January 24, 2011
Nation's Building News

The Official Online Newspaper of NAHB

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Green Building
Affordability Pivotal in Sealing the Deal on Green-Built Homes

With buyers in today’s housing market primarily motivated by cost effectiveness, green-built homes will take an increasingly large percentage of the market in direct proportion to their price, according to representatives from four suppliers and product manufactures during a press conference at the NAHB International Builders’ Show in Orlando.

Echoing those thoughts at a second press conference, two home builders and a remodeler who are certifying their projects to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Builders Challenge program said that affordability — not cutting-edge technology — has been pivotal in their ability to seal the deal with home buyers.

“The key is value for every stakeholder in the process,” from the manufacturer to the builder and the home buyer, said Richard Davenport, director of sustainable construction for BASF.

The good news, said Kohler’s Rob Zimmerman, is that product manufacturers have been able to focus during the current building downturn on new technologies “that will make green building more affordable.”

The rural location of Marvin Windows and Doors' Minnesota manufacturing facility has forced the company to be more resourceful, said Christine Marvin, the fourth generation of her family to work in the business. “Our commitment is to use our resources wisely,” and that applies to its products as well.

Speaking on behalf of the Council for Responsible Energy, Carter Oosterhouse, star of several home-improvement cable television shows, told reporters that he started out as a carpenter in his home state of Michigan. Now, from a platform reaching millions of viewers, Oosterhouse can also deliver the message that home-owner education and awareness are critical to meeting energy efficiency goals.

The NAHB press conference was held in conjunction with Builders’ Challenge, which offers technical assistance to builders and remodelers constructing homes that are at least 30% more efficient than under the prevailing energy code requirements.

Builders interested in certifying their homes with Builders Challenge can do so while meeting the additional requirements of the National Green Building Standard, which offers a dual certification option for those builders and remodelers who want to go beyond energy efficiency and incorporate water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and other hallmarks of the green-built home.

That’s encouraging for program participants, who can use the dual certification tool to cut their administrative costs and save time, said Matt Belcher of Belcher Homes in St. Louis, which recently completed the first remodeling project to be certified by both the National Green Building Standard and the Builders Challenge program.

“If it’s too expensive, we can’t do it,” said G.W. Robinson of G.W. Robinson Builders, a custom home builder in Gainesville, Fla. His homes have become progressively more energy-efficient since the mid-1990s and now average Home Energy Rating (HERS) scores of less than 60 — or at least 40% more energy-efficient than homes built to the prevailing codes.

Since Builders Challenge was launched at the NAHB International Builders’ Show in February 2008, 5,000 homes have been certified under the program. More than 1,000 of them have been built by David Weekley Homes, the majority of those in its East Texas division. “It gives us an edge in the market and it’s the right thing to do,” said Nate Beauregard, quality coach for David Weekley. 

However, the company has had to find ways to cut costs in other facets of its operations to pay for the products, materials and quality control time needed to build more energy-efficient homes, which together add about 3% to 5% to construction costs, he said. “The problem is that home buyers in a lot of markets aren’t willing to pay for them, so we are taking on the additional costs.”

Both Beauregard and Belcher said they focus on the building envelope, paying attention to how the home is sealed, rather than relying on high-tech products to get better HERS scores. “We haven’t seen the cost benefit yet of solar power” and other renewable energy systems, Beauregard said.

As energy efficiency requirements in building codes become more stringent, Builders Challenge participants will find themselves ahead of the game, and that can put them at a competitive advantage, said David Lee, who heads up the program for the Department of Energy. In addition, “these builders are finding the way to see if these increases are achievable or not,” he said.

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