Homeowners still seek energy efficiency in construction
by Staci Giordullo
Tim Dreffer admits that when he started building his home in November 2008, going "green" was the last thing on his mind.
"I was more interested in products that would deliver a significant return on my investment," Dreffer says. "But as we went along, I realized the return on energy-efficient materials is pretty incredible, and I started looking into the green certification process."
Dreffer and his family are now the proud owners of the first house in Davidson, N.C., to earn the National Association of Home Builders' Green Certification.
"Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done it any other way," he says. "We moved from a 2,000-square-foot house to a 4,000-square-foot house and our utility bills are about the same."
Since Angie's List Magazine first reported on green building in 2008, there's been an explosion of interest from homeowners and builders alike. McGraw Hill Construction Research and Analytics estimates green building made up 6 to 10 percent of residential construction at that time, but will comprise 12 to 20 percent — worth $40 billion to $70 billion — of the residential market by 2013.
While demand for traditional housing has been slow and, in some places, completely stalled, the green housing market is expanding across the country, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Homeowners are investing more in sustainable housing due to unprecedented levels of government initiatives and sensitivity to environmental concerns.
"Builders are getting it across to the consumer that there are better options," says Nate Kredich, USGBC vice president of residential market development. "It bodes well for green homes in a down economy, and certainly for green homes in the future during better economic times."
The USGBC launched one of the nation's first residential green building programs when they introduced the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program in 2008. Certifying just over 1,000 LEED homes that year, the USGBC has since recognized more than 3,600 LEED homes — with 20,000 more registered for certification.
"When we first started, we only had a handful of companies that could deliver the third-party verification service," Kredich says. "Now, we have more than 40 organizations that can oversee the process. The delivery model for the homeowner and builder has become easier."
LEED certification remains at the forefront of green building, taking a more stringent approach that factors in site preparation, construction recycling and dozens of other requirements, but there are many alternatives. "It's not 'one size fits all' when it comes to green," Kredich says.
Government incentives to build or remodel green are more readily available on national, regional and local levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program continues to provide incentives for a variety of green building techniques, including high-performance windows and efficient appliances. In November, the EPA celebrated its 1 millionth Energy Star qualified home.
"Every one is a step toward lower costs, cleaner air, and communities that are environmentally sustainable," says EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. "We're giving homeowners the power to lower their bills and join the fight against climate change."
The NAHB, which also launched its Green Building Program in 2008 and certified 99 homes that first year, now boasts more than 4,500 Certified Green Professionals nationwide and accredited their 500th green home in October.
"Consumers are asking questions they didn't ask years ago and contractors are making better decisions," says Steve Bertasso, a green builder and NAHB consultant.
After living in southern California for years, Pam Cosper of Lake Oswego, Ore., says she never understood why she spent so much money to cool her home with traditional air conditioning when, if the builder had oriented the home a bit differently, the interior could've avoided the sun.
"I look at traditional building as being completely gluttonous," she says.
Cosper is currently in the design phase of building her dream green home and says it doesn't take much to make a home more efficient.
"Just a few tweaks during construction can make a big difference and save a homeowner a lot of money."
Sustainable remodeling remains a popular option for homeowners. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry launched a remodeler certification program in 2008.
"People are learning things about efficiency, cost savings and their health we never dreamed possible," says Don Van Cura Sr., a NARI Green Certified Professional. "And we're plugging it in to our daily approach to remodeling."
But Van Cura warns remodeling green can be more complicated than new construction.
"No two are alike," he says of older homes. "In new construction, you can be green in the proper sequence."
Whether you're building new or introducing green measures in your house one product at a time, the efforts make a difference. In one year, the EPA estimates Energy Star homes will save more than $270 million on utility bills, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 370,000 vehicles.
"Sustainability is not just a fad," says Brett Schulz, owner of Brett Schulz Architect in Portland, Ore. "New technologies and materials are being developed almost daily. It's obviously the way of the future.