Green Building Update - 06/24/2008 (Plain Text Version)
In this issue:
The ‘First State’ Welcomes First Gold Home
The residential building market in the beach resorts of Sussex County, Del., is becalmed by the same doldrums affecting most of the rest of the country.
But green builder Robert Thornton says his business is doing well. “In a supposed down market, my bank says I’m their best performer,” Thornton said. He’s closed on seven homes in the first 25 lots open in Silverwoods, a new 350-home, 131-acre development in Ocean View, Del., near the town of Bethany Beach. The average sales price was $450,000.
Thornton is one of the founders of the new Home Builders Association of Delaware Green Building Council, along with the project's verifier, Howard Fortunato of JCM Environmental.
Last month, Thornton hit a special milestone for the NAHB National Green Building Program, when a project in his development became the first gold-certified project in the program — and the first home certified in the First State.
And, Thornton said, home buyers can’t get enough. Just the week before, a customer from Maryland who had heard about the home’s certification stopped by for a look — and signed a check for a down payment on a house Thornton hasn’t started yet, he said. “We’re doing absolutely fantastic right now in a market where everyone is saying that we’re looking for the market to come back in another year. This is what green building can do for you,” he said.
Already a high-end small production builder, Thornton said the cost of going green was comparatively insignificant, especially in light of today’s market. “We’re getting traffic right now that can’t be bought in a brochure or a full-page newspaper ad,” he said.
The obstacles have not come from potential home buyers, but from some of the trade contractors that Thornton does business with. It can be difficult to convince them to try new materials, work on waste reduction, and pay attention to environmental concerns.
It works if you constantly point to the sub’s bottom line, he said. “You sit down and have coffee with them, and you say, do you guys understand that this is what is going to give you your paycheck?” Thornton said. The business is going green, and contractors not willing to go along will be left behind, he tells them. “If you tell them it’s the right thing to do, that’s not going to motivate a tradesman. You have to get to the economic impact first, and they understand later.”
The certified home scored 480 points in the NAHB Green certification program, well above the 385 points needed to reach the gold level.
Thornton highlighted a number of green choices in the seven areas measured for certification.
Lot Design, Preparation and Development. Thirty-one of the development’s 130 acres are given over to open space, which will include wooded nature trails (using boardwalks to minimize the impact on the flora and fauna) and two ponds in the first phase, which were stocked by JCM Environmental with “Gambusia” fish to help keep the mosquito population in check — a portion of the project's integrated pest management, which earns points in this category. There will be other ponds in the subsequent phases of the development.
Access to public transportation is spotty in southern Delaware: The closest bus stop is about two and a half miles from the development’s entrance. However, Thornton provided a letter of credit for the Delaware Department of Transportation to construct a five-foot-wide bike trail along the length of the project, which will connect to an existing bike trail that vacationers use to pedal to the beach.
The house scored 62 points in this category.
Resource Efficiency. Thornton recycled his construction waste onsite, separating cardboard, wood and metals to be delivered to the local solid waste facility. But he also took special care to make sure there was less waste generated in the first place, he said.
Working with a local lumberyard, Thornton made sure that material shipments were accurate and that supply orders did not include overestimates — which also made the shipment costs competitive with lower-priced “big box” lumber dealers, he said.
He’s also giving new life to the trees that have to be removed for the homes to be built. They are taken to a sawmill to be made into dimensional lumber for future framing of construction at Silverwoods. The waste is ground into mulch for landscaping the development
The house scored 109 points in this category.
Energy Efficiency. Thornton’s homes include an air sealing package to reduce infiltration and the furnaces are Energy Star® rated at 88 percent efficiency and a SEER rating of at least 14. Rather than using 2x4s for exterior walls, 2x6s were employed to enable the use of R-19 insulation. The ceiling has R-38 insulation and the concrete crawl spaces — basements are rare that close to the ocean — get a pond liner installed under four inches of concrete slab, which Thornton said also does an excellent job of helping to control the humidity in the home.
The house scored 148 points in this category.
Water Efficiency. Thornton is especially pleased with a new device he’s installing in all the Silverwoods homes: an intellisensor irrigation control panel that’s connected to weather satellites collecting information for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The sensor controls the irrigation systems and calibrates how much water is needed based on weather forecasts and estimated rainfall. “You don’t have a day when you are watering and it’s not needed,” he said.
He also reduced the size of the water taps coming into the development from one inch to five-eighths of an inch to reduce the flow and is installing native landscaping, which is more drought resistant, and grouped plantings together by the amount of water they need.
Tankless water heaters are standard features of Silverwoods homes, which in addition to adding water efficiency points can also increase the energy efficiency because the water is only heated when it's needed.
The house scored 65 points in this category.
Indoor Environmental Quality. In a humid climate like southern Delaware’s, builders are concerned about the liability issues associated with mold, whether it’s harmful or not. Thornton took special care to make sure that no building materials got wet by paying attention to their delivery — utilizing a just-in-time system — and to how they are stored on the jobsite. “We need a program to follow [the materials] through the supply chain. Once it’s damp, it’s all over with,” he said.
The HVAC contractor also installed a MERV10 filter and made sure the air supply was balanced in the house. “During the construction process, his technicians masked all the HVAC outlets. It keeps dust and pollutants from getting into the HVAC system,” Thornton said. “If the thing is faulty from the beginning, you can’t go back and tear it out, so we make sure nothing can get in [the HVAC system] before it’s fired up.”
The project scored 111 points in this category.
Operation, Maintenance and Home Owner Education. No matter how efficient you make a house, Thornton points out, the systems break down if they aren’t maintained and operated correctly. Silverwoods home owners get a thick manual, a list of covenants, and plenty of follow-up.
The covenants describe what kinds of trees and other plants can be installed in the development and where they are prohibited — “you can’t plant a weeping willow near the water line,” Thornton said — and his subcontractors help educate the home owners. “The HVAC contractor has a one-year follow-up visit to make sure the systems are operating at peak efficiency,” Thornton said, “and while he’s there, he can sell them a maintenance contract.”
The project scored 19 points in this category.
Global Impact. This category is part of the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines, upon which the NAHB National Green Building Program is based. When the National Green Building Standard is ready for use, builders will see that many of the points available in this category have been transferred to other categories, notably the Indoor Environmental Quality section.
Thornton compiled points by specifying low- and no-VOC paints and low-VOC sealants and adhesives. The project scored 11 points in this category.
Costs to Go Green
Thornton estimates that it cost him less than one percent more to get his homes to a gold certified level — but admits he was building a high-end product to begin with.
And some features won’t pay off now, but may in the future, when costs go down. Silverwoods homes are pre-wired for photovoltaic panels and “zero-energy ready,” but the builder did not install any because right now; the costs are prohibitive.
“A year from now, I may find a solar company that is going to do every roof in our development, and now that we have the piping, now that it’s in the walls and the chases, it won’t be as costly,” he said.
Thornton said he will continue to talk to contractors, building inspectors, appraisers and tax officials and try to get them to see the value of going green. The biggest obstacle is education – or the lack of it. “But they come to the site, they see the traffic,” he said. “Once they are educated, they aren’t disbelievers anymore.”
For more information or to contact us directly, please visit www.NAHB.org | ©2008, National Association of Home Builders