October 2010

Green Building - Here To Stay

Author: Howard Feldman

It is time to rethink this whole green building thing!

No longer a movement or a trend, green building is here to stay. I say to my fellow builders, remodelers, architects, engineers, and all of you in the building and real estate industry who are non-believers: “Like it or not, building green is what we all will be doing in the very near future.”

As tougher energy codes become adopted by state and town building departments, it won’t be long before new homes have to meet strict standards of performance in terms of energy use and indoor air quality. The affects of these codes will trickle down to remodeling existing homes as well. As the nation’s housing stock gets built and renovated, it will be vastly improved.

We all know that building green is akin to adding some degree of cost to a project. Just how much depends on what priorities an owner has. But, that cost comes with benefit. If you doubt it can be done reasonably, or if you have ever been told by a builder that a green house costs too much and isn’t worth it, well, that guy just doesn’t get it! Locally, green homes are being built with very little added expense and come with the rewards of huge energy savings over code-built homes.

Doubt it? The Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity is currently building Energy Star certified homes in Savannah that are nearly 30 percent more efficient than code with practically no added cost. (If you want the details, e-mail me and I will be happy to share their success story.)

The up-side, though, is tremendous. As a result of higher energy standards, homes will be built tighter with better windows and insulation, incorporating best building practices that enhance durability and efficiency. Home ventilation will finally get its due attention, as will air and vapor barriers, right-sized HVAC systems, energy efficiency, water efficiency, and environmental stewardship.

The building professional must have an understanding of building science and how a house works as a system in order to ensure success. Without an understanding of these issues, failure in terms of occupant safety and comfort, wasted investment in upgraded equipment, and potential durability and health problems are quite possible, if not likely.

Stricter energy codes will not give any one builder or remodeler any advantage over another since everyone will be playing by the same rules. However, it is easy to see why every contractor should already be paying attention to green building. If you were renovating your home, given the pending energy codes, would you choose the builder who has invested in education and training, has perhaps obtained a green building certification, and who can explain what it all means to you? Or would you select the contractor who would rather keep building to code (the minimum standard required by law)?

Where can you turn to for help? The Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association is just one resource available to everyone. The HBA’s Council for Green Building has over 50 highly skilled, educated, and trained professionals who are dedicated to making our world a better place. Oh, they get this stuff too! If you need a resource, advice, or information on green building, the HBA is a great place to start!

With all the good comes some bad. “Greenwashing,” best described as bogus claims made by contractors, manufacturers, and material suppliers promising unreal energy savings, is one problem that results from the move towards efficiency. Be cautious. If it sounds too good to be true, it can get expensive.

A home’s monthly energy bill is made up of many components (see chart). There are misleading claims for products that promise 50 percent energy savings. What they are really saying is that their offering will improve only a portion of your bill by a certain percentage. Fifty percent of 10 percent is only 5 percent off the total bill. A 50 percent improvement in HAVC efficiency is still only a net 20 percent improvement. A far cry from 50 percent total savings.

With so much information readily available to consumers, the potential for good intentions with negative results is very real. A house has many systems that interact in many ways. Unfortunately, good ideas and good products can be installed in ways that promote problems rather than efficiencies.

How can you guard against this? Seek out a professional Home Energy Rater who is equipped with diagnostic tools and knowledge that will provide you with a solid understanding of your house as it is now. He can advise you of the simple things you can do yourself that have little cost with big impact. A detailed energy audit will provide you with a prioritized list of problems, improvements, and recommendations.

Let’s make a distinction here. ‘Free” energy audits offered by various companies often end up as sales tools for their services and are anything but in-depth and free.

There is no question that many new and existing homes are being built and remodeled with green features. These properties will, in the future, no doubt be more desirable than those built to code. Think about it from a buyer’s viewpoint and ask yourself which you would prefer: the house remodeled and updated to meet recent energy codes or the house down the street that wasn’t? Can you say “resale value”?

Where do you fit into the green movement? Have you changed any light bulbs yet? Would you prefer to live in a healthier house? Are you a believer? If not, it is time to open your mind and rethink the whole green thing!

Howard Feldman, principal at Coastal Green Building Solutions, is a certified HERS Energy Rater, builder, and remodeler. He is the founder and chairman of the Hilton Head area HBA’s Council for Green Building and is admittedly just a little green crazy. howard@coastalgreenbuildingsolutions.com.

  1. I am looking for a professional, helpful costsaving, efficient, energy audit. Suggestions?

    — doug fletcher    Oct 21, 07:49 pm   

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