Green Homes 101

"The one thing that binds the demonstration of past, present, and future is earth."

What's a Green Home anyway?


We like to define a green home simply as, “A home that is designed and operated to function with reduced environmental impact.”  Whether the home is new and carries a green certification or is thirty years old with a few green upgrades, a green home involves homeowners who assume responsibility for:

  • enhancing their own quality of life

  • the world around them

  • natural resource conservation

  • sustainability for future generations.

Green homes typically experience minimal environmental impact during the planning and construction phases of the home and these goals are sustained throughout the ownership and operation of the home by using energy conservation technologies and providing healthier living environments inside the home itself.  An existing home can be remodeled to attain certain energy efficient goals by installing certain features (smart home technologies, Energy Star appliances, energy efficient HVAC systems, etc.) but a more common approach is to utilize new construction to employ wholistic conservation approaches from site selection to construction, to new owner daily living activities.


Since a "green home" can have different meanings, let's categorize them based on the degree of green technology present during construction and operation of the home.

Most homes carrying a green certification employ many of the following considerations:

  • Health and Safety –breathe easier by reducing pollutants, toxins (chemicals, mold/mildew, VOCs, etc.) and damage from water through better air flow systems and quality material choices.

  • Comfort –temperature without hot/cold spots or drafts by providing a well-sealed and insulated shell - a building envelope and better HVAC systems

  • Ease, Convenience and Time – using materials, fixtures, and finishes that perform better usually means less maintenance, and more durability.

  • Savings – first time costs for a green home may be a bit more but when you roll in the dramatically lower operating costs (especially energy) and maintenance costs, the entire investment in a home over the time it is occupied becomes a definite plus. 


Green Certifications - New Homes

  • LEED Certified – A LEED (Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design) home is a rating system that promotes perhaps the most exclusive green design and construction methodologies and offered through the US Green Building Council.  Within the LEED designation, there are certain efficiency levels such as Standard, Silver, Gold, and Platinum that rely on a point system to determine which level is applicable.  A LEED home will be accompanied by a LEED certificate indicating which level has been attained at construction.  LEED certifications are based on a point system and generally focus on building performance categories such as site selection sustainability, indoor air quality, building materials, and innovation and design, in addition to energy efficiency.  A certification can be in any or all of the following areas: Building Design and Construction, Operation and Maintenance, and Interior Design and Construction.  LEED certifications are common in all 50 states and typically in metro areas.  More information on LEED homes can be found at the National LEED website here.


  • Energy Star Homes – Energy Star is very popular green building certification that is offered through the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Energy Star homes focus on energy efficient systems and features exclusively, whereas LEED homes focus on a more holistic approach to design and function.  To qualify, a home needs to be at least 10% more energy efficient than traditional homes. Building systems that are included in the Energy Star designation include thermal enclosure effectiveness, high efficiency HVAC units, comprehensive water conservation system, and energy-efficient electrical systems.  Certification is given on an annual basis, so a building must maintain its high performance to be certified year to year. And the information submitted in the certification application must be verified by a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA) to be eligible for approval.  For this reason, Energy Star homes are often built and sold as a certified home but may lose their designation during the resale process.  But the certification can be resumed at any time as long as the Energy Star score is at least 75 out of 100.  Energy Star homes are built in all 50 states.  For more information, click here.


  • NGBS Homes – The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is a green designation that is typically applied for during the construction phase of a home that demonstrates high performance building techniques in six areas: Lot Design and Development, Resource Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Building Operation & Maintenance.  Four levels of certification are available: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Emerald.  An NGBS certification is very similar to a LEED certification, but a little less stringent.  Third party verification is an essential element of the NGBS green certification.  The NGBS certification is available in all 50 states.  For more information…

Green Certifications - Existing Homes

Green homes typically attain their certification partly because of how a new home is constructed (aka, the “building envelope”).  This may include insulation thickness, exterior wall thickness, minimal air leaks, low-emissivity windows, and other similar features.  For this reason, it is often impractical to "gut rehab" an existing home to attain a legitimate green home designation.  For example, for a 20 year old home to acquire a Energy Star certification, it likely will need to undergo removal of exterior cladding and complete system replacement, and this may be cost prohibitive.  More information can be found at the Energy Star website.

Green Updates - Existing Homes

Thankfully, for existing homes that were not built to certain green building standards, there are numerous improvement opportunities to make the home more environmentally friendly while experiencing lower utility costs, such as:

  • Programmable Thermostat

  • Low emissivity (Low E) windows

  • Energy efficient appliances

  • Advanced air sealing to protect a home’s air barrier

  • Long-lasting LED light bulbs

  • Rainwater harvesting

  • Solar energy panels


Installation of some or all of these features can make an existing home "just as green" as a green certified home, especially when considering cost of maintenance.  Please see our Green Homes FAQ page for a more extensive list on green upgrades and a list of green rehabbers.

Sell or buy with Home Sense and we'll donate 10% of our fees to the non-profit environmental cause of your choice.

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