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June, 2006

Green & Growing

With more consumers learning the benefits of living in a “green” home, and savvy builders delivering the goods, green building appears more evolution than trend.

By Maureen McIntyre

Green building is going mainstream. According to an estimate from the Environmental Home Center in Seattle, the overall market for sustainable building materials is about $20 billion a year and is expected to grow more than 10% annually.

It doesn’t hurt that the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has jumped on the bandwagon in a big way. NAHB boasts 225,000 members, about a third of whom are home builders and/or remodelers. In the spring of 2003, NAHB formally resolved to take a leadership role in green building. Later that year, in response to member requests for green building technical support, NAHB convened a group of stakeholders from throughout the home building industry to develop the voluntary Model Green Home Building Guidelines (available free at www.nahb.org/gbg). In 2004, the Green Building Initiative (GBI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, formed to help local home builder associations use the Guidelines to develop green building programs tailored to local needs.

So what’s driving this shift? "The energy equation is the big driver,” says Ward Hubbell, executive director of the GBI. "A green home is cheaper to heat and cool, not to mention healthier and more comfortable to live in.”

The results of McGraw-Hill Construction’s annual home builder survey echo this sentiment. A majority of respondents—62%—consider energy efficiency the most important attribute of a green building, and most respondents cited high energy costs as the reason they were building green.

So if green homes are so wonderful, why isn’t everyone building them?

According to Harvey M. Bernstein, Vice President, Industry Analytics & Alliances at McGraw-Hill Construction, they may be soon. Speaking at the NAHB’s National Green Building Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in March, Bernstein claimed that the tipping point for green building—when more builders will be building green than aren’t—will happen in the 2006-2007 timeframe. If he’s right, most builders will soon be green builders. And indications are that he’s right. In the recently released Green Building SmartMarket Report (available for $99 from www.greensmartmarket.construction.com), an astonishing 85% of a representative sample of architects, engineers, contractors and building owners reported involvement in some green building activities.

Not a Niche Anymore

Green building isn’t just happening in progressive enclaves like Seattle, Berkeley and Boulder, either. It’s taking hold in the heartland.

Matt Belcher, president of Belcher Homes in the St. Louis area, for example, grew up in the home building business. "My dad used a lot of techniques that are identified as green now, but that he considered common sense stuff,” he says. "I think what’s fueled the current increased interest in green building is refinements in energy-efficient technology along with better, more durable sustainable building materials. Then the development of NAHB’s Guidelines kind of tied it all together.”

Austin, Texas, builder Ray Tonjes, owner of Ray Tonjes Builder, Inc., was interested in energy efficiency throughout his 23-year building career, and as a consumer before that. "I started building in 1983, at the same time that the Austin Energy Star program was getting started. I was the 2nd guy to sign up for it.”

That program has since evolved into Austin’s much-lauded Green Building Program, and Ray Tonjes is now the chairman of the Green Building Initiative’s Board of Directors. Tonjes agrees that the national concern over and awareness of energy is the most easily quantifiable driver of green building, but insists that green building embraces a much broader spectrum of issues, including renewables, the effects of chemicals in homes and good stewardship of our natural resources.

"What moves our industry is a good crisis,” says Tonjes, "and energy prices are providing that crisis. But green building is also just the right thing to do—it’s just good building. In ten years, green building will be common practice.”

John Kurowski, president of Kurowski Development Company, a Denver-based builder, sees green building as an aspect of a larger phenomenon. "I think builders, along with other industries such as the auto and hospitality sectors, are finally realizing that using fewer resources—notably energy and water—is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for the bottom line.”

Kurowski, along with a number of local builders and volunteers, developed Built Green Colorado in the mid-1990s. Built Green Colorado is now the largest green building program in the nation, with more than 30,000 certified Built Green homes.

Habitat for Humanity is even getting into the act. In April Habitat began constructing a duplex home in Hartford, Conn., using green building technologies and materials.

Buildingctgreen.com will chronicle the project on its web site, allowing visitors to learn about constructing a green home from the ground up.

The project provides two families in Hartford’s North East neighborhood an opportunity to build and own their own green homes. Carrier Corporation and Nationwide make the project possible, with consulting support from Hartford-based United Technologies Corporation and Global Green USA. For more information on this project, contact Habitat at 860.541.2208 or www.hartfordhabitat.org.

The Big Guys Weigh In

Although small custom builders like Matt Belcher, Ray Tonjes and John Kurowski dominated the green building market until recently, the market is expanding quickly. Production builders have entered the green building arena, and they’re changing the character of subdivisions around the country.

Pardee Homes, which closed 2,863 homes in 2005, has achieved 100% participation in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Energy Star program. That means that all new homes built by Pardee are certified to be 30% more energy efficient than required by the federal Model Energy Code and 15% more efficient than specified in California’s more stringent Title 24 criteria.

