Green Home Certification Programs

Credit: This resource is a revised update from the archived June 2008 fact sheet, Energy Efficient Homes: Green Certification Programs (EDIS-FCS3278),1 by Nicholas W. Taylor, Barbra Larson, and Jeffrey Michael2\

Terms to Help Get You Started

Home Design and Construction Certification

  • Passive Building certifies homes who seek to reduce energy consumption while maintaining comfort.
  • ENERGY STAR® Certified Homes are new homes built to meet targeted energy reductions.
  • Florida Green Building Coalition–Green Home Standard certifies new and existing homes that incorporate various features of green building and addresses issues that are specific to a particular region to promote a more sustainable Florida.
  • LEED for Homes® is a nationwide program that certifies new homes that meet targets in an array of green building areas to make the home better for the occupant, environment, and community.
  • Zero Energy Ready Homes identify new residential construction that is built to be more energy efficient than typically constructed homes.
  • Indoor airPLUS Qualified Homes builds on the ENERGY STAR® requirements for new homes by providing a certification based on improved indoor air quality.

Water Efficiency Certification

  • Florida Yards & Neighborhoods recognizes newly constructed home landscapes and homeowners whose yard meet criteria based on outdoor water use, protection of natural resources and enhanced wildlife habitat.
  • WaterSense® labels distinguish products and services that are certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance.
  • Florida Water StarSM certifies new and existing homes that address indoor and outdoor water consumption issues.

Builder Certification


Green certification programs are typically designed to save energy, water, or both. However, many of the programs also address issues such as resource conservation, use of recycled products, durability, indoor air quality, and wildlife habitat.

When looking to build or buy a green home, location is the place to start. That’s because the location of a home is essential in reducing the economic, environmental, and social consequences of travel to and from work, shopping, recreation, etc. Economic pressure is reduced by decreased fuel and maintenance costs for vehicles and road infrastructure. Environmental pressure is reduced by having less vehicle emissions as well as creating less or maintaining less road infrastructure. Social consequences associated with centrally located housing include having a more tightly knit neighborhood and supporting local business. The next step is to consider residential energy use. This often comes from the burning of fossil fuels at power plants, which contributes to smog, acid rain, and risks of global climate change. So, the less energy used, the less air pollution generated and the less money spent on utility bills. It’s a win-win situation. A home’s materials use, water use, landscaping, and indoor environmental quality are also keys to a complete green home.

In this publication we have included a review of several of the more popular certification programs used in Florida. Many of the certification programs require hiring a trained (or approved or accredited) professional to rate or evaluate the home to be sure it meets the standards of the certification agency/group. Many utility companies provide incentives to build green, and some counties and municipalities are requiring new construction to meet certain standards. Keep in mind that all of these programs change over time. Therefore, always check the associated Web sites for current program requirements.

Home Design and Construction Certification

Passive Building

Pioneered by building scientist and builders in the 1970s, Passive Building principles were created through a collaboration from the U.S. Department of Energy and Canadian government. From the principles came a quantifiable building standard used in the Passive Building certification. The Passive Building certification proposes to assist new homes in achieving superior indoor air quality and quantifiable energy efficiency while creating an enduring, and comfortable home. With different performance metrics for different climates, Passive Building homes are designed on these building science principles:

  • Airtight Building Envelope – envelope is completely sealed so that indoor air remains inside and outdoor air remains outside
  • Continuous Insulation – insulation set throughout building envelope to prevent thermal bridging
  • High Performance Windows and Doors – high performance doors and windows have higher insulation values than their standard counterparts
  • Continuous Mechanical Ventilation – filtered air replenishment is necessary to maintain air quality
  • Managing Solar Gains – using the sun’s energy to heat the home during colder months and reducing its impact in the warmer months

ENERGY STAR® Qualified New Homes

Since its inception in 1992, ENERGY STAR® Qualified New Homes program has aimed to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency of homes. The homes that earn the ENERGY STAR® designation must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. ENERGY STAR® qualified homes are designed to be at least 15% more energy efficient than conventional homes. The ENERGY STAR® Qualified New Homes program applies to total energy consumption for the following items:

  • Heating
  • Cooling
  • Domestic water heating
  • Lighting
  • Appliances
  • On-site energy production
  • Plug loads

ENERGY STAR® qualified new homes can include a variety of energy efficient features, such as upgraded insulation, high performance windows, tight construction and ducts, efficient heating and cooling equipment, and ENERGY STAR® lighting and appliances. These features contribute to improved home quality and homeowner comfort, and can lower energy demand and reduce air pollution.

Florida Green Building Coalition–Green Home Standard

The Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC) is a non-profit Florida organization founded in 2000 whose primary mission is “to provide a statewide green building program with environmental and economic benefits.” The Florida Green Home Standard checklist is comprised of eight categories.

