Voluntary Green Rating Systems

Value of Green Rated Homes Report

There are many reasons to energy upgrade a historic building or home. Lower energy costs, better comfort, and benefit to the environment are three. Reasons to upgrade using a rating system is independent third party verification and quantification of the efficiency improvement, which may qualify for incentives, or translate to improved market value. A 2012 Report from UC Berkeley and UCLA found that homes rated for energy efficiency sold on average 9% more than a comparable home that was not energy rated. Download the report here.

There are many voluntary green ratings programs available. The best known program is LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Others include Greenpoint Rated for Existing Buildings, a local California program from Build It Green, and the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) from the California Energy Commission.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

LEED has become much more responsive to existing and historic building renovation since 2008 when the Sustainable Preservation Coalition engaged them to consider the sustainable value of "recycling" whole buildings. The Life Cycle Impact Reduction credit, which includes up to five points for historic building reuse (Option 1) is one result of their collaboration.

It is now entirely possible to earn the highest certification for historic building rehabilitions while retaining character-defining features. The U.S. Green Building Council has case studies of several historic rehabilitations earning LEED certifications here.

Click on the current v4 LEED manuals for Building Design and Construction, LEED for Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance, and LEED for Neighborhood Development below to download the PDF document. 

LEED v4 Guide









Guidelines for LEED ND as a Tool for Historic Preservation

LEED ND and Historic Preservation

The U.S. Green Building Council has released guidelines for using their LEED for Neighborhood Development product as a tool for preservation.  The guidelines quote from the report from the National Trust's Preservation Green Lab to make the case that the reuse of historic buildings avoids the energy that would be consumed in the procurement, manufacture, transportation and assembly of virgin materials into a new building.

The Guidelines provide compelling reasons to retain and reuse historic buildings, which are typically already strategically located in well-developed locations with existing infrastructure in place.  The Guidelines further provide instructions to incorporate the rehabilitation of historic buildings into their LEED for Neighborhood Development product, and gives three case studies of projects that have accomplished LEED ND Certification.
Download the PDF file here.

Build It Green

Build It Green (BIG) began with the 2005 merger between the nonprofit Green Resource Center, a source of information on green building practices, and Bay Area Build It Green, a network of building industry professionals, local governments, manufacturers and suppliers. The alliance combined resources, expertise, and support from Bay Area local government agencies, especially StopWaste. Combining the two organizations promotes the goals of transforming the California building industry to embrace green building. 

BIG is now a nonprofit organization whose work aspires to transform how homes are built, renovated and marketed in and beyond California. The means for this improvement is facilitation of energy-efficient new home construction, improved energy performance of existing homes, and a rating system that quantifies energy performance for consumer comparison.

BIG has two different Rating System products: GreenPoint Rated New Home and GreenPoint Rated Existing Home. These two systems are customized for single family or multi-family projects.

Existing homes generally use more energy than homes built to current energy efficiency standards, and therefore the rating system is tailored to different energy performance improvement targets from the new home system.

An innovation of the Existing Home rating system is to awards points for partial improvements, like a bathroom upgrade. This provides a pathway for identifying and making additional improvements over time that will integrate into the overall rating.

Click on the Existing Home rating system images below to download a copy.

BIG GPR Guide to RemodelingBIG Existing Homes Case StudiesBIG Existing Homes Rating System brochure

BIG Climate Calculator




The GreenPoint Rated Climate Calculator is a tool for third party Raters to generate data on greenhouse gas emissions avoided, and other savings for remodeled or newly built residences.  One conclusion drawn from the use of the tool is that green remodeling reduces net CO2e emissions, while new home construction increases net CO2e emissions.

California Energy Commission Home Energy Rating System (HERS)

The California Energy Commission is required by Public Resources Code Section 25942 to establish criteria for a statewide home energy rating program for residential dwellings.

The goal of the program is to create a consistent, accurate, and uniform rating system based on a single statewide rating scale that can serve to differentiate the energy efficiency levels between California homes and to prioritize the investment in cost-effective home energy efficiency measures.

The California HERS regulations first established the requirements for Field Verification and Diagnostic Testing services used to show compliance with the Title 24, Part 6 Building Energy Efficiency Standards. These regulations also established the basic framework for HERS Rater training, certification, and quality assurance.

