EarthCraft Building Standard Addresses A Challenging Climate

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Thursday, March 20th, 2014
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In the southeastern United States, weather conditions include moderately cold temperatures, extreme heat, rapid swings in temperature, and extreme humidity.

EarthCraft is a building certification program designed for this area, and certifies homes only in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

The program dates back to 1999, when the Southface Energy Institute and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association jointly created EarthCraft to improve building practices and energy efficiency for homes in the southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Since its inception, EarthCraft has certified more than 25,000 homes, commercial buildings, and multifamily dwellings. The standard has been expanded to include renovation projects and communities, too.

Like LEED for Homes, EarthCraft uses a points-based worksheet, which lets builders choose the measures that make sense for their projects. EarthCraft includes benchmarks for the following criteria:

  • Energy efficiency.

  • Indoor air quality.

  • Resource-efficient building materials.

  • Resource-efficient design.

  • Site planning.

  • Waste management.

  • Water efficiency.

KC Bleile is Executive Director of EarthCraft Virginia, a nonprofit organization that certifies the EarthCraft standard, and also certifies LEED for Homes. The group has certified over 11,000 EarthCraft multifamily units and over 2000 EarthCraft single-family units just in Virginia. They’ve also certified about 40 LEED for Homes projects.

Bleile calls EarthCraft “a holistic building approach” and said they make the certification process “as builder friendly as possible. It’s less prescriptive.” In comparison, many builders and architects have criticized LEED as being too complicated, too slow, too expensive, and unfriendly to builders and business interests. LEED certification is actually at risk of repeal for state projects in Ohio, as noted here,  by legislators friendly to the desires of the timber, plastics, and chemical industries.

Adam Cohen, co-owner of Structures Design/Build in Roanoke, Virginia, is certified in EarthCraft, LEED for Homes, and Passive House. He noted that getting a house LEED certified adds at least $5000, and probably more, to a home’s budget, but he chooses the LEED and Passive House standards anyway. “When I took the EarthCraft training I realized I was already beyond their standard,” Cohen said. “But I thought it was a great standard for folks that wanted to move forward with energy efficiency, but did not know how.”

EarthCraft residential certification costs builders just under $1000, and Bleile emphasized that builders can choose the level they prefer for each project, Certified, Gold, or Platinum. They also offer an Earthcraft Net Zero option for homes that make as much energy as they consume annually.

EarthCraft Virginia makes use of proven building science approaches, including a tight building envelope, and HVAC-system sizing based on the actual site—not just modeling. “Builders say the program makes a lot of building science sense,” Bleile noted. Another benefit, she added, is that “Building science approaches have an effect on energy and durability.”

According to Bleile, the EarthCraft process begins with a builder attending a one-day training session to learn about the program in depth. At that point, certification involves:

  • Registering the project.

  • Creating a preliminary energy model.

  • Design review.

  • Pre-drywall inspection with diagnostic testing.

  • Submit report.

  • Final inspection.

  • Confirmed energy model and HERS rating.

The training session also covers building science training so builders can learn current best practices. EarthCraft Virginia also has more than 25 trained technical advisors available statewide that perform testing and advise builders during construction.

When construction is complete, each project undergoes testing by an EarthCraft technical advisor and  receives an EarthCraft certificate and HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score. An average new home scores at 100 on the HERS Index. An Energy STAR home must score at 85 or lower to receive certification. Bleile said their projects score around 70 on average, with the best this year scoring 19.

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