5. Receive BREEAM In-Use certification after paying a $1,500 fee.
  6. Work with a builder and BREEAM assessor to adopt sustainable solutions to improve the property’s BREEAM score.

New construction:

A BREEAM New Construction residential certification involves seven steps.

  1. Hire a builder familiar with BREEAM building standards.
  2. Find and hire a licensed BREEAM assessor.
  3. Register your project with BREEAM and pay the $1,500 fee.
  4. Plan and design your home to incorporate BREEAM construction standards.
  5. Have your project evaluated by a BREEAM assessor. This will cost another $1,500.
  6. Verify the BREEAM results by a third party company for $750.
  7. Receive certification if all conditions have been met.

Refurbishment and fit out

The BREEAM Refurbishment and Fit Out (RFO) standards are used to assess sustainability features added during major renovation projects.

Certification includes the same steps as a New Construction project, with the added step of submitting evidence to support the project’s design and construction decisions. Registration also costs $1,500, and for a home under 10,000 square feet, expect to pay between $1,275 to $2,800 for certification and verification.

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Fhm Green Building Certifications Passive Home Institute U.s. Courtesy Phius
Courtesy phius

Passive Home Institute U.S.

Passive Home Institute U.S. (PHIUS), a nonprofit organization, offers a passive home certification for single-family detached homes, side-by-side townhomes and duplexes. Certification focuses on a dramatic decrease in the energy required to cool and heat a home’s interior. All projects must first qualify to be Energy Star, ZERH and IAP certified. They must also meet additional standards including an electric vehicle charging station, balanced ventilation, no fossil fuel combustion on-site and renewable energy to offset usage.

PHIUS residential certification involves six steps.

  1. Hire a PHIUS certified builder.
  2. Hire a Certified Phius Home Consultant (CPHC). These individuals work independently and have varying rates.
  3. Register the project with PHIUS. Certification fees are due with registration and homes under 4,500 square feet pay $2,200 for certification.
  4. The CPHC will submit design plans to PHIUS for approval and edits.
  5. Complete construction with regular communication and inspections by a PHIUS Verifier. Verifiers charge varying rates.
  6. The PHIUS Verifier submits all documentation of completed work and inspection results for certification.
  7. Certification is awarded if all criteria have been met.