For Builders: How & Why To Build Green

By Joyanna Laughlin

The desire for green features and eco-friendly materials is becoming more mainstream. This net-zero energy design by Modern House Plans.

More and more consumers are buying green homes these days. Given this trend, more builders are looking into what it takes to build green. Here, green building experts from Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas (cities where green building is popular, zoning regulations encourage it, and builders have ample experience with it) share their insights on what it takes to build energy-efficient, sustainable homes.

1. Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about green building principles and practices. François Lévy, AIA, and partner at Lévy Kohlhaas Architecture in Austin recommends attending local green building seminars (such as Austin Energy’s Green Boots seminars) and other continuing education opportunities in your community and online. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), known for its LEED green building certification program, also offers green building seminars and presents the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. And the National Association of Home Builders offers green building courses.

2. View the house as a whole system. Green building is most successful when it’s a function of a systems-based approach that considers the whole house, Lévy explains. “It’s not just a matter of installing solar panels on a roof.” Scott Rodwin, AIA, LEED AP, and president of the Boulder, Colorado-based design/build firm of Rodwin Architecture agrees and adds that it’s important to “listen” to the site. “The site will tell you which systems and techniques make the most sense for the project, Rodwin explains.
 

3. Start with passive solar design. Orienting a house on the land to take advantage of the sun and wind for purposes of heating and cooling is a (very) old-school concept. Thomas Jefferson utilized passive heating and cooling in the design of Monticello. “Passive solar design is virtually free and can reduce home energy costs 20 to 50 percent,” Rodwin says. Lévy agrees. “The initial geometry of the house has a huge impact on energy use, and if you get that wrong, any green building techniques and products used are just playing catch-up,” he says.
 

4. Educate your clients. Explain the value of specific green products and techniques and the importance of taking a systems approach,  says. It can help the project run smoothly and cut down on complaints. Rodwin’s firm recently received a complaint from a client that a solar system wasn’t producing energy the way that it had been promised. “When we went out to look, we discovered that the homeowner had accidentally turned off the system months earlier,” Rodwin says. ON the other hand, many clients are eager to learn about sustainable design and practices. “For clients that have sustainability as a driving force in building their own home, it’s important to remind them that the building still must function as a home,” says Timothy J. Laughlin, AIA, a Boulder, Colorado-based architect. “It must meet their needs, provide a place that makes living easier not more challenging,” and be designed in a style that’s in harmony with their personalities,” he adds.

5. Don’t greenwash. “Consumers are becoming highly educated,” Rodwin says. “You’ll hurt your own reputation if you overpromise or don’t fully understand what you are delivering.”
 
6. Get certified. Have your work verified by a 3rd party, such as the LEED green building certification program. “You can’t learn if you don’t know how you’re doing,” Rodwin says.

7. Keep it simple. “Fancy systems that the homeowner doesn’t know how to use are worthless,” Rodwin says.

8. Work with an architect who has experience in green home design. Architects can help make a project more sustainable by maintaining communication with the builder, Laughlin says. “We can limit or eliminate using products with VOCs, request that construction waste be recycled, use wood that is FSC certified, specify local materials, and utilize reclaimed materials.”

The time to break ground on learning how to build the energy-efficient, green, smart homes that today’s homebuyers want is now.

Mon Apr 13 00:00:00 PDT 2015