Three Shades of Green

The National Association of Home Builders reports approximately 115,000 homes have been certified and inspected to local green building codes and standards. This represents an 18.6 percent increase from 97,000 homes in May 2007. As more manufacturers offer green and sustainable products at mainstream prices, and builders have their projects certified by third parties, the idea that building green is building correctly will continue to grow.

Residential Design & Build magazine spoke with three builders who utilize green building practices and third-party certification on all of their projects. All three builders have been aware of, and passionate about, the importance of building efficiently and sustainably long before green became the buzz word it is today.

“We’ve had a green focus since we began building 12 years ago — before it was considered green,” says Bob Burnside, CGP, CGP, president and owner, Fireside Home Construction, Dexter, Mich. “It started from an energy efficient standpoint. We wanted to build homes as efficiently as possible, and having three children of my own, I didn’t want to destroy our environment.”

Burnside utilized insulated concrete forms and structural insulated panels for the construction of the home shown on the facing page and below. “The entire lower level is made from ICF with 2-in. of Styrofoam underneath the floor to insulate it from the ground. The walls are constructed with 6-in. thick structural insulated panels, and the roof uses 10-in. structural insulated panels,” Burnside says. “Both [ICF and SIP] are amazing products and superior in many ways.

In the long run if you take into account the cost, materials, labor and immediate energy savings, those products make sense.”
Two geothermal systems were installed to add to its efficiency. One is a forced-air system for the main two floors of the house; the second uses radiant heat for the basement, garage and master bath floor. “The house is 4,000 sq. ft. of conditioned space and the average monthly bill for heating, air and hot water is $80 per month.”

Burnside expects his team to be aligned with his vision of building efficiently. “I include them in training seminars and conferences so they can learn about the process. They really love it and enjoy being leaders in the field. The team is always looking for more information,” he adds. Burnside builds to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Homes program.

Friendly Pricing

A challenge for some builders is building green homes that are competitive with surrounding home prices. This is a main goal for Mike Stephens, CGP, GMP, CGB, CGR, CAPS, vice president and cofounder, Elite Custom Homes located in Bedford, Texas. “Being able to build and design a luxury home that has all the energy efficient features and doesn’t look any different or out of place from the other houses in the area is a success,” he says.

Stephens focused on the building’s orientation for solar benefits for the home shown on page 27. “[We] optimized north/south orientation with respect to day-lighting and passive solar gain. This also allows for the capture of breezes in the summer,” Stephens says. “Placement of the garage on the northwest section of the building provides a buffer against thermal intensity.”

Indoor air quality was another focus for Stephens and his team. “The spaces between the garage and conditioned spaces were tightly sealed to minimize pollutants from garage exhaust. All penetrations and connecting floor joist bays were tightly sealed, and all walls and ceilings were painted to prevent carbon monoxide penetration of unpainted drywall through the process of diffusion,” Stephens says.

Stephens has LEED-certified homes on his résumé; he built the second and third LEED-certified homes in Texas. He utilizes resources from various sources to ensure he’s building under green standards. “I use best practices that have been established by the Department of Energy Building America program, best practices for a Mixed Humid Climate established by the Energy and Environmental Building Association, and the U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Homes guidelines,” Stephens says.

In addition to green building best practices, Stephens uses engineers for load calculations. “When we get the plans [for a house], we send them to engineers such as Guaranteed Watt Saver. They do the load calculations to determine the size of air conditioning needed, return air and ductwork. They do a simulation of the insulation and framing, which way the house sits, and they come up with a HERS rating [Home Energy Rating System] which is a nationally recognized measurement of energy efficiency,” Stephens says. “After the home is built, they do final inspections and performance testing to confirm the rating. The number can get better or worse but they are always better for us.”

Stephens uses this information to market to clients and help him stand out from the green-washing crowd. “It’s something that’s provable and measurable because everyone is saying they are building green homes. At least with performance testing, it’s an independent third party that’s doing the testing,” Stephens adds.

The Only Way

Offering clients green building as their only choice is how Carl Seville, CR, owner and principal of Decatur, Ga.-based Seville Consulting handles his business. “Friends asked me to build their home and I said it had to be green,” he says. “If you don’t build green, you build wrong.”

Seville puts most of his emphasis on the process of the building, rather than the products installed in the house. “There are very few products that don’t fit into green projects. It’s really about the [structure] being built right first,” he says. “If you don’t build it correctly and put green products in it, then you are putting lipstick on a pig.”

In the house shown on the facing page, Seville installed a gray water system; piping includes two sets of drains to separate gray and black water. “We can feed the toilets with the gray water. It’s fairly inexpensive and a great idea to install the piping right away even if the clients don’t plan to use gray water right away,” Seville adds. EarthCraft House — a program of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association — was the program Seville used to certify the home as energy efficient.

Get Involved

In August 2008, the NAHB announced the number of certified green professionals had surpassed 1,000. As more builders become certified to build green homes, the higher number of quality green buildings will be available on the market. Builders like Stephens, Burnside and Seville are passionate about building correctly and efficiently for the future. “I encourage builders to learn about the latest technologies. Get involved in energy and environmental building associations such as NAHB or USGBC,” Burnside says. “Get educated to build better than you did last year.”