Green Building Update - Nov. 25, 2008
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Greener Than Ever
But look how much has changed since then. I don't have to tell you about the state of the economy in general, or the home building industry, specifically. I can tell you that NAHB is doing everything we can to make sure Congress knows that revitalizing our industry is key to our economic recovery.
The good news is that many of our members -- our green members -- are finding that demand for sustainable homes and energy-efficient remodels remains strong. And more and more, our members are discovering the resources they need to meet this stong demand at NAHBGreen.
There are now 75 homes that have been verifed by the NAHB Research Center's National Green Building Certification, the verification program for NAHBGreen. More than 100 homes are in the inspection process. Even more astonishing: More than 4,000 projects are in various stages of the design and construction process using the online scoring tool at www.nahbgreen.org.
Clearly, NAHBGreen is finding a wide audience -- and you like what you see!
Standard Progresses through Approval Process
The National Green Building Standard moved another step toward completion two weeks ago when consensus committee members reaffirmed their votes regarding the public comments submitted on the final draft.
This sets the stage for the last steps towards what has seemed to be a long process, but will be well worth the wait. While other green building rating systems have had much harder growing pains, the standard has moved forward because of its committment to a full and transparent consensus process.
CGP Growth Continues
Want some more statistics? How about this one: There are now more than 1,500 Certified Green Professionals doing business in the nation. These builders, remodelers and other industry professionals have discovered that this educational designation sets them apart from their competition when talking to home buyers and home owners.
Ralph Pagnucco Jr., a builder and remodeler in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is the 1,500th CGP. In a press release that NAHB sent out regarding this milestone, Ralph said the classes he took to complete the CGP designation have helped him become a better informed green builder – and stand out from the competition.
Ralph is also incorporating more green remodeling practices into his business, including upgraded insulation and energy-efficient windows and doors. He also conducts a cost analysis on heating and cooling equipment to help his customers determine how much money they may save with a more energy-efficient unit.
“We’re trying to be the best green builders we can be,” he said in the press release.
Next week, Ralph’s company will submit its first new single-family home for green certification from GreenBuilt Michigan, an NAHBGreen affiliate. All of the company’s homes will be green certified from now on.
And the best news? After more than 20 years in the construction industry, including the last seven years in Michigan, which has been battered more than many other regions during this economic downturn, Ralph says his business just had its most profitable year yet.
Green is good business. And NAHBGreen truly is helping our members become the best builders and remodelers they can be.
Indiana Builder Certifies 8 Homes -- and Counting
From left: builders Chris Byers and Eric Veldman, C.E.O. Robert Coolman, V.P. Ronald Fisher and builder Doug Rogers are responsible for making sure the Coolman Communities home is built the way promised.
Bob Coolman likes to tell the story of his mother, a biology teacher, who decided with his father, a farmer, to develop a subdivision on a portion of their land not suitable for cultivation.
This was back in the 1950s, when the term “green building” hadn’t been invented yet. As the work began on clearing the property to develop the lots and streets, “My mother literally stood in front of a grove of trees to keep the bulldozer away,” Coolman recalled.
It’s the next logical step for the company, which has been experimenting with energy-efficient and green design concepts since the 1972, when Coolman was discharged from the Navy and started building homes.
“We are small-town builders. We had no thoughts about some high-falutin’, esoteric concepts of saving the world. We were just trying to figure out how to be responsible, how to sustain a quality reputation and do the right thing,” he said. “Our focus was never green design – it was always about creating better neighborhoods.”
Like his mother, Coolman’s initial focus was preserving trees and open space, but he soon realized that the definition of environmentally friendly development is fluid, at best. His company has been recognized by the Soil Conservation Service for his work on draining swamps – “we didn’t call them wetlands then” – and honored later for creating wetlands where lakes and farmland used to exist. “We’ve come full circle,” he said.
And along the way, he developed a business philosophy that he said has helped him remain successful, even in today’s housing market. Coolman expects to build about 25 homes this year, instead of his usual 40 to 50, but that’s better than many Indiana builders are doing right now.
