Competing Green

Building environmentally sound, sustainable homes was once perceived as a quaint but impractical idea for builders in terms of time and money needed to implement on a large scale. Besides, most homebuyers weren't expressing interest in the concept, so what would be the point? Today, more builders seem to be getting the point.
By Felicia Oliver, Senior Editor | August 31, 2005

Building environmentally sound, sustainable homes was once perceived as a quaint but impractical idea for builders in terms of time and money needed to implement on a large scale. Besides, most homebuyers weren't expressing interest in the concept, so what would be the point?

Today, more builders seem to be getting the point. Environmentally friendly, or "green" building, isn't just appealing to a fringe element of the population. Word is getting out that green-built homes are simply better built homes. They are better constructed, more energy efficient, less susceptible to mold and moisture issues and can have a very traditional look and design. These qualities can appeal to a wide range of buyers.

"There's this misperception that a 'green' house has to look like a spaceship made out of recycled tires and have sod on the roof," says Jim Hackler, program manager for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes Program. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known for its national green building rating systems for commercial buildings, is in the pilot stage of testing a national green building ratings program for homes. "You don't have to sacrifice the aesthetics. "It's the technique that goes into the house," Hackler continues. "It's a combination of best practices on how to build a better house and how to save money."Green beneath the façade

Many elements of green building are not outwardly apparent.

"It's the things that you don't see," Hackler says. "The layer of quality that's underneath the house, behind the walls, in the systems — the things that aren't real sexy. But the builder knows about these and gets real excited about them."

Builders feel good about presenting a home that's well made and comfortable, as well as environmentally sound. It gives them unique selling points, something other than "crown molding and granite countertops," to discuss with their buyers, according to Hackler.

"There are builders who want to differentiate themselves from a marketing standpoint," says Hackler. "One of the things that really resonates with families is better indoor air quality . . . that's something consu

mers find very valuable and worthwhile, and that's something that a builder can market."

Green built homes can be affordable. "We really want to get away from the misconception that building green is expensive," says Ray Tonjes, president of Ray Tonjes Builders, Inc. in Austin, Texas, and chairman of NAHB's Green Building Subcommittee. NAHB introduced its own set of national green building guidelines in January of this year at the International Builders' Show in Orlando. "At an initial level, it is relatively low cost."

"The higher up you go," Tonjes continues, "and the more sophisticated — especially if you get into photovoltaics or ground source heat pumps and all that kind of stuff — it gets very, very expensive. But at an entry level, the cost should be very minimal."

Robert Huffman, president of Huffman Homes, a builder turned neighborhood developer in Austin, has participated in the city's green building program, the first such program in the nation, since it began in 1990.

"I always temper my green building with the fact that, first and foremost, the homes have got to be affordable," Huffman says. "If it makes economic sense, and is a good investment for my buyer, then I implement that part of the green building program."

Huffman seeks a favorable balance between the purchase price of the home and monthly utility, maintenance and commuter costs (if a home is close to work or school, then less car fuel is used).

"We put in those four cost elements," says Huffman. "And what we try to do is minimize that for our buyer."

Huffman has an affordable subdivision in east Austin called Heritage Village with 54 homes that are "quite high in the green program."

"[Austin has] a five-star program," Huffman explains. "There are several homes . . . that achieve a five-star rating. That's really pretty much pulling out all the stops and doing almost everything that you can to make it a very, very green home."

But five-star green built homes, he says, tend to be very expensive relative to their size. Most of his homes are three-star and four-star.

For builders whose clientele can afford it, green is seen as worth the return on their investment.

"You're going to spend extra money," says David W. Milner, vice-president of Haven Properties in Alpharetta, Ga. He is also Haven's coordinator for EarthCraft Homes — Atlanta's green building program. In addition to his responsibilities with LEED for Homes, Hackler is head of the EarthCraft Homes program.

"But for the pride of what we know we have in our product," Milner continues, "we can . . . tell our customers that we feel like we build one of the best homes in the Atlanta market for their money."

In business since 1993, Haven Properties, with owner Michael J. Baptist at the helm, produces a little more than 110 homes a year.

Haven decided to adapt the EarthCraft House standard because, despite the belief that they were building good homes, they needed assurance of healthy indoor air quality — of greater concern than energy efficiency for homeowners in their market. Milner says they wanted homes with tight construction that were dry and mold free.

"What we found was that the green building program satisfied those requirements," says Milner. "We began to look around for someone who was doing or championing green building that we could have as a model that we could follow. That's where our association with the EarthCraft House people began.

"You get points for a waterproofed basement, and we used to do just the damp proofing of our basements," says Milner, "but now we do a full waterproofing."

Milner also cites advanced frame building practices that save on the use of materials.

"Ladder tees and California corners," he says, "allow you to get better coverage of your insulation. When you're putting your insulation in you can actually get insulation tucked into a T, where you can't with traditional framing without going through a lot of gyrations in order to do so."

