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What is Green Building Certification?

written by: Melanie•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 5/19/2010

The term "green building certification" can have a very narrow definition, or a broad definition, depending on the project, the region, or the professionals working on a project. Learn how green building certification works.

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    The Definition of Green Building

    What does "green building certification" really mean? The term indicates that a building uses eco-friendly materials, has low-VOC (offgas) emissions from building supplies, and does not harm the environment in the area where it is built. However, this is a very generic set of standards and the term "green building certification" constantly evolves.

    LEED Certification and Green Building Certification are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a specific, trademarked term that can only be used by LEED-certified professionals and buildings that meet specific LEED criteria. LEED-certified contractors must pass certain exams, use specific materials, and meet stringent codes.

    The Green Building Certification Institute manages LEED certification and other certifications related to green building practices. Contractors who want to call themselves Green Building Certified typically work with Green Building Certification institute programs (including LEED) to achieve such ratings.

    However, other organizations also offer their own version of green certification, leaving the average homeowner to wonder where to turn when looking for green building certification.

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    Finding Green Building Contractors

    EnergyStar offers an "EnergyStar Qualified Home" designation for new homes that are energy-efficient. While their certification process is not as difficult to achieve as is LEED certification or other green building certifications, the EnergyStar program offers a way for homeowners to find energy-smart homes and contractors.

    In addition, many states offer their own versions of green building certification. A comprehensive list of state-by-state programs can be found at PATH, a public-private partnership for advancing technology in the home.

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    What does "Green Building Certification" mean for your project?

    For some professionals and contractors, if a client or a municipality requires LEED certification, then there is no leeway--LEED is the required green building certification program. For others, though, green building certified projects can fall under other programs, such as EnergyStar, or the American Lung Association's Health House designation. If your goal is energy efficiency, then EnergyStar might be a better choice. If your goal is to have the lowest VOC levels in new construction, then LEED certification is the best green certified building choice.