His long experience – along with reading the annual NAHB surveys on the costs of doing business in the home building industry as well as learning from other members of his Builder 20 Club – has helped him form this philosophy. “You need to have margins of 18% to 20% just to cover your costs . . . operating margins that allow you to stay in business,” Coolman said.
“In small Midwestern towns, the easiest way to get into the building business is to get into the middle market,” which in Valparaiso means homes priced between $275,000 and $400,000. In the last three years, builders produced homes for that market at a record – and unsustainable – pace," Coolman said.
Coolman decided to aim a little lower and dominate a different niche. “We decided years ago to develop a reputation for responsibly building a quality product in an affordable price range,” he said. “We have always focused on ways of using new concepts and technologies - not to produce high-end housing, but to create more sustainable, affordable neighborhoods.”
In the 1970s, the company experimented with passive solar techniques and building well-insulated, well-sealed homes. It discovered early on that a tight house needs to incorporate good ventilation to help avoid moisture and indoor air quality issues. “You have to be careful with this stuff because there are ‘healthy house’ issues that go along with it,” he said.
The company worked with the city of Valparaiso to incorporate rain gardens in a Traditional Neighborhood Development targeted to entry-level buyers – and that feature, combined with the development’s location, made it attractive to move-up buyers as well.
His work with development and landscaping techniques that incorporate native prairie grasses and xeriscaping, avoiding turf grass where possible, also helped him with storm water management issues and water conservation. When combined with energy-efficient building practices and indoor environmental quality techniques the company was already using, certifying the home as green was the next logical step, Coolman decided.
A Coolman Communities home was the eighth home in the nation to be certified by the NAHB Research Center, which administers National Green Building Certification for NAHBGreen. Since then, the company has certified seven more. “Our anticipation is that everything we build will be certified from now on,” he said.
“Certification fits into our overall business plan. In the marketplace, there are different ways people define themselves as green, but for some reason, the green-built market is perceived as a much smaller market segment than we feel it needs to be,” Coolman said. “Having the [NAHBGreen and National Green Building Certification] label gives third-party verification to what we have done and what we continue to do.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to be green, and it concerns me that people think it costs so much that it’s a limited market that can afford to be green. When we think that, all we have done is shoot ourselves in the foot,” he continued.
“Nobody is going to come though the door and say, ‘I don’ t want insulation in the walls,’ or ‘I want the storm water [discharge] shipped down to the next subdivision.’ Buyers would like to be green, and in a sustainable house, the lifecycle cost is going to be down and your initial acquisition cost is not going to be significantly different.
“This is part of our business strategy – I’d rather deal with people who are willing to pay for what they get as opposed to [those who are] entirely driven by price. I wouldn’t be building green if I didn’t think it helped us set ourselves apart – everything we do is about differentiating ourselves from the competition,” he said.
That includes experimenting with new technologies, but not incorporating new products until they can be used in a cost-effective way. “This market won’t pay for tankless water heaters - but a modest expense upgrade gets us a water heater that is rated high enough to get what we are looking for, Coolman said. “There are compromises involved and we have to look at how we are spending our customers’ money and make sure we aren’t spending it foolishly.”
The next frontier for Coolman: Seven of the eight certified homes scored at the Silver level, and now the company is ready to go further. “Our local utility company has come out with a rebate program that allows us to put in higher efficiency heating equipment that makes it economically possible” to score at the NAHBGreen Gold level.
All because of his mother, the biology teacher. “This is where our green DNA began,” Coolman said, “when Mother insisted the road had to go around the trees.”
IBS Green Day: It's Back!
Green builders have yet another reason to attend the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas Jan. 20-23.
Once again, NAHB celebrates Green Day at this year’s IBS, with education and networking events taking place Wednesday, Jan. 21. More than 30 sessions on green building science, technology and marketing are planned, including in-depth looks at green site development and a special featured speaker, "Green to Gold" author Andrew Winston.
