Green, Green . . .

These are words from the chorus of a popular 1960s folk song by the New Christy Minstrels: “Green, green, it’s green they say on the far side of the hill; green, green, I’m going away to where the grass is greener still.” It’s a great song and having just come from the South East Builders Conference in Orlando, where I talked with remodelers and builders about their markets, more than a few of them were looking at moving to “the far side of the hill,” at least as an option to jumping off something higher than a barstool.

No question, times are tough; energy costs are front and center with everyone and certainly with clients, so there is a huge interest in everything green. The NAHB’s Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation course was definitely the most popular class there.

Who wants to be green?

The make-up of the attendees I have taught are an interesting mix: 15 percent or so are already Stage 2000 green and come to see what is being offered.

Another 15 to 20 percent is primarily small companies from smaller cities and towns, in a good position in their market, and their clients are asking about green building — what is it, is it worth the extra cost? — so they come to investigate.

The middle group of 60 to 70 percent is an assortment of successful folks who have been greener than they realized just by using good judgment, and they come to determine a very important part of green — the cost to value proposition.

Anyone who trains their field people on the importance of waste and the damage it can do to a job is green. Being a good estimator so that you know and order the correct amount of product is green.

For years, our company always back-primed all wood used on the exterior; it cuts down on board shrinkage and leakage and on the amount of caulking needed — and that’s green.

The point is these are all green activities that should be done because they are sound practices designed to be effective economically, and believe me that’s a “green” that every client welcomes.

There certainly is a rush to consider building green from several viewpoints; energy is certainly one of them and the Energy Star program proves that. Renewable resources are highly touted and many certainly do perform. Products such as OSB are made from shavings of reforested trees that are like a cash crop of corn.

What you need to know

As a contractor, you have the responsibility to know the cost to value proposition for green products — what is the client’s investment, what is the payback? The client may well say, “It’s expensive but do it anyway, I am more interested in the environmental effect than saving money.” That’s cool as long as you have presented them with good data allowing them to make an informed decision. If they ask for your recommendation, and we all know they will, you should be able to explain your position.

Someone said to me, “I want to know how to be responsibly green; what does that mean? Does that mean the same thing to everyone? How much do you need to know about building and remodeling green to be considered competent?”

Being responsibly green is tough because you also need to know the cost to value statement of the various products, including the “sizzle” ones.

How much does it save?

What is this cost to value proposition? It is the relationship between the cost of the benefit or the option being discussed and its proposed savings over time. It may be more efficient, use less water or power, but how much does it save over what period of time and what is the cost compared with another product without those features? With that difference and a little knowledge of current interest rates, you can project the payback on the savings.

If it takes 20 years of savings to make up the difference in cost of the 200-hp waffle iron, it’s not a good deal to recommend. Said another way, you should be able to tell your client just how much of his or her “green” it will take to be concerned green, enthusiastically green or maybe even fanatically, tree-hugging, XVOC, gray-water, polar-bear-petting, cost-is-no-object, green, while you’re here . . .