This article first appeared in the Fall issue of Atlanta Building News, and was originally published on the Greater Atlanta Home Builders’ Association website.
The EarthCraft green building certification program was developed by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and Southface in 1999. EarthCraft certification helps to ensure that buildings and communities in the region meet strict criteria for saving energy and water, ensuring high indoor air quality and protecting land and natural resources. To achieve an EarthCraft certification, a home or building is required to undergo independent third-party verification by a qualified technical advisor to confirm that it meets program requirements.
In recognition of its 15th anniversary this year, here’s a look at how the program has grown in size and scope and what has helped it reach the level of success it has achieved today.
EarthCraft House is a residential green building program intended for single-family detached homes, townhomes and duplexes. With average energy costs 28 percent lower than the typical new home, EarthCraft houses are cost effective, durable, comfortable and water, energy and resource-efficient. To date, over 8,100 EarthCraft Houses have been certified in the Southeast.
As part of the program development in 1999, Hedgewood Properties built seven pilot homes in three neighborhoods: Kingsboro and Edmund Park in Atlanta, and Hampton in Cumming, Georgia. “The flexibility of the program has enabled us to vary how we met the EarthCraft House criteria at different sites.” Hedgewood’s President Pam Sessions said, “We found that the cost of improvements is easily offset in financial savings for the homeowner and there is much value added at no additional cost.”
EarthCraft Renovation provides clear guidelines for renovations or additions to existing homes, with the goal of saving energy and water while improving indoor air quality. EarthCraft Renovation also assists homeowners and builders in identifying the causes of common problems like uncomfortable rooms, high energy bills, poor indoor air quality and combustion safety issues so these can be addressed during the renovation process.
EarthCraft Renovation Project Manager Steve Lindsley said: “The EarthCraft Renovation program has had recent success in the multifamily market with both tax incentives and utility rebates playing a significant role in this resurgence. Institutional funders are also asking developers to ‘green’ their properties, believing the durability of high performance remodels will increase the longevity of their investments. The single family renovation market has been a more difficult market to crack, but the inventory of existing homes makes it a huge opportunity. Again, utility rebate programs are making headway in assisting energy-efficient remodels. Home owners are also becoming more educated to the value of air-sealing their older homes, which result in better air quality and comfort. Many of the upgrades to existing homes are not that expensive and help reduce energy bills that will inevitably continue to rise.”
EarthCraft Multifamily, launched in 2004, is the first multifamily-specific green building program in the nation. The program provides green building certification for low-rise and mid-rise multifamily projects including new construction, renovation, gut rehab and adaptive reuse. All EarthCraft Multifamily projects require dedicated fresh-air intakes for each unit. The certification results in an operationally cost-effective building that is also energy, water and resource-efficient. Affordable housing units represent a significant percentage of EarthCraft Multifamily projects. Southface’s 2013 Award of Excellence was presented to Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs in recognition of their national leadership in producing low income housing tax credit projects.
Gables Residential VP-Investments Operations Dave Skelton recently said, “Since we began partnering with Southface and the EarthCraft Multifamily program, every new development in Atlanta for Gables Residential has been EarthCraft certified.” Gables Residential has completed five EarthCraft Multifamily certified market rate projects to date and is currently working on Emory Point phase 2, an EarthCraft Community with EarthCraft Multifamily homes project in Decatur.
EarthCraft Communities was launched in 2005 to assist land developers and local government agencies to create sustainable market-rate and affordable housing communities. It guides projects toward either an urban grid design or a conservation clustered form with emphasis on energy and water-efficient new construction, low impact development, walkable design and community connectivity, transit-ready density, effective stormwater management, access to open space and more.
According to Communities Design Director Robert Reed, “The EarthCraft Communities program was the obvious next step in the suite of sustainable construction certifications offered by EarthCraft. It was a response to the apparent need for some way to introduce sustainable design into the many large development projects that were occurring in and around Atlanta in 2005. During the economic downturn in 2008, the program was picked up by the state Qualified Allocation Plan and has led to more than three-quarters of our EarthCraft Communities being kick-started by a state incentive.” EarthCraft Light Commercial is a cost-effective and environmentally responsible building strategy for commercial buildings sized 25,000 square feet or less. The program provides a prescriptive pathway for achieving certification, which is achieved through independent third party site visits, testing and documentation. The program can be applied to both newly constructed buildings as well as most major renovations.
EarthCraft Light Commercial Program Manager Bill Abballe said: “The Atlanta International School Early Learning Center was the first ECLC project, and it received our highest point total to date with 159 points. Working with the client, the architect, their design team, and the construction team, EarthCraft staff members were able to adjust program procedures and processes with these building science tested strategies. Since they are specific to the Southeast, they have become strategies for future projects that may or may not participate in the EarthCraft Light Commercial program. Currently, ECLC is involved with a grant from the Department of Energy to develop a deep energy track that will generate saving strategies providing at least 50 percent energy saving based on the 2030 Challenge baseline.”
EarthCraft Sustainable Preservation, launched in 2014, is a regional green building certification program created specifically for historic buildings. It offers third-party certification for environmentally responsible design and construction practices for historic buildings in the Southeast. The program is designed to evaluate and highlight what is inherently sustainable about historic buildings while providing guidance on appropriate alterations to make them more energy and water efficient.
According to EarthCraft Sustainable Preservation Program Manager Bourke Reeve, “One of the most important benefits of rehabilitation is its role in retaining the embodied energy contained in the materials of buildings which are already constructed. We’re currently looking for pilot projects and would love to have a huge sample ranging from spaces that are 2,000 square feet to those that are 50,000 square feet, and represent everything from historic homes turned into office spaces to typical two-story Main Street building from the 1890s to 1920s, along with multifamily buildings.”
EarthCraft Program Administrator Trevor Donnelly also commented: “The EarthCraft program prides itself on creating and maintaining professional relationships across the industry. The very nature of our programs is a relationship catalyst as it requires three different entities to work together (builders, technical advisors and EarthCraft staff) to meet a common goal; building a sustainable home or business. Looking to the future, it is important that relationships are maintained to continue to achieve our mission of increasing sustainability across the Southeast region through the construction industry.”
EarthCraft addresses the challenging energy, water and climate conditions of the Southeast. The EarthCraft program has sustained itself as a homegrown regional program for 15 years and has proudly certified over 30,000 homes, multifamily buildings and light commercial spaces.