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High-tech, high performing, highly affordable

To the average consumer, technology suggests luxury: home-theater systems, sophisticated heating and cooling zones, automated everything. But to home-building experts, building technology is something very different—and could be the key to higher quality, higher sustainability and higher affordability in housing.

“It pays to be second,” says Mike Luzier, and he’s been in the home-building industry for long enough to know. That’s why his work as president and CEO of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center matters. With a focus on the mass market, the NAHB Research Center takes on expensive sustainability research and develops standards that enable home builders to get paid for being first.

Materials research and the National Green Building Standard

The NAHB Research Center conducts testing of all sorts of building materials so that the first projects that incorporate such materials avoid risking significant failure and reap the benefits of being second without waiting for someone else to go first. The center shares data on performance, cost, sustainability and other aspects publicly through its Technology Inventory database; field-test results; and other tools, helping to relieve the risk of new-product adoption and therefore reduce the barriers to innovation.

The center also helps builders look at new construction and renovations holistically. It devised the American National Standard Institute (ANSI)–certified ICC 700 National Green Building Standard in collaboration with the International Code Council (ICC), which is residentially targeted and flexible in response to regional climate differences. The distinction between the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard and other leading building sustainability metrics, such as LEED and Passive House, is that the National Green Building Standard works within established market conditions. Where most focus on the cutting edge, the National Green Building Standard focuses on the mass market. The standard rewards everything from energy-efficient home renovations by the owner to land-use patterns by developers.

The standards in action

Philip Beere flips homes. His company, G Street, in Scottsdale, Arizona, buys neglected properties for cheap, fixes them up, sells them for sometimes nearly three times the purchase price and is met with praise. Why?

G Street projects are sustainable and affordable, and they help stabilize the surrounding neighborhoods. Many are in at-risk areas where vacant properties harm neighboring property values. And they earn a profit, making them a model for others to follow. A few companies have followed suit around the country.

In 2007, Beere began purchasing distressed properties in otherwise strong, affordable middle-class neighborhoods of downtown Phoenix. A clear set of standards makes his work easier, cuts out the expense of risky new technology and enables him to quantify the performance enhancements (and cost savings) because of the properties’ increased sustainability, which is charted on a clear, one-page document. He has worked with LEED and NAHB Research Center standards, and has completed both the first LEED Gold–certified and Emerald–certified National Green Building Standard home renovation in the United States. Many of his projects hover around the $100,000 purchase price, well below the city’s 2011 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) affordable-housing guidelines.

Large-scale developers have also used the standards to bring sustainability into mainstream practice. Murphy’s Run, a 120-acre development in Maryland, is the 2,000th project and 12th development to achieve National Green Building Standard certification. The project’s moderately priced homes are certified to the Silver standard, and the site is adjacent to an organic farm and near a dairy, making sustainable food consumption an attractive option for residents. Most important, the plan conserves 60 acres—50 percent of the developed land.

Multifamily builders are adopting the standard as well. Voyager at The Space Center, a 313-unit luxury-apartment community within walking distance of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, achieved Bronze certification, one of the largest projects certified by the NAHB Research Center. Willow Manor Senior Villas in Nashville, Indiana, is an affordable project that also meets the standard.

Thanks to Michelle Roberts and the BSA Building Systems Committee, a few city officials, a cluster of MIT graduate students, and a handful of architects, other BSA members and visitors learned about this innovative approach and opened a discussion about sustainability metrics. Questions ranged from code to quality, with plenty of room for further discussion. Visit www.architects.org/buildingsystemscommittee to see upcoming events or sign up for news.

National Green Building Standard and LEED: An AIA perspective

AIA Cincinnati has prepared a detailed comparison between LEED and the National Green Building Standard, published in 2010.


Top image: Mill District City Apartments/Village Green, a Bronze-certified multifamily project in Minneapolis, MN. Courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders Research Center.