By Leah Missik, Built Green Program Manager
One of the most commonly asked questions we get from builders and home buyers is what third-party verification is and why it is required by Built Green for certification. Similarly, when I’m asked about my work of certifying green homes, people wonder how many times I visit a certain project before I certify it. I explain that, in fact, I’m not usually the person out in the field—it's one of the third-party verifiers that Built Green has approved. Not only is it physically impossible for me to inspect over a thousand projects multiple times in a year, but Built Green’s third-party verifiers also play a crucial role in ensuring the integrity and rigor of the program; they bring a lot of green building expertise to the table. As the Built Green Certification Process Diagram shows, verifiers are involved throughout construction and provide a lot of assistance to builders. Let’s explore how third-party verification came about and why it is so important and beneficial.
How did third-party verification come about?
Today, Built Green certifies projects at the levels of 3-Star, 4-Star, 5-Star, and Emerald Star. What happened to 1- and 2-Star? When the program first launched in 1999, those two levels, along with 3-Star were available. Once the program started growing and builders got on board, 4- and 5-Star levels were developed, and with them, third-party verification. The lower star-levels allowed builders to fill out a checklist, sign it, and thus obtain certification. New, higher star levels demanded more rigor, especially since Built Green was now being considered as a basis for green building incentives. Therefore, in order to obtain 4-Star or higher on a project, a builder had to work with an approved third-party verifier who would do a home energy model as well, as ensure items claimed on the checklist were done correctly and that this could be demonstrated to Built Green.
Now, third-party verification is required for all projects at all star-levels. In October 2013, the Built Green Executive Committee decided it was time to introduce this requirement; it came into effect on March 1, 2014. This had been a goal of the program for some time, as it would ensure program integrity and greater brand credibility.
But why does third-party verification matter for integrity and credibility?
As mentioned earlier, many municipalities and utilities offer incentives for Built Green projects, including expedited permitting, density bonuses, and cash rebates. In order to grant these rewards, officials need more assurance than someone’s word. That’s one important role that third-party verifiers play: they ensure that a project has done what has been claimed on the checklist and they provide detailed, on-the-ground scrutiny before the final Built Green certification packet review. When a project is certified, that means it has been evaluated by two different entities, the verifier and Built Green, and both have affirmed that the project meets a certain level of green rigor.
In addition to providing an independent set of eyes on the project, third-party verifiers also bring a lot of expertise to the project. Built Green projects require energy models demonstrating performance above code and not just anyone has the expertise to do this. Verifiers help by performing energy models and can often provide builders who are newer to the program with guidance on how to meet the program requirements. Since they are more familiar with each individual project, they are able to provide tailored advice and recommendations.
We’ve seen the results of this quality assurance in our research. In a soon-to-be-published post-occupancy study, we found that Built Green homes exhibited less variability in total electricity usage when compared with non-certified homes. In other words, there were fewer outlier homes that used far more electricity than average. Further, Built Green 4- and 5-Star homes exhibited even less variability than 3-Star homes did. Most of the homes that were included in this study were third-party verified, but some 3-Star homes were certified before the verification requirement was in place. That 4- and 5-Star homes were more consistent in their efficient performance demonstrates the quality control that third-party verification provides.
So, who is a third-party verifier and how does Built Green approve them?
Third-party verifiers must have obtained a number of green building-related certifications and acquired related education in order to be approved by Built Green. Additionally, they must interview with the program. Anyone who is qualified may apply and the application details the requirements. In addition, Built Green third-party verifiers must sign onto a Code of Ethics which states that verifiers may not provide verification services for projects in which they have a financial interest (for example, a verifier could not verify a project being built by their own business), that they will be clear about their services and costs, and that they will conduct their business in a way that reflects well on them and on the Built Green program.
Currently, Built Green has thirteen approved third-party verifiers. Some verifiers specialize in certain building types and others in a particular facet of green building, but they all are able to provide verification services for projects aiming for Built Green certification. Built Green does not set pricing for their services, which are often context-dependent, so it is a free market.
Third-party verification is now an integral part of the Built Green program, providing quality assurance, assuring program integrity, and lending brand integrity. It allows Built Green to be a basis for incentives that reward green builders. Verifiers also help promote and represent the Built Green program through their services—their collaboration really is of a benefit to the program and for increasing green building in the region. Their expertise helps their clients and their enthusiasm for green building helps advance Built Green and our region!