Between 2003 and 2004 "our warranty costs went down by about 11 percent," Milner adds. "And we directly attribute that to . . . the green building program."

A green-built roadmap

The fact that there will soon be two national standards for green building, in addition to the nearly 30 local and regional programs across the country, demonstrates the growing influence of green, and the perceived importance of defining and educating builders and home buyers on what being green really means.

According to figures provided by the NAHB Research Center, at least 14,589 homes in 2004 were built to one of the local or regional green building standards. Since Austin's program began in 1990 through the end of 2004, at least 61,927 homes have been built according to one of these green building standards (see graph on page 87).

Rich Dooley, land use planner and environmental analyst with the NAHB Research Center, has fielded a number of queries from builders interested in using the Guidelines, but as of this publication date, he was not aware of any professional builders that had used them to complete construction on a new home. LEED for Homes began inviting builders to pilot test its proposed standards in July, and expects this process to be complete by mid-2006. The final checklist should be available by early 2007.

There are similarities and definitive contrasts in the approach of these two programs.

In developing its Guidelines, the NAHB sought input from more than 60 stakeholders — builders, manufacturers, consultants, program administrators, governments and home builder associations from across the country.

"We also had module groups that met in specific areas of expertise," says John Loyer, a specialist with NAHB's Energy and Green Building Advocacy Group. "Each specific chapter was then vetted to a separate expert group within the stakeholder group."

Points are awarded in seven categories: lot design, preparation and development; resource efficiency; energy efficiency; water efficiency; indoor environmental quality; operation, maintenance and homeowner education; and global impact.

Based on the number of points earned, a house is rated Bronze, Silver or Gold in terms of greenness.

Third-party certification is not mandated under the NAHB Guidelines — it is left to builders and local green home building programs to determine how homes will be certified as meeting the green home building guidelines.

"We've established a national baseline," Tonjes says, "and we're going to set some minimum parameters for participation to qualify under NAHB's program."

Tonjes refers to the NAHB Guidelines as a toolkit to assist its local HBA members who have not adopted their own green building program. HBAs can use or modify the Guidelines in the process of developing their own programs. "This is written by builders for builders," Tonjes says, "and it really is for the mainstream home builder to green up his construction practice."

The complete NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines are available on the NAHB Web site at

LEED already has a green ratings system for new and existing commercial buildings, commercial interiors, and core and shell projects.

LEED-H will target the top 25 percent of residential green builders, "the market leaders and the innovators," according to Hackler.

LEED-H has also sought input from local and national stakeholder groups in developing its standards, which will be further defined and refined during the pilot phase of the program.

LEED-H homes will be rated Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum, based on a point system, as are the NAHB Guidelines. But third-party inspection and verification by designated program providers is needed before certification is given. Checklist categories under consideration are location, sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor environment quality, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, homeowner awareness and the innovation or design process.

LEED-H program providers are local and regional organizations that have been selected to give technical, marketing and verification support services to builders. Twelve program providers have been selected for the pilot, based on their track record in assisting builders with other green building and/or Energy Star programs.

There are costs involved in certifying a home as LEED-H. Registration for the pilot program is $150, and the cost will be $50 for final certification, once program providers complete their performance tests and verifications and their findings are approved by LEED-H.

In addition, individual program providers will set their own fees for the tests they administer, based on what their local markets will bear.

These and other details of the program are subject to change. Check for more information and updates for LEED-H online at

Green building can satisfy both the conscience of the environmentally minded home builder, as well as the practical concerns of a builder who has his eye on the bottom line.

Santos Alvarez is vice president of operations for SummerHill Homes in Palo Alto, California. SummerHill is a builder of high-end production homes, and builds around 300 homes a year.

SummerHill Homes' first consciously green built community was Sycamore Heights, built in January 2004.

"It was a requirement by the city of Pleasanton (Calif.)," says Alvarez, "They provided us with a green points calculator from Alameda County Waste Management Authority. In filling the form out, we realized we have been doing it. We've been doing it for a long time and just never really thought about it."

Alvarez says building green came naturally in some ways because it made good business sense.

"Recycling of lumber and materials is something that we've always done," says Alvarez. "We just refuse to throw away usable pieces of material. It's proper business. It costs a lot of money to haul that away, and it's just plain unnecessary."

And in some ways, green building has been a matter of conscience.

"I've always been environmentally [aware]," says Alvarez. "I came from another builder and I started doing it over there. . . . It's just the right thing to do."

Milner says that as energy costs continue to rise and new homes continue to be built, green building will continue to increase.

"I cannot see it as a passing thing," Milner says.

"In the Southeast, green building is certainly an emerging market that is coming into its own," he continues. "I feel like those who embrace it earliest are the ones that are going to establish themselves in the marketplace as builders that are leading edge."

Milner has some advice for builders who are undecided about green building.

"Don't wait until it's forced upon you," he says. "Begin to investigate now and see how you can get into a program."

