In today’s economy, apartment firms need every advantage to stay competitive, and green building is increasingly considered one of the most effective mechanisms for distinguishing a property. But this also means it is more important than ever for green building endeavors to be cost effective and show verifiable results.

There has been a proliferation of green building programs recently, but few address multifamily construction. The guidance that is available often fails to account for the variety of designs found in multifamily, forcing firms to reference different programs for high-rise, low-rise, mixed-use, and affordable projects.

The lack of a comprehensive multifamily standard has been problematic, especially as green building mandates and incentives expand at all levels of government. Today, that’s changing, as green standards—particularly for multifamily construction—finally go mainstream.

Metrics for Multifamily

Until recently, most jurisdictions required properties to comply with commercial or single-family standards when attempting to build green. Fortunately, the release of the National Green Building Standard (NGBS), or ICC-700, solved these problems. Originally intended to cover only single-family construction, the standard now includes multifamily housing.

Now, the NGBS, which is sponsored by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), is the only standard to offer uniform green building guidance for all residential properties, including multifamily, mixed-use, new, and rehab projects.

Developed under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approval process, the standard was shaped over a two-year period by a diverse group of stakeholders ranging from developers to environmentalists. Four public hearings, two draft versions, and more than 2,000 comments later, the NGBS was published in January 2009.

The efforts were worthwhile. Already, the NGBS has been referenced as a baseline in several proposed federal housing measures, including as a compliance option in the sweeping energy and climate change bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives this past summer. New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Mississippi, and New Jersey have enacted or proposed legislation that specifies compliance with the NGBS to receive loans, tax credits, and other green building incentives. Connecticut will incorporate the NGBS into its statewide green building requirements starting in July 2010.

More than 560 buildings have been certified under the NGBS to date. Another 550 buildings are in the pipeline and are at various stages of the inspection process. The NAHB Research Center has noted that interest is ramping up for multifamily certification in particular.

The Nuts and Bolts

Similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED criteria and other green building programs, the NGBS uses a point-based system to achieve one of four possible compliance levels—Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Emerald (the highest level).

But the NGBS is distinguished from other guidelines by being written in code language, which makes it fully compatible with the ICC family of codes, which have been adopted throughout most of the United States. This facilitates project permitting and inspection.

The NGBS was designed to stand alone; unlike other programs such as LEED, certification is not required for compliance. In fact, the harmony between the NGBS and the ICC allows for enforcement by local officials, without the expense or delay of third-party certification.

Under the NGBS, builders can choose to seek independent certification for their projects. Administered by the NAHB Research Center, the process begins with a free, online scoring tool, and then requires hiring an accredited verifier and passing multiple inspections.

As more apartment firms confront sustainability and environmental performance goals, the NGBS provides the industry with uniform, sector-specific green building guidance and offers jurisdictions a meaningful yet practical green baseline for their initiatives.

Paula Cino is director of energy and environmental policy for the National Multi Housing Council in Washington, D.C.

[Case Study]


One of the first multifamily buildings to seek certification under the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is Alliance Residential’s 935M—a seven-story, mixed-use development in west Midtown Atlanta. When completed in March, 935M will have 282 units; 14,000 square feet of street retail; and will likely receive a Silver rating. Overall, the building’s features will promote sustainability, boost energy efficiency, and improve operations.

The firm opted for NGBS because “[it] is code-based, ANSI-certified, and tailored to multifamily. And project certification helped us to verify that we were doing ‘green’ properly,” says Bill Bollwerk, managing director of Phoenix-based Alliance Residential’s Southeast region.

935M, a high-density design of 114 units per acre, remediated a brownfield site; reused existing infrastructure; and is in close proximity to transit and resources. In addition to a sustainable site, the project’s other green features include on-site recycling of 4,500 tons of concrete; local sourcing of construction materials; a low-volume irrigation system; on-site recycling and composting facilities; and the use of a pre-insulated exterior wall system, which minimizes material use and reduces waste. Units include high-efficiency plumbing fixtures; low-emitting paints and sealers; and sealed concrete floors that will conserve materials during construction and at unit turns.