Members can also visit the NAHB Green Action Center next to the BuilderBooks bookstore to learn more about the many components of NAHBGreen, including the online scoring tool, NAHB National Green Building Awards program, and the upcoming NAHB National Green Building Conference.
Green product dealers and manufacturers will welcome builders and remodelers to the trade show floor with giveaways, special guests and other incentives.
Remodelers: Tax Credits Can Spur Sales
Remodelers may find that the tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements signed by President Bush in September can be a financial incentive to encourage more customers to go green on their renovation projects in 2009.
The IRS Section 25C tax credit for existing homes, which expired at the end of 2007, has been reinstated as part of the economic rescue package passed on Oct. 3.
The tax credits have been extended through the end of 2009, although they were not made retroactive for projects that were completed before the package was signed by President Bush.
With the newly enacted legislation, home owners can receive tax credits for installing energy-efficient windows, doors, roofing and insulation as well as furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps. Details on qualifying improvements are available at the IRS Web site.
Remodelers can encourage their customers by becoming familiar with the model types and products that qualify for the tax credit - but home owners must submit the appropriate forms with their tax return.
Home owners should retain records that include product information and a certification statement from the manufacturer indicating how the product qualifies for the tax credit. They do not need to submit the paperwork to the IRS, nor do they need the manufacturer's sales receipt.
The record for each product should include:
NAHB Names Affiliated Green Programs
NAHB has announced that state home builder associations of Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York and Oklahoma are now affiliated with NAHBGreen, the NAHB National Green Building Program.
As affiliates, member builders will use local verifiers trained by the NAHB Research Center to inspect their homes to receive National Green Building Certification.
Affiliated HBAs are also required to conduct green building educational events or seminars for both consumers and builders.
Ten local HBAs have also affiliated with NAHB Green. They include:
Green Certification Now Easier for Modular Housing
NAHBGreen verification is now available for modular homes, bringing the green building certification process to the industry that produces a fifth of the nation's housing stock.
"This is a very important step for the industry as more and more builders rely on systems-built construction methods," said NAHB President Sandy Dunn in a Nov. 25 press release. "Modular construction helps builders reduce their overhead and go green with ease by assembling a significant portion of the home in the factory."
Research Center President Mike Luzier said thanks are due to the modular home manufacturers who piloted the certification process. "This shows not only their commitment to quality, but also their dedication to serving the growing list of consumers who are moving towards purchasing green homes," he said.
Because they are factory-built, modular homes can take advantage of resource efficiencies that make them less expensive to produce - and that involves less waste, it's green as well as more affordable, Dunn said.
Traditional homes are inspected onsite by NAHB Research Center-trained verifiers who examine the insulation, framing and other components of the building envelope – as well as the materials and products that help produce water efficiency, mitigate the effects of potential contaminants in the home and other hallmarks of green building.
While a modular or systems-built home is built to the same codes as a traditional, site-built home, the inspector can't see behind the walls when it arrives at the building site, making the verification process more difficult. By ensuring that the house and its components meet green requirements in the factory through this new program, the rest of the inspection can be conducted onsite.
"Consumers have become wary of vague, unverifiable green claims," said Bret Berneche, BSC Modular Council President and CEO of Cardinal Homes, a modular manufacturer in Wylliesburg, Va. "With this program, consumers can be comfortable knowing they are getting a product that is verified against a nationally recognized program, combined with a highly engineered building system made in a controlled environment that exceeds code requirements for conventional construction."
"We launched NAHBGreen to bring sustainable building to mainstream home buyers," Dunn said. "This is the next step, and as our members work to keep new homes affordable, it's a most welcome one."
The Modular Building Systems Council is part of the NAHB Building Systems Councils. The release of Modular Green is the first step the BSC and its members have taken to introduce in-plant green verification for the systems-built industry. The BSC looks to establish similar programs for its other councils: panelized, log, and concrete residential construction.