Green Building Program Material Criteria*
ENERGY STAR Energy Efficient Windows ENERGY STAR Energy Efficient Windows
Single Pane Windows • Improved Frame Materials • Improved Frame Materials
• Multi-pane Glazing • Multi-pane Glazing
• Glass Coatings • Glass Coatings
• Gas Filled Space • Gas Filled Space
• Warm Edge Spacers • Warm Edge Spacers
• Improved Weather Stripping • Improved Weather Stripping
Non-Energy Efficient Appliances ENERGY STAR Energy Efficient Appliances ENERGY STAR Energy Efficient Appliances
• Clothes Washers - 18–25 Gallons/Load • Clothes Washers - 18–25 Gallons/Load
• Refrigerators and Freezers - 40 percent Less Energy • Refrigerators and Freezers - 40 percent Less Energy
• Dishwashers - Uses Less Hot Water • Dishwashers - Uses Less Hot Water
Standard Lumber Framing Methods Use Advanced Framing Techniques Material Efficient Home Framing
• Reduce Building Material Used For Framing • Use Advanced Framing Techniques
Non-certified Woods Certified Wood For Wood and Wood-Based Materials and Products Certified Tropical Hardwoods
• Third Party Certification • Forest Stewardship Council Certification
Standard Products Environmentally Preferable Products Environmentally Preferable Products
• Carpet • Carpet
• Adhesives and Sealants • Adhesives and Sealants
• Cabinetry and Casework • Cabinetry and Casework
• Composite Panels • Composite Panels
• Interior and Exterior Doors • Interior and Exterior Doors
• Flooring (non-woven) • Flooring (non-woven)
• Paints • Paints
• Wall Coverings • Wall Coverings
Non-continuous Insulation Increase Effective R-value of Building Envelope Efficient Exterior Wall Insulation
• Continuous Insulation in Exterior Walls
Virgin Materials Recycled Content Materials No information available at present
Non-Renewable Materials Renewable Materials No information available at present
• Agricultural Byproduct-Based Products
Traditional Materials Resource Efficient Materials No information available at present
• Contain Fewer Resources
Standard Lighting Fixtures ENERGY STAR Advanced Lighting Package (ALP) ENERGY STAR Advanced Lighting Package (ALP)
Non-Locally Produced Materials Locally Available, Indigenous Materials Locally Produced Materials
Standard Plumbing Fixtures Water Efficient Plumbing Fixtures High Efficiency Plumbing Fixtures

Residential Green Building Program Statistics*
New Mexico Building America Partner Program Albuquerque NM 3,227 727 0 0 2,500
Hawaii Built Green Honolulu HI 4 3 1 0 0
Built Green Colorado Denver CO 18,242 5,742 5,000 3,854 3,646
Built Green Kitsap Bremerton WA 445 67 47 53 278
Built Green of SW Washington Vancouver WA 47 11 10 26 0
Built Green Seattle Bellevue WA 5,652 1,652 1,800 1,200 1,000
Build Green Program of Kansas City Kansas City MO 18 6 9 3 N/A**
California Green Builder Sacramento CA 635 0 90 545 0
EarthCraft House(tm) Atlanta GA 2,430 400 1,230 300 500
Green Building Program Austin TX 4,545 753 602 715 2,475
Innovative Building Review Program Santa Barbara CA 993 26 18 16 933
Green Points Program Boulder CO 2,155 450 139 260 1,306
Green Building Program Frisco TX 11,239 1,932 2,910 4,797 1,600
"GreenStar" Building Incentive Program Chula Vista CA 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Green Building Program Scottsdale AZ 460 239 38 54 129
WI Green Built Home Madison WI 1,981 792 637 350 202
Green Home Designation Cocoa FL 80 65 10 3 2
NC HealthyBuilt Homes Raleigh NC 49 37 12 N/A N/A
VT Built Green Burlington VT 14 14 N/A N/A N/A
Earth Advantage(tm) Portland OR 2,527 1,113 916 498 0
Southern Arizona Green Building Alliance Tucson AZ 0 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Green Home Choice Arlington VA 3 2 1 N/A N/A
I-Built Flagstaff AZ 0 0 0 N/A N/A
EcoBUILD Memphis TN 47 39 8 N/A N/A
Tacoma-Pierce County Built Green(tm) Tacoma WA 0 0 0 N/A N/A
NJ Green Affordable Green Program Trenton NJ 919 472 161 144 142
City of Aspen Efficient Building Program Aspen CO 47 47 N/A N/A N/A
Green Building in Alameda County Alameda CA N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTALS 61,927 14,589 13,639 12,818 14,713
RUNNING TOTALS 61,927 47,338 33,699 20,881***
*Provided by The NAHB Research Center
**N/A indicates that either the green building program in question was not in existence at that time, or that records were not being kept on how many homes were built under that program for that particular year.
***There were 6168 homes recorded as being built according to a green building standard from 1990 through the end of 2001.