Unfortunately, government oversight of green building is still catching up with the industry. But even though there are no state licenses for green builders specifically, private sector watchdog groups offer a variety of certifications. Consider hiring a green builder certified by one of the following groups:
- U.S. Green Building Council: The Council's "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" (LEED) certification is the green building industry's current gold standard. Just as buildings can be LEED certified, so, too, can contractors. Depending on your project, look for a green builder with the certification "LEED AP Building Design and Construction" (LEED AP BD+C) or "LEED AP Interior Design and Construction" (LEED AP ID+C).
- National Association of Home Builders (NAHB): With more than 1,500 Certified Green Professionals, the NAHB is mainstream oversight for the green building industry.
- National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI): Five years of green building experience, 16 hours of training plus a test equals Green Certified Professional status -- the remodeling counterpart of the NAHB.
- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC): Not only does ABC Green Contractor Certification require green building experience, but it requires that a contractor's offices be green. The ABC database includes a list of certified contractors.
- Green Advantage (GA): Green Advantage Certified Professionals (GACPs) exist in every state and are organized in the GA database into specializations including contractors, architects and even attorneys.
- Energy Star: This government program partners with local utilities to ensure that builders certified through the Home Performance with Energy Star (HPWES) program are up to date with the latest energy efficient building practices.
But it's not enough for the builder to be green-certified, of course. They should also be licensed as a contractor, so don't forget to verify licensure with your state contractor licensing board [source: Contractors-license.org].
It's also important to remember that, depending on your project, the builder you hire probably won't be the only person doing the construction. So, ask about subcontractors, as well. Who do they commonly work with, how long have they worked with them, and are these subcontractors licensed? Specifically, all states require that plumbers and electricians be licensed, but other subcontractors that are paid by the hour aren't similarly regulated. It's your choice whether to allow your green builder to use unlicensed subcontractors for things like concrete, painting and roofing, but be aware that if a dispute arises with a licensed subcontractor, the state licensing board will help you sort it out; get in a dispute with an unlicensed subcontractor and resolution is up to you.
Also ask about those subcontractors' green building experience. Sure, you can vet the general contractor, but if the subcontractors aren't also on board with your green building goals, then the boots on the ground may not build to your standards.