The 2009 update requires California Whole-House Home Energy Ratings to apply to existing and newly constructed residential buildings that include single-family homes and multi-family buildings of three stories or less.

Click on the images below for more information about the program.

HERS Technical ManualYour Energy Home Rating Booklet  






Architecture 2030

Architecture 2030 asserts that buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases (GHG). Slowing the growth rate of GHG emissions and then reversing it is the key to addressing climate change and keeping global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The Architecture 2030 Challenge asks the global architecture and building community to adopt the following targets:
• All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 60% below the regional (or country) average for that building type.

• At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 60% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.

The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations shall be increased to:
• 70% in 2015
• 80% in 2020
• 90% in 2025
• Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).

These targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power and/or purchasing (20% maximum) renewable energy.

The Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is one of the newest green rating systems and is attempting to move past the current systems and position itself as a “new and better approach to green.”  It is still very much a tool based upon new construction, but does take a very different approach through the prerequisites rather than “trade offs” found in most existing green rating systems.

Energy Star

Home Energy Performance with ENERGY STAR offers whole-house solutions to high energy bills and homes with comfort problems. The program is managed by a local sponsor that recruits home improvement contractors who are qualified to perform comprehensive home assessments. The assessment includes the heating and cooling systems, windows, insulation, flow of air into and out of the house, as well as a safety check of gas appliances. Based on this assessment, participating contractors offer solutions to fix comfort problems and address high energy bills.

Energy Upgrade California

Energy Upgrade California Home Energy Efficiency offers home improvement projects that lower energy use, conserve water and natural resources, makes the environment healthier, and identifies contractors, rebates, and incentives.


Rehab a Home with HUD's 203(k)

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), administers various single family mortgage insurance programs. These programs operate through FHA-approved lending institutions which submit applications to have the property appraised and have the buyer's credit approved. These lenders fund the mortgage loans which the Department insures. HUD does not make direct loans to help people buy homes.

The Section 203(k) program is the Department's primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single family properties. As such, it is an important tool for community and neighborhood revitalization and for expanding homeownership opportunities. Since these are the primary goals of HUD, the Department believes that Section 203(k) is an important program and we intend to continue to strongly support the program and the lenders that participate in it.

Many lenders have successfully used the Section 203(k) program in partnership with state and local housing agencies and nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate properties. These lenders, along with state and local government agencies, have found ways to combine Section 203(k) with other financial resources, such as HUD's HOME, HOPE, and Community Development Block Grant Programs, to assist borrowers. Several state housing finance agencies have designed programs, specifically for use with Section 203(k) and some lenders have also used the expertise of local housing agencies and nonprofit organizations to help manage the rehabilitation processing.

See also: "A Little Known Loan Program for Fixer Uppers" New York Times, Oct 15, 2010.


PACE financing allows property owners to fund energy efficiency, water efficiency and renewable energy projects with little or no up-front costs. With PACE, residential and commercial property owners living within a participating district can finance up to 100% of their project and pay it back over time as a voluntary property tax assessment through their existing property tax bill.

Advantages to using PACE financing include elimination of the need to pay out of pocket for your project. Repayment may be amortized for a period of up to 20 years, keeping monthly payments low. The interest may be tax deductible. Because PACE ties the loan to the property and not an individual, the loan may transfer upon sale or refinancing of the property.

PACE financing is only available to property owners in certain cities or counties that have adopted a program. In general, PACE programs offer competitive financing terms to property owners with at least some equity in their home or business and have not been delinquent on their property tax or mortgage payments. For further details concerning property eligibility (residential, commercial and municipal) and financing terms, contact the individual PACE provider in your area.

Articles of Relevance

For a discussion of the topic of Prescriptive versus Performance StandardsWayne Trusty’s article in the Journal of ASTM International is quite informative.  In the abstract for this article he questions whether prescriptive requirements for materials with recycled content deliver the benefits assumed, and the lack of a demonstrated performance when easily prescribed and verified prescriptive elements are installed, to an uncertain end.

A detailed discussion of house size relative to green ratings is provided in
Size Matters (a Lot):The Mistreatment of House Size in Green Home Rating Systems by Michael Horowitz.  The author of this article was instrumental in the development of the Vermont Builds Greener formula on house size.