Thursday, June 01, 2006
GREEN BUILDERS COMING INTO THEIR OWN
Green-built homes come into their own By NANCY SALEMScripps Howard News Service 31-MAY-06 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- In home building, green is the new black. No more weird architecture, clunky solar panels and wacky materials. Green building has been ushered into the mainstream by a construction industry and public concerned about energy conservation and health. "It's the right thing to do," says Jim Folkman, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico. "We're responding to the marketplace, which is demanding more green products and a healthier environment." Albuquerque raised its profile in the national green scene last week when the board of the Home Builders of Central New Mexico voted into place a green building certification program that follows new guidelines set by The 230,000-member National Association of Home Builders unveiled new guidelines for its green building certification program at the association's National Green Building Conference in Albuquerque in March. Albuquerque, through the Build Green New Mexico program approved last week, is one of a half-dozen U.S. cities that are pilot programs for the national association's green building blueprint. "We'll learn what to do right, what to avoid," says Steve Hale of Hale & Sun Construction Inc. in Albuquerque, past president of the Home Builders of Central New Mexico. "We'll help get it implemented in the field." Green building's stamp of approval was a long time coming. It began as a movement about 15 years ago, and for years was associated with homes made of rammed earth, straw bales and used tires and aluminum cans. The single goal was to conserve as much energy as possible. With rising power costs and greater concern about indoor air quality and health, green building moved into the mainstream the past six or so years, builders say. "Our message is that a house doesn't have to be strange to be green," says Kaycee Coffman of the Home Builders of Central New Mexico. The new guidelines take a comprehensive approach to green building, awarding points that add up to levels of performance: bronze, silver and gold. Builders earn points in dozens of ways, in seven categories: lot design, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, global impact, and operation, maintenance and homeowner education. For example, choosing an infill site earns nine points, using recycled-content building materials earns three points and installing an energy-recovering ventilator earns 10 points. A minimum number of points must be reached in each category to achieve a bronze, silver or gold level home _ to assure a balanced, whole-system approach, builders say. "It's performance-based," Folkman says. "It's systemic. Not just an item here or there. It comes together as a system and operates better. The end is greater than the sum of the parts." The average green-built home is about 40 percent more energy efficient than required to meet federal standards, builders say. The goal, though, is not just an energy efficient house, but a healthy one. Better air quality eases allergies and respiratory conditions. Green building systems bring fresh air into a house from the outside, run it through a heat exchanger and filter it, so the house has clean, fresh air all the time, builders say. Old-style green homes were sealed tight to conserve energy, with no exchange of air, creating an unhealthy environment, they note. Homes built under the new program are tested and certified. "Our reputation is behind this," Folkman says. "We want to make sure that when a house reaches a certain standard that it does perform at that level." Ray Tonjes, an Austin, Texas, green builder and head of the national association's green building subcommittee, said a bronze-level home, if planned properly, can be built for roughly the same price as a non-green home. The added costs at higher levels don't generally rise above 5 percent, he says, and are offset by savings in energy and water bills. "What we find is once our members _ builders _ engage in the concept, it's a very easy sell," Tonjes says, "because it really is common sense." Builders say the demand for green homes is growing. "I'm getting more calls every day from people who want lists of green builders," Coffman says. Nationally, in 2000 there were about 2,500 green-built homes; that number jumped to 14,600 in 2004, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Folkman estimates 7 percent to 10 percent of the Albuquerque area home building industry is using green techniques (About 7,000 homes were built in the metro area last year.) The other 90 or so percent are at least 50 percent to 70 percent of the way to achieving the bronze standard, he says. "It's the exception today, but in 10 to 20 years the bronze level will be the building standard," Folkman says. He says the carrot is the marketing. "Join this program, put in the extra effort to get started and see how it works for you," he says. "We will be pushing our (certification) logo. It's something people will recognize. I think it will very quickly snowball. Builders won't want to be second fiddle if they see our logo on the competition." Tonjes says the irony of green building is that it harkens back to historic construction techniques. "A lot of historic architecture dealt with the climate," he says. "For example, houses were oriented to the prevailing breezes. "We got away from that type of architecture because energy was so cheap. Now we're back. Sixty-dollar-a-barrel oil will do that." (Contact Nancy Salem of The Tribune in Albuquerque, N.M., at www.abqtrib.com.)
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