April 4, 2013

Coffee with KC McGurren, Executive Director of EarthCraft Virginia (Part 1)

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Katherine Carroll “KC” McGurren, Executive Director of EarthCraft™ Virginia, to learn first-hand about green building practices and EarthCraft certification standards. Join our conversation below! If you have any additional questions for KC, feel free to post them in the comment section.

For a little background information, EarthCraft Virginia is a 501(c) 3 non-profit dedicated to the advancement of sustainable, affordable, resource and energy efficient construction through education and technical support. By working with builders to meet energy-efficiency and green building standards, the organization has successfully certified over 1,850 homes and over 9,000 multifamily dwelling units. EarthCraft Virginia closely partners with VHDA, Southface Energy Institute, the Home Builders Association of Virginia and Habitat for Humanity of Virginia.

KC McGurren is the Executive Director of EarthCraft Virginia.
1.     For our readers, could you tell us about yourself?

With a background in policy and planning from Virginia Tech, I worked to obtain hands-on experience in green building. I began my career as a Fellow at Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. During that time, I completed field visits to perform energy-efficiency assessments and worked as a home energy rater with the EarthCraft House program. After completing my fellowship, I joined EarthCraft Virginia as its first employee, eventually assuming my current role as Executive Director.

2.     How did EarthCraft Virginia get started?

In 2005, Karl Bren, a former employee of VHDA, and Chuk Bowles, a highly-regarded representative of the building science community, set out to address the need for a green building program in Virginia. After exploring green building programs across the nation, they decided to adopt Southface Energy Institute’s EarthCraft program and in 2006 they formally introduced EarthCraft Virginia to VHDA. Based on the success of the pilot program, EarthCraft certification was formally included in VHDA’s Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. (KC mentioned that the QAP has become more competitive in terms of green building because developers are awarded more points for greater energy- efficiency (post-rehabilitation), based on a sliding scale.)

3.     Describe the services EarthCraft provides today.

Our multitude of services include EarthCraft House and LEED Homes for single-family homes; EarthCraft Multifamily, the country’s first multifamily green building program; EarthCraft Light Commercial for commercial buildings sized 25,000 square feet or less; and EarthCraft Communities, which incorporates a holistic approach to development. In addition, EarthCraft offers a number of energy-efficiency programs, including Water Sense, Energy Star Residential, Net-Zero, Home Energy Ratings, and Manual J Heating and Cooling Load Calculations. In addition, there is the availability of periodic classroom and in-field training for developers, contractors and architects, plus specialized training for Realtors® and mechanic contractors.

4.     With so many options for green building, how do you determine which rating to select? What are the primary differences between EarthCraft and LEED?

The key difference is program delivery. LEED, widely recognized within the architectural industry, places emphasis on paper documentation with verification. On the other hand, EarthCraft is a builder-friendly program centered on technical consulting with documentation. (KC added that EarthCraft is a more affordable option and developers find value in this process.)

5.     How does a developer get started with EarthCraft certification? Describe the costs and certification process.

Developers interested in EarthCraft Multifamily certification should approach EarthCraft Virginia staff as early as possible in the predevelopment process to identify cost effective decisions and meet construction timelines. The average certification cost is $305 per unit but varies due to project size, location and scope of work. Typically the certification process includes the following steps:
1. Review initial architectural drawings at 30% completion, Project Information SheetConstruction Specifications Sheet, and load calculations.
2. Complete the points worksheet for new construction or renovation. This information will be used for the preliminary energy analysis.
3. Conduct project team charrette or a collaborative discussion with the developer, architect, contractor and mechanical contractor.
4. Conduct pre-construction and construction field visits, with the technical advisor monitoring at the framing and pre-dry wall steps, as well as checking the mechanical systems.
5. Conduct final diagnostic pressure testing and visual inspections to ensure that required performance standards and voluntary measures are met.
6. Once the project has successfully passed all diagnostic tests and visual inspections, as well as satisfied worksheet requirements and the points threshold, the developer will receive EarthCraft Certification. 

Follow part two of my interview with KC in my upcoming post.

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