April 19, 2010
Nation's Building News

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Builder in Durham Provides Green Housing for Entry-Level Buyers

A new development by builder Craig Morrison — one of the stops on the May 16 Green Home and Technology Tour during the NAHB National Green Building Conference in Raleigh, N.C. — will demonstrate how production homes can go green at an attractive price point for entry-level buyers.

Morrison, the owner of Cimarron Homes in Durham, has been building energy-efficient homes since the company was formed in 1982. Monitoring a number of energy-efficiency programs that it saw come and go, the company eventually settled on Energy Star as it became apparent that the federal initiative was here to stay. Since 2006, Cimarron has attained Energy Star certification for 350 of its homes.

Under Green Home Builders of the Triangle, Cimarron since November 2007 has also certified 300 homes based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines. The local certification program was created by the Durham, Orange and Chatham County Home Builders Association, and Morrison was an early adopter and fervent cheerleader in that effort.

Although there are a few homes for first-time move-up buyers and move-down buyers in the mix, Cimarron builds 90% of its product for the entry level, with prices ranging from $125,000 to $170,000.

“We want builders to see and recognize that you can — in a for-profit mode — go out and build entry-level housing and certify it to a meaningful standard,” said Morrison. “When builders come out and see our product and see how we do it, they are surprised and encouraged by what they see.”

The key to succeeding in this approach, Morrison said, is not necessarily thinking about building green, but concentrating on building well.

“It’s systems and processes. It’s a whole lot more about how we put the house together than the products that go into it,” he said. “You have to frame it right. And you can buy the latest and greatest insulation there is, but if the house isn’t put together well, if there are gaps and cracks and holes, that insulation isn’t going to do you a lot of good.”

The second requisite for success is assembling a good team, he said, from the framers and HVAC installers to the manufacturers’ reps.

“We have trade partners and suppliers who get enthusiastic about producing a green house. We have been very fortunate. All of our suppliers are constantly searching for new and improved products that will satisfy the standard,” he said.

In its green homes, Cimarron includes upgraded insulation packages, programmable thermostats, WaterSense-rated fixtures, low-emissivity windows  and cabinets and carpets that don’t off-gas.

The builder also gives a top priority to ensuring that its customers understand how all these systems and products work together and know how to maintain and operate them to maximize their effectiveness.

“We want to get value from these high standards,” Morrison said.

Cimarron carefully trains its project managers and sales people, and it provides its buyers with collateral materials on green homeownership to go along with the warranty information and care guides. Many of the company’s employees — including all field and production managers as well as Morrison himself — have achieved NAHB’s Certified Green Professional educational designation.

“The most important thing we do is a home demonstration that can last from two to three hours,” Morrison said. The project manager, the salesperson and sometimes the real estate broker walk the new owner through the house, explaining how appliances operate and discussing when filters should be changed and other routine maintenance tasks.

“These houses are real houses for real people,” and bringing green into the mainstream won’t occur if prices are allowed to rise into the stratosphere, Morrison said.

“Over half the houses in the United States cost less than $200,000,” and in today’s market a significant number of homes are being priced even below that threshold, he pointed out.

“That’s a lot of houses, that’s a lot of energy, that’s a lot of improved indoor air quality — that’s a lot of resources we can save if we can impact those houses,” he said. “When we can build houses at that price level, that’s really important.”

For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.

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