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Building industry sees gold in green PDF Print E-mail
Written by Beth Hughes   
Wednesday, 07 March 2007
Displays at trade shows stress their environmental concern

 It's getting easier to be green. Or at least it seems so given the environmental emphasis of suppliers' exhibits and educational seminars at the International Builders Show in mid-February.

One of the nation's largest trade shows, the gathering in Orlando drew more than 100,000 people, many of them talking about weird winter weather back home -- too wet, too dry, too warm, too cold, just too different to ignore from the norm as remembered from childhood. Which meant that they were more receptive to the prospect of going green.

"I don't think it is any one thing that put green in the forefront," said Ward Hubbell, executive director of the Green Building Initiative. Fuel prices, the impact of studies and the Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," uneasiness about reliance on foreign sources of oil, the war in the Middle East, all contribute to awareness, he said.

There's some push by public entities offering tax incentives or setting standards for new buildings, Hubbell said, and there is some pull from customer demand driven by environmental concerns.

"The whole chain," from developers to manufacturers, suppliers, builders, real estate agents and home buyers, "is getting smarter about it," he said.

The result was that behind almost every booth, there lurked a green product, or at least a product that could be considered more green than a competitor's. After all, by 2010 the value of the residential green building marketplace is expected to boost its market share from $7.4 billion and 2 percent of housing starts in 2005 to $19 billion to $38 billion and 5 to 10 percent of residential construction activity, according to the Resident Green Building Smart Report released last year by McGraw Hill and the National Association of Home Builders.

"We definitely saw more emphasis on green products ... in 2007 than in the past," said Aaron Schoeneberger, director of marketing for Superior Walls, a 26-year-old company with headquarters in New Holland, Pa., that has provided precast foundations for 75,000 custom homes nationwide. "The shift transcends many of the product lines. Conservation of all natural resources is becoming predominate across the industry."

Building new green homes, putting the concepts in the mainstream is "a few years away," said Schoeneberger. "I think the acceleration of growth will be largely dependent on energy prices and the availability of high-quality green products at reasonable prices." Indeed, David Pressly, president of the home builders association, said in a statement that 92 percent of the group's members indicated they would move to green building because "it is the right thing to do."

"Green is not just a new buzzword," said Ray Tonjes, an Austin, Texas, homebuilder, during a news conference by the home builders and the International Code Council. "Green building isn't just a trend," said council President Wally Bailey. "It's a responsive approach and commitment to protecting resources."

And as if to brush aside any granola crumbs and lingering suspicions about being green, one seminar lead by Peter Pfeiffer, an Austin, Texas architect was called "Green by Design: You Don't Have to be Weird to Go Green."

At seminars on all aspects of green building, speakers and attendees discussed how to nudge buyers or home remodelers into making green design choices and selecting energy-saving options, even if they cost more.

There was talk of the need to site homes to take advantage of sunlight, prevailing breezes or shade trees. The "small is beautiful" mantra got a workout -- building plans were available after a presentation on how a 5,000- square-foot home uses three times the materials as a 2,200-square-foot home. Speakers recited "scary facts" about global warming and the predicted increase of severe weather and how much more oil Americans use than their counterparts elsewhere in the developed world.

It wasn't so much that there was new information about how to build green and its benefits as it was the relentlessness of it, the cumulative impact and the fact that green options were readily available. Nobody was talking about building homes out of straw.

Tonjes, who is also chairman of Green Building Initiative, suggested, "There's a new interest in stewardship and conservation and the cost of energy." Green, as far as he's concerned, is a return to many of the commonsense practices used by builders until air-conditioning became available. Until then, builders used local materials and adapted them to local conditions.

"My grandfather was born in a dugout in eastern Nebraska," he said. "It was dug into a hill to protect against northern winds. It faced south, for the sun. It used a natural material, sod."

He's betting that the growing and accelerating awareness of building green will hit a tipping point by the end of 2007. He pointed to a rapid shift in the attitudes of production builders as states enact mandatory energy codes.

However, a big concern remains the costs. To that end, a week before the show opened Feb. 7, San Francisco's New Resource Bank announced its program to offer financial incentives for green building projects. It will provide a one-eighth of 1 percent discount on loans to projects such as a green multi-residential buildings. On a loan of $5 million, that could mean a savings of more than $60,000 over 10 years, an attractive chunk to developers or investors who want to reduce costs.

The bank also said it will fund up to 80 percent of a construction loan for projects that are designed and built to green standards set by the U.S. Green Buildings Council. The typical loan is 75 percent.

