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Homeowners are getting into the green scene! About 75% of people want energy efficiency in a home, and nearly 60% report an interest in sustainability according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders. Despite this interest, understanding how high-performing improvements can improve a home’s air quality, energy efficiency, and comfort continues to elude many. This knowledge gap is partly the result of confusing terminology. Although terms like "green" and "eco-friendly" may be more commonly used and understood, "high-performing" homes more comprehensively and accurately capture what homeowners aim to achieve with energy-efficient home improvements. When discussing projects with a contractor, using the right language can help everyone stay on the same page.


You’ve probably heard these first three terms already: “eco-friendly,” “green,” and “sustainable.” They are mostly synonymous. These terms refer to homes with low environmental impact due to a range of attributes, including land development, design, construction, operation, and maintenance practices. Eco-friendly/green/sustainable homes limit the structure’s carbon and environmental footprint. These terms encompass societal benefits, as well as benefits to the home’s occupants. The breadth of features that might be considered “green” can create confusion and accusations of greenwashing.

Clean Energy

Homes that use “clean energy” leverage renewable energy sources that keep pollutants or damaging byproducts out of the environment. These clean sources of energy, such as a photovoltaic (PV) system (commonly referred to as a solar system) or solar water heating systems, are often part of the home. However, homeowners can also purchase clean energy from their utility, which sources electricity from utility-scale wind turbines, solar, hydro, or other “clean” sources.

Energy Efficient

“Energy efficient” speaks specifically to the home’s ability to operate at reduced energy levels compared to homes without these features. Consumers often think of ENERGY STAR® appliances, water heaters and HVAC systems, and LED lights as energy efficient. But an efficient home is more than a collection of efficient devices and appliances; energy-efficient homes rely on doors, windows, air sealing, and insulation to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, reducing the energy needed to run the home’s heating and cooling systems.

Healthy Homes

“Healthy” refers to homes designed, constructed, and maintained with the intention of fostering favorable occupant health. Healthy homes provide proper ventilation for desirable indoor air quality and respiratory health. They reduce inhabitants’ exposure to pollutants and contaminants. They have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and other safety measures. Although not as obvious by the healthy home term, they also maintain a comfortable temperature range to protect residents from exposure to extreme cold or heat.

High Performing

The Energy Act 2005 defines a “high-performance building” as one that “integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity.” In other words, high-performing homes go beyond energy efficiency and encompass all the ways in which a home “performs” to deliver comfort, durability, indoor air quality, water conservation, and more. Increasingly, “high performing” includes new features that are growing in popularity, such as smart home capabilities, electric vehicle charging, resiliency, and being responsive to new energy pricing structures, such as time-of-use utility rates and responding to peak load events.


"Islanding" refers to a home (or neighborhood) that can separate itself from the utility grid. This usually entails having a home (or community) energy production source (a method for powering the home or community, such as a solar system) and/or battery storage that can power the home even in the absence of external grid power. For example, a solar system paired with a home battery can “island itself” and power the home for extended periods without being dependent on the utility’s grid. Electric vehicles can even help “island” a home. Instead of using the home’s electricity to power the car, some cars (and charging stations) can power a home in the event of a power outage. Refer to the U.S. Department of Energy for more information on the Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings (GEB) initiative.


Not only do many high-performing home features hide from view behind walls, but also many prospective buyers do not fully understand the value these upgrades bring to a home. To ensure a homeowner receives a fair return on their energy-efficient home investments, they can certify their home to clearly communicate the value of its high-performing assets to the appraiser, real estate agents, and prospective buyers.

Pearl Certification, for example, provides third-party certification of a home’s high-performing features in the areas of:

  1. Building Shell (e.g., wall insulation, attic/roof insulation) 

  2. Heating & Cooling (e.g., heat pump systems, cooling systems)

  3. Baseload (e.g., water heater, refrigerators)

  4. Home Management (e.g., smart home devices, planning)

  5. Renewable Energy and Energy Storage (e.g., whole home batteries, solar panels)


In 2020, 22 climate-related disasters caused an astounding $95 billion in damages in the U.S. The climate risks facing a specific home largely depend on the home’s geographic location. Different methods can improve the “resiliency” of a home, referring to its ability to withstand natural disasters, such as storms, heat, fires, droughts, and floods. For example, houses prone to severe storms could benefit from a battery storage system, and attic insulation and ENERGY STAR windows can help protect homes susceptible to heat risk. Homeowners can assess their home’s climate risk with ClimateCheck, available through Pearl’s free Green Door online platform.


“Smart” homes optimize smart technology to better meet the needs of the occupant. Smart home devices, such as programmable thermostats, lighting, doorbells, alarms, cameras, shades, appliances, vacuum cleaners, mattresses, and toilets, use sensors to provide key analytics. The homeowner can control these smart devices for optimal efficiency, flexibility, and individual preferences.

Take Action

Bolstered by a new understanding of high-performing homes, log in to Pearl’s free Green Door online app to gauge your home’s current energy efficiency, learn about opportunities to improve your home’s performance, prioritize your projects, and more.


Pearl Certification is transforming the housing market. We’re making a visible difference nationwide for homeowners and the businesses that serve them.