Green Building Goes Mainstream

Several indicators point to 2004 as a vanguard year for the green building movement as what has been niche moves into mainstream home building.

By Richard Dooley and Jennifer Rivera for PATH Partners | February 29, 2004



At Madera in Gainesville, Fla., PATH is testing several green technologies, including high-content fly-ash concrete, a tankless water heater and light-gauge steel framing. Green building systems help Madera homes qualify for 100% financing on the supplemental costs of efficiency upgrades through Fannie Mae’s Home Performance Power program.

Several indicators point to 2004 as a vanguard year for the green building movement. Here's what we see that suggests that green building practices and technologies will make great strides into mainstream home building this year.





  • The sprouting of green building programs: Residential green building - taking environmental considerations into account during the home building process - appeared on the map in 1990 with the creation of the Austin (Texas) Green Building Program. Today, more than 20 such programs exist, with more in development. In addition, many states and cities provide financial assistance and tax breaks for resource-efficient construction.

    From 1990 through 2001, 18,887 U.S. homes were built in accordance with a variety of local green building guidelines. In 2002, builders constructed 13,224 green homes - a 70% increase attributed largely to the growth in the number of green building programs and the maturation of programs started in the '90s.





  • Industry guidelines on the horizon: Green builders are gaining momentum from new initiatives at the national level. In May 2003, the NAHB approved its first green building resolution, now incorporated into its Policy Handbook. The NAHB will create a set of national green building guidelines designed for the mainstream home building industry with input from home builders and remodelers, product manufacturers and distributors, environmental groups, government agencies and technical groups. The guidelines are slated for completion by fall 2004.

    Another national group championing the green building cause is the U.S. Green Building Council, which created the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. LEED currently focuses on commercial and large multifamily buildings, but the USGBC is exploring development of a LEED rating for homes. The USGBC has formed a committee to examine this potential and is gathering feedback from a broad range of home building professionals.





  • A growing inventory of tested technologies: Whether or not a recently built home meets a set of green building guidelines, it likely will contain one or more green building technologies. The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing assesses new technologies in real-world applications and provides its evaluations to the home building industry. Promising green technologies in PATH's Technology Inventory include recycled wood/plastic composite lumber, fly-ash-fortified concrete and tankless water heaters.





  • Increasing consumer awareness: Growing consumer demand for environmentally sound homes is fueling the expansion of green building. Products such as cellulose insulation, low-flow plumbing fixtures, no-VOC paints and compact fluorescent lights are becoming commonplace on the shelves of home improvement stores.

    The growth of market demand will depend on consumer education on the short- and long-term benefits of green building. Savvy builders seize the opportunity to highlight the benefits of the green building products in their homes, even those products already in popular use, such as engineered lumber.

    How to emphasize the added value of green building? Stress the things that matter most to your buyers, such as lower energy and water bills, increased comfort, healthy indoor air and increased resale value. Send the message that green homes are quality homes and excellent investments.





  • Green affordability: Green features aren't limited to high-end homes. Building pioneers are showing that green can be affordable. Through the city's G/Rated program, Eco+Tech Construction Inc. in Portland, Ore., built a 1,250-square-foot green home for $100,000. Passive solar and energy-efficient design strategies reduced the homeowner's energy bills by 42% for heating and 50% for cooling compared with a typical home. Since dedicating its first green home in 1997 and seeing the homeowner's utility bills peak at $45 that winter, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver has incorporated green features into all of its homes.

    A PATH demonstration project in Dallas, The Vistas at Kensington Park, produced highly efficient and durable homes, which included structural insulated panels and fiber-cement siding, for a purchase price of approximately $85,000. New Jersey Green Homes, which evolved from an earlier PATH demonstration site, is building several new developments based on the success of the pilot home.





  • Training, tools, awards: Home building professionals have more opportunities than ever before to learn about green building and to access tools that assist the design and construction process. For example, BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) software, available on the PATH Web site (, helps builders select cost-effective, environmentally preferable building products.

    The NAHB's National Green Building Conference and the USGBC's International Green Building Conference and Exposition attract mainstream home builders. Conferences offered by local and regional green building programs are appearing in growing numbers. In addition, architecture schools are expanding their offerings to address growing demand for sustainable design courses.

    Prestige is another key motivator. Industry award programs are recognizing more green builders. Each year, the NAHB Research Center's EnergyValue Housing Awards honor builders who voluntarily integrate energy efficiency into the design, construction and marketing of their new homes. The awards program also educates the home building industry and the public about successful approaches to energy-efficient construction.

    Professional Builder's 2003 Builder of the Year award went to Atlanta-area builder Hedgewood Properties, the first builder to commit to building all of its homes to the voluntary EarthCraft House standard developed by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. Hedgewood has demonstrated convincingly that green building can be profitable and provide a market advantage.

    The USGBC's Leadership Awards recognize excellence in green building in the public and private sectors as well as within the council's membership. Also, look for growth in local and regional green building award competitions such as the Northeast Green Building Awards, presented by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.

    It's an exciting time to be building green, and the future seems even brighter - maybe it's all the fluorescent lighting!

    Richard Dooley is a specialist in waste management and recycling at the NAHB Research Center. Jennifer Rivera is a project manager with the environmental consulting firm D&R International.

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