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Remodeling and renovation may be the next big horizon for green home building, according to veterans of the industry attending NAHB’s National Green Building Conference & Expo on May 1-3 in Salt Lake City, provided that there are enough educated consumers around who recognize the advantages of owning an energy-efficient home.
Builders participating in a panel discussion on the future of sustainably built housing said they had been around long enough to see mainstream code-built homes catching up with the performance of green homes, and they said that staying ahead of the competition will increasingly be a matter of who delivers the best quality to the marketplace.
In his opening keynote address, Mike Holmes, host of “Holmes on Homes” and “Home Inspection” on HGTV, suggested green home building represents a movement to build homes the way they should be built, which he demonstrates regularly on television by taking existing homes apart to get to the source of serious problems reported by the owners.
The revision of the National Green Building Standard now underway is putting more emphasis on retrofitting the existing housing stock, said Michael Chandler, of Chandler Design-Build in Chapel Hill, N.C., who noted that certification for remodeling jobs was relegated to the footnotes when the standard was originally published.
Matt Belcher, of Belcher Home in St. Louis, said that “97.5% of all houses built 20 years ago or more” are not up to the performance levels they could attain if they were updated with today’s top energy-saving products.
Reinvesting in the existing housing stock should be a top priority, he said.
“We can do a better job with better quality control,” said Belcher. “And we need to address the tens of thousands of remodelers that are part of our market,” recognizing that there are already “highly qualified small business owners who can do these retrofits.”
T.W. Bailey of WaterMark Custom Builders in Frisco, Texas, said that his business, like builders across the country, has been able to supplement sales in today’s soft marketplace by expanding into remodeling.
A case in point was a 1,500-square-foot add-on to a 1958 home — a $200,000 project that Bailey said he was able to get because he was knowledgeable of what needed to be done to update the home when he presented his ideas to the owner.
In his many annual consultations with home owners, Peter Pfeiffer, of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects in Austin, Texas, said he might suggest to a prospective customer seeking a room addition, “while you’re at it, let’s increase the home’s energy efficiency" and also propose reworking "the square footage you already have instead of adding on 400 square feet.”
Education Is Key
“For the general public, it’s not only them coming to us, it’s us going to them and offering to do the work,” said Chandler. In his local market, he said, there are houses that are only 10 years old “that desperately need energy upgrades.”
But “what will it take home owners to understand that they need a retrofit?” asked Belcher. “Education is the key. Communities don’t realize what the industry can do. Get with the city and let them know.”
Panelists also reported progress in having green features included in Multiple Listing Services and establishing market data on comparables, a major area for educating home buyers and the lending community on the value of green. (For a related story in Nation’s Building News, click here.)
However, the fact that those looking for a house in today’s marketplace tend to be price-conscious no matter how little or much they know about green, does pose a challenge.
“The competition sets the price,” conceded Belcher, “and the only thing I can control are my costs. You have to prove a better product can be built at a competitive price.”
A proponent of using the best construction materials — such as mold-resistant drywall even if it does cost $1 more a sheet — Holmes said that if his costs do add up to a 15% premium for building green, then he can stay competitive by reducing the size of the home by 15%.
“We need to educate the home owner, the one buying the home,” Holmes said. “They don’t understand green.”
It is also important to educate home buyers about maintaining a green home, he said, and extending the educational process to apprentices in the construction trades so that they can be certified in new home technologies.
Green Houses for Everyday People
Development of Holmes' first community, Wind Walk, is getting underway south of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and will demonstrate Holmes’ vision of a self-sustained community that reflects “a different thinking” and provides “nothing but the best.”
The compact neighborhood will preserve open space and feature high-performance homes within walking distance of schools, restaurants and shopping and close to farms. Solar, wind and geothermal technologies will reduce the community’s demand on the power grid.
Holmes said he has teamed up with manufacturers to provide products that enable home owners to monitor how much energy they are using and to open up remote communications between the owners and the systems in their homes.
“Everyday people should be buying green homes,” he said. Buying a house that employs technologies that can pay the owner back with reduced operating costs “makes sense to people.”
Holmes is constantly on the go, showing how to build better in locations such as New Orleans where recovery efforts are underway.
Responding to the tornado devastation in parts of the U.S. this spring, he wants to build a “tornado-proof” home that is round, enabling the wind to wrap around it.
“This is what I was meant to do, throw the pebble in the pond and watch the ripple effect,” he said.
Admitting it has a few faults, Holmes was enthusiastic about concrete as a green material that provides a high thermal mass to keep interiors cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It is also naturally water-repellant, he said, which makes it a good alternative to wood for home exteriors in places like Vancouver “where it rains straight for 50 days.”
Danny Karch, national green building director for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative who works out of Canadiac, Quebec, in Canada, stressed the advantages of treating wood as a crop and a naturally renewable resource.
“You can feel good about using wood,” Karch said. In North America, which accounts for two-thirds of the world’s certified forests, “less than 2% of commercial forested wood is harvested each year,” he said.
While less than 10% of forests are certified globally, he said, “a lot of other countries are starting to look at this and realize that natural extraction from forests is critical.”
“The National Green Building Standard,” available through BuilderBooks.com, provides “green” practices that can be incorporated into multifamily and single-family new home construction, home remodeling and additions and site development.
The standard covers lot design, resource, energy and water efficiency; indoor environment quality; and owner education.
Currently the first and only ANSI-approved green building rating system, the National Green Building Standard is the benchmark for green homes.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here.
The "National Green Building Standard Commentary," available through BuilderBooks.com and a companion to the ANSI approved "National Green Building Standard," that provides valuable insight to the intention and implementations of the practices and provisions found in the green building standard.
The "Commentary" is a useful resource for any designer or builder using the ICC 700-2008 as a rating system for developing or renovating residential properties of all types to reduce their relative impact.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.
More Than 5,400 People Have Earned Their Certified Green Professional (CGP) Designation
The Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation teaches builders, remodelers and other industry professionals techniques for incorporating green building principles into homes using cost-effective and affordable options.
Earning the CGP demonstrates to clients and peers your commitment to the best and latest in green building practices and techniques. More than 5,400 people have earned the CGP designation to date.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org/CGPinfo.
“Build Green and Save: Protecting the Earth and Your Bottom Line,” available through BuilderBooks.com, is a comprehensive, easy-to-read reference that shows builders how to identify and select green building materials; implement green construction techniques; explain the benefits of green housing and offer affordable green building solutions to consumers; and use resources wisely and reduce water and energy consumption.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.
For answers to questions about National Green Building Certification by the NAHB Research Center, certification to the standard or the guideline sunset, complete and submit the Contact Us form on the NAHBGreen website.