Since it's opening in November, the bank has financed a housing development in Martinez that is aiming to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the council.

Incentives like the one offered by New Resource Bank may be what it will take to offset the higher cost of building green, a tough choice for an industry going through one of its cyclical downswings.

"We all want to save the Earth for future generations and we all take some steps toward that goal, but most surveys I've seen show that green features in a home remain a lower priority than appearance, prices and convenience," said Huck DeVenzio, manager of marketing communications for Arch Wood Protection of Smyrna, Ga.

"Even claims of lower future costs can be a hard sell." Rattling off factors such as renewability, recyclability, energy required for production, transportation to market, potential pollutants and product longevity, DeVenzio said, "I doubt if any product can be green in all aspects.

"Nearly every product has -- and always has had -- some characteristics that are relatively green, and nearly every product has aspects that are comparatively un-green."

Nonetheless, he said, "Green attributes are being promoted more than ever." Does that mean used to cover up the un-green? Nope. "I don't believe architects, homebuilders and manufacturers are being devious, they're just emphasizing those features that are green."

Which was what one of the show homes at the conference did. Built in the Lake Eola Heights Historic District of Orlando, it is a modern take on a traditional bungalow, one of the housing styles in the area near downtown that was developed between 1905 and 1925.

Designed by Bloodgood Sharp Buster Architects & Planners, a nationwide firm with California offices in Sacramento, Fresno and Costa Mesa (San Diego County), built by custom homebuilder Carmen Dominguez of Orlando, the home is on an urban in-fill site in a neighborhood overflowing with Craftsman, Mediterranean Revival, Colonial Revival and frame vernacular homes.

The idea behind the in-fill location was to highlight a growing trend of homeowners forsaking the suburbs to live downtown within walking distance of work, restaurants, parks and entertainment.

The architectural design challenge? One of those almost contradictory dictates: To create a chic, urban international-style home that would fit in with the surrounding historic homes. The result is a three-story, loft-style home that uses 73 percent less energy for heating and cooling, and 54 percent less energy for hot water than a central Florida home of comparable size.

Those percentages translate into an annual savings of $1,132, according to John Broniek of Integrated Building and Construction Solutions, the Pittsburgh consulting firm that provided technical specifications for the home. The home's green features include:

-- A site that takes advantage of natural lighting.

-- Overhangs and balconies to protect the interiors from the hot sun.

-- A lot landscaped with native plants.

-- Precast concrete walls to increase energy efficiency and reduce construction time.

-- A properly sized heating and cooling system that included three separate units to ensure that only the system for an area that needs heating or cooling kicks in.

-- Tankless water heaters to minimize piping and reduce the standby heat loss that comes with a water heater. Water is preheated by a solar thermal system on the roof, which also provides power for appliances. (Power that isn't used is sold back to the local utility company.)

-- A driveway paved with Flexi-Pave, a new product made of recycled tires.

-- Plantings, irrigated by a cistern that collects rainwater, cover much of the roof.

Debra Goodwin, a designer and representative for TileAmerica, an East Coast, family-owned tile company, went to the show with the intent of attending as many of the green-focused seminars as possible.

A graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, she moved from the East Bay to Connecticut with her husband, Ed, a master carpenter who now has his own business, Goodwin Construction, that specializes in construction project management for custom homes.

When they arrived in Connecticut eight years ago, "There was nothing, no conversation" about green building, she said. "There was nothing until last year." Now, through efforts of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Fairfield County, the local chapter of a national industry group, Goodwin, who is a member, says she's seeing an increase in awareness.

"The association is bringing the information to the builders," she said. In turn, they are telling customers about the good, better and best options for energy conservation and building green.

Yet even in a county where the median household income and home prices rival those in the Bay Area, Goodwin says the biggest hurdle for green building is the initial costs. Or as Hubbell said, for green to go mainstream, "conservation has to be cost-effective."

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 March 2007 )
Green Building Resources
Buildin Design & Construction
Common Sense Design, resource page
Environmental Building News
Frank Lloyd Wright
Get into Green, at the National Building Musem
Green Affordable Housing
Green Building Community.Com
Green Sage
International Initiative for sustainable built environment
LEED for Homes, energy certification from the USGBC
List of recycled building products from the Ca.Integratd waste management board
Marin County Green Building Program
Marin Max Reuse
National Renewable Energy Labratory Homepage
Oikos Green Building Source

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