  • Energy – based on projected energy performance based on energy efficient design features
  • Water – focuses on efficient indoor and outdoor water use
  • Lot Choice – promotes use of existing infrastructure, mass transit, public open space, and community resources
  • Site – protects native plant and animal habitat
  • Health – addresses combustion fumes, moisture control, contaminant control, cleanability, universal design, and proper ventilation
  • Materials – concentrates on durability, waste reduction, locally produced goods, and sustainable materials.
  • Disaster Mitigation – includes measures for hurricane, flood, wildfire, and termite protection.
  • General – gives credit for smaller house size, adaptability, renewable power generation, and remodeling

LEED for Homes®

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ was created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization committed to expanding sustainable building practices. LEED for Homes is an initiative designed to promote the transformation of the mainstream homebuilding industry toward more sustainable practices. LEED for Homes is targeting the top 25% of new homes with best practice environmental features.

While there are already a number of local or regional green homebuilding programs, LEED for Homes is attempting to provide national consistency in defining the features of a green home and to enable homebuyers anywhere in the country to identify green homes. LEED for Homes was developed and refined by a diverse group of national experts and experienced green builders. The LEED for Homes Green Building Rating System measures the overall performance of a home in eight categories that include:

  • Location and Linkages – placement of the home in socially and environmentally responsible ways in relation to the larger community
  • Sustainable Sites – using space and resources of the entire property so as to minimize the project’s impact on the site and its natural habitat features
  • Water Efficiency – water efficient practices, both indoor and outdoor
  • Energy and Atmosphere – energy efficiency, particularly in the building envelope and heating and cooling design
  • Materials and Resources – efficient use of materials, selection of environmentally preferable materials, and minimization of waste during construction
  • Indoor Environmental Quality – improvement of indoor air quality by reducing the creation of and exposure to pollutants
  • Awareness and Education – education of the homeowner, tenant, and/or building manager about the operation and maintenance of the green features of a LEED home
  • Innovation and Design – special design methods, unique regional credits, measures not currently addressed in the Rating System and exemplary performance levels

Zero Energy Ready Homes

The Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Homes is a program that builds on both the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® program and the DOE’s Building America program, a collaborative research team that partners industry and research teams, and whose focus is on home innovations and resources. New residential construction qualifying as Zero Energy Ready Homes are verified as having at least 40-50% more energy efficiency than a standard new home. New homes can be evaluated using either the Prescriptive or Performance guidelines and require assessment in the following areas:

  • ENERGY STAR® Home Version 3
  • Building Envelope
  • HVAC Equipment
  • Water Efficiency
  • Lighting & Appliances
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Renewable Ready

ENERGY STAR® Home Version 3 is a home rating system based on the US Department of Energy ENERGY STAR® qualified homes program. Many of the evaluated areas such as Building Envelope and Lighting and Appliances require homes be built at the ENERGY STAR® qualified homes program minimum.

Indoor airPLUS Qualified Homes

Indoor airPLUS is a program developed by the EPA in 2009 to further differentiate new home construction that meets comprehensive indoor air quality features from the standard ENERGY STAR® certification. This program attempts to improve indoor air quality while minimizing pollutants and improving comfort in the home. To earn the Indoor airPLUS qualification, a new home must first meet the requirements of the ENERGY STAR® certified home program. The construction specifications of the program touch on the following subject matters:

  • Moisture Control – mitigation of water intrusion from interior and exterior sources into the home
  • Radon – establishing radon resistance in homes in radon zones
  • Pest – placing corrosion proof screens on openings of the home that cannot be closed
  • HVAC Systems – proper design and installation of HVAC equipment
  • Combustion Pollutants – ensuring correct placement of combustion detection equipment, combustion pollutant ventilation, and isolation of garage from conditioned space
  • Materials – certifying use of low-emission building materials

Water Efficiency Certification

Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

In participating counties, the University of Florida’s Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) program (established in 2009) certifies new home landscapes as Certified Florida-Friendly. Florida-Friendly landscapes minimize the use of potable water for irrigation, avoid the runoff of excess fertilizers and pesticides from the yard, and provide habitats for wildlife.

Landscape certifications rely on a point-based checklist with nine categories that coincide with the Florida-Friendly landscaping principles:

  • Using the Right Plant in the Right Place
  • Watering Efficiently
  • Fertilizing Appropriately
  • Mulching
  • Providing for Wildlife
  • Managing Yard Pests Responsibly
  • Recycling
  • Reducing Stormwater Runoff
  • Protecting the Waterfront

The FYN program also provides a homeowner recognition program for occupied homes with landscapes that are Florida-Friendly.


WaterSense® is a program developed in 2006 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the purpose of creating a simple way for consumers to use less water with water efficient products, new homes, and services. While these products help to lessen water consumption, they do no sacrifice on performance. WaterSense evaluates products and homes on the following criteria:

  • Water Savings – produces significant water savings throughout U.S.
  • Performance – performs better than comparable typical models
  • Variety of technological options – offers multiple options to achieve water efficiency
  • Efficiency differentiation – a distinguishable label from standard models
  • Independent third-party certification – must meet EPA’s criteria for efficiency and performance, as well as obtain EPA-licensed certification
  • Measurable results – quantifiable numbers compared to standard models
  • Cost-effectiveness – affords a cost-effective solution to water savings
  • Stakeholder support – range of stakeholders that support product or home

St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) and its partners created the Florida Water StarSM program in 2006 in response to the increasing strain on Florida’s water resources, and in 2012 it became a statewide program.

