Serious Green

Are we serious yet? Is this green movement in home building going to last? Or is it just another tease, such as the one we had in the late '70s or the early '90s? Professional Builder Editorial Director Paul Deffenbaugh examines these questions.

By Paul Deffenbaugh | August 31, 2007
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Are we serious yet? Is this green movement in home building going to last? Or is it just another tease, such as the one we had in the late '70s or the early '90s?

Home builders think green is here to stay. Consider these numbers from our Green Building Survey, which we report in this month's issue:

  • 67 percent of builders believe green is not a fad
  • 70 percent of builders say green building is important or extremely important to their market strategy
  • 80 percent of builders believe environmental goals are important or extremely important when planning new developments

Those are strong indicators that we are on a truly green footing, and maybe — just maybe — we will find broad adoption of green practices across home building. I hope so. I truly do. Adopting stringent green building practices today will have a huge impact on energy consumption, sustainability, indoor air quality and other green issues for decades.

To be honest, though, we don't have a strong consensus within the industry to adopt green practices. I disagree with the majority of builders in our survey who believe green is not a fad. Perhaps I'm too much of a cynic, but there are other numbers in our survey that cause me to doubt home building's commitment to green practices.

I know two things about builders: one, they are very conscious of the costs of construction; and two, they do not accept a cost increase unless it correlates to an increase in sales.

Our survey says builders don't see that happening. Nearly all builders — a pinch shy of 100 percent — say green building techniques increase the cost of a home. And 61 percent believe green techniques raise the price of a home at least six percent. However, half say green building has had no effect on sales. Add in the 18 percent who believed it only increased traffic and that means nearly 70 percent of builders see no market value from adopting green building practices.

No value increase at an increased cost. What builder you know thinks that's a good business model?

Not only do we have this disconnect, we have disagreement about green certification programs. As much as NAHB and the U.S. Green Building Council would like us to believe their two certification programs don't compete, the obvious truth is they do. The fact that there are two programs only creates market confusion and doubt among home buyers.

Let me offer this proof. Of builders, 87 percent agree there should be minimum standards of performance and sustainability before a builder can market a home as green — but they disagree strongly about who should set those standards. Opinion about who should set the standards is split evenly among independent, third-party programs; trade associations; and some form of government oversight. That last one is the real shocker: more than a third of builders say federal, state or local government should be setting the standards for green building.

To me, that's a call for help. We want green building standards. We want them to be consistent. And we want consumers to drive demand for green homes. To achieve that, we have to have one standard we all accept. Without adopting one standard, I'm certain my cynicism about green building will be proven.

If that happens, we will have lost a huge opportunity to improve the built environment in a manner that could affect generations of home owners.



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