Pardee Homes also integrates other green materials and construction practices into its home building activities, including solar equipment, engineered or certified lumber, tankless water heaters, fluorescent lighting and water-conserving appliances and landscape design. In addition, Pardee has committed to developing a fleet of hybrid vehicles. As leases come up for renewal on its company cars, Pardee is making the transition to Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs.

Shea Homes also builds to Energy Star guidelines and offers solar hot water and solar electric systems on some of its houses. By partnering with local utilities, taking advantage of tax incentives and designing the solar electric systems to feed excess power back to the utility grid, Shea has made electricity from the sun more affordable for its customers. When the solar systems are generating more electricity than the house requires, the homeowners’ meters spin backwards!

Getting Ahead of the Curve

So what does all this mean for you and your business? For one thing, it means green building is no fad. It’s here to stay.

"We’re out there starting green building programs in partnership with local home building associations in markets around the country,” says Hubbell of the GBI, "so there will begin to be a pull on local dealers to meet the demand for green building materials. Green builders will be looking for suppliers who are knowledgeable about the products they carry and know how they can be used in a green building.”

But how do you make the green building explosion work for your company?

One dealer that is way ahead of the pack on green building is Kimal Lumber in Englewood, Fla.. According to Tom Geriak, who has been a marketing representative with Kimal for 11 years, this is largely due to the visionary leadership of Kimal’s president, Al Bavry.

"Kimal first embraced green building as a concept when Al Bavry became involved with the Florida House in Sarasota,” says Tom. "This demonstration house—which is still operating—showcased the best energy efficiency technologies available in the early 1990s for Florida’s hot, humid climate.”

The Florida House featured sustainable as well as energy-efficient strategies, including the use of materials that are native to the region and have minimal environmental impact during manufacture, transportation and construction. The Florida House also included renewable energy technologies, materials with recycled content, high-efficiency lighting, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, Energy Star Appliances, native and drought-tolerant plants and landscaping that also functions as shading. It’s a living model of how you can build a highly livable, very healthy house in Florida and still be comfortable and stylish.

Although the Florida House piqued Bavry’s interest in green building, Kimal’s involvement in green building accelerated when it became affiliated with the Office of Sustainability for Sarasota County (aka Sustainable Sarasota) a few years ago. The company had been planning to build a Learning Center anyway, and because of its affiliation with Sustainable Sarasota, it decided to make the focus of the Learning Center green building.

"Kimal has always been proactive in reaching out to builders and architects,” Geriak says. "We even reach out in a personal way—contacting building professionals one on one, and offering training in architects’ offices for their staffs. We’ve found that our ‘lunch and learn’ strategy and our focus on green building has connected us with a broader audience of people and gotten us more involved in both the local and national green building community.”

For example, Kimal is a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council as well as a member of the Florida Green Building Council, Sustainable Sarasota, ReBuild America (a U.S. Department of Energy program) and the Green Building Initiative. Geriak was recently elected to the board of the Florida Green Building Council. When the Learning Center is fully operational in a couple of months, Kimal will have one more way to engage with its customers and community.

"One of the ways Al makes this all work is by allowing his employees to pursue their passions when it benefits the company,” says Geriak. "I have a passion for green building, and it turns out lots of Kimal employees have similar feelings. We now seem to have found the path to differentiating ourselves from other dealers.”

Because of the company’s expertise, Kimal has been influential in its local community. Many local builders know that green building makes perfect economic sense, and that they are also doing something good for their community and the environment when they build green. Now Sarasota County builders get something back. County building officials fast-track the permit process for buildings that meet minimum Florida Green Building Council standards, guaranteeing a two-day turnaround.

The Feel-Good Factor

Partnering with local nonprofits and local government agencies, training employees and customers in the finer points of green building and encouraging employees to become experts in subjects they’re passionate about can all help raise morale in your yard and your profile in the community. If contractors can rely on the information they get from your staff, they will be more confident about using green building strategies and materials and become more loyal customers.

Green building is news right now. If you host a green building event or decide to market yourself as a green building materials dealer and send press releases to local media outlets, they’ll cover it. Getting up to speed on green building is getting easier by the day. There are currently four national and more than 50 local green building programs.

As David Johnston, president of What’s Working, a training and consulting firm specializing in green building puts it, "Dealers have to think like Safeway did when they started selling organic vegetables. Safeway didn’t lose the customers who were still buying conventional produce, but they expanded their customer base to include those who prefer organic. That’s the opportunity lumber and building materials dealers are facing today.”

MAUREEN McINTYRE is a writer, editor and trainer specializing in green building based in Boulder, Colo. You can reach her at mcintyre@indra.com.

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