Florida Water StarSM

Florida Water StarSM is a voluntary certification program for new and existing homes. Its intent is to encourage water efficiency in household appliances, plumbing fixtures, irrigation systems, and landscapes. The St. This certification program has three distinct categories:

  • Interior – appliances, fixtures, and leak prevention to minimize water use and waste.
  • Irrigation – increased efficiency through proper design and installation and improved scheduling practices and technologies.
  • Landscaping – encouraging right plant, right place, drought tolerant plants and preserved vegetation to reduce outdoor water use.

Builder Certification

NAHB National Green Building Program

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) voluntary Model Green Home Building Guidelines (introduced in 2005) are designed to be a tool kit for the individual builder looking to engage in green building practices as well as for home builder associations (HBAs) looking to launch their own local green building programs. This certification addresses the builder and the building process rather than the individual home. The system aims to organize the green design and construction process and assist the builder toward incorporating more green building features into their homes. The NAHB Green Building Guidelines address seven primary sections:

  • Lot Design, Preparation, and Development – reduce the homes impact on natural features such as vegetation and soil and enhance the home’s long-term performance.
  • Resource Efficiency – advanced framing techniques and home design to optimize the use of building materials; material selection to reduce the amount of time and money needed for home maintenance.
  • Energy Efficiency – optimize the building envelope, incorporate more energy efficient mechanical systems, appliances, and lighting into a home, yielding long-term utility bill savings and increased comfort for the homeowner
  • Water Efficiency – reduce indoor and outdoor water use to reduce water demand and utility bills
  • Indoor Environmental Quality –effective management of moisture, ventilation, and other issues to create a more comfortable and healthier living environment
  • Operation, Maintenance and Homeowner Education – how best to educate homeowners on the features of their new green home
  • Global Impact – use of materials and/or products with additional environmental restrictions

Note: If approved by American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the program will be referred to as the NAHB National Green Building Standard™.

REGREEN Trained™ Certificate Program

The REGREEN Trained™ Certificate Program trains professionals in green product selection, building systems integration, and green strategies. The program was developed and launched in 2008 through a collaboration with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in order to identify and evaluate green considerations, concepts, and strategies that have the most significantly positive impact on home remodels. The certification draws upon the concepts used in the REGREEN© residential remodeling program. In order to earn this certificate, professionals must complete six educational components centered on the REGREEN© method:

  • Introduction to principles – topics include: understanding green remodeling, whole-house systems thinking, and green design methodologies
  • Project Design and Delivery Format – keeping with sustainable goals along with focus on the mission statement
  • Material Selection and Specification Process – covers the role of the designer in creating effective design and materials directives
  • Client Education & Stakeholder Involvement – delves into language of sustainability and effective ways to engage and educate the client
  • Health Impacts of Buildings and Interior Materials – assessing health impact of materials using third-party certifications, health product declarations (HPD), and Life-cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • Implementation – implementing strategies based on the REGREEN Residential Remodeling Guidelines©

References and Resources

Center for Landscape Conservation & Ecology (CLCE). Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Program. Retrieved May 10, 2015.

Florida Green Building Coalition. Retrieved May 11, 2015.

Florida Water Star Program. Retrieved May 11, 2015.

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Green Building, Remodeling and Development. Retrieved May 13, 2015.

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE). Guidelines for Participating in the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home. Retrieved May 13, 2015.

Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). What is Passive Building? (2015). Retrieved May 26, 2015.

REGREEN Residential Remodeling Program. Retrieved May 13, 2015.

US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Indoor airPLUS Program. Retrieved May 13, 2015.

US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). WaterSense. Retrieved May 18, 2015.

US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), ENERGY STAR® Program. ENERGY STAR Certified New Homes. Retrieved May 7, 2015.

US Green Building Council (USGBC). Getting to know LEED: Homes Design and Construction. Retrieved May 11, 2015.


Authors: Nicholas W. Taylora, Lesly Jeromea, and Barbra Larsonb

a    Program for Resource Efficient Communities, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

b    Soil and Water Science Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

First published June 2008. Revised June 2015.

This is a fact sheet produced for the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC). The goal of the consortium is to become a world leader in energy research, education, technology, and energy systems analysis.


1. This document is FCS3278, one of an Energy Efficient Home series from the Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. This material was originally prepared with the support of the Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Energy Office and revised with the support of the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC). However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection nor the Florida Energy Systems Consortium. Original publication date: June 2008. Revised publication date: June 2015. Please visit the EDIS website.

2. Nicholas W. Taylor, Research Associate, Program for Resource Efficient Communities; Lesly Jerome, Research Assistant, Program for Resource Efficient Communities; Barbra Larson, Educational Media Coordinator, Soil and Water Science Department; Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

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