Green building inches into the mainstream; [Chicago Final Edition]

Sandra Fleishman, The Washington PostChicago TribuneChicago, Ill.Apr 22, 2005. pg. 18


Abstract (Document Summary)

- The Web site has voluntary green building guidelines developed by the National Association of Home Builders and the NAHB Research Center. Copies can also be obtained by calling Diane Webb at 800-368-5242, Ext. 8290, or by contacting her at NAHB's offices at 1201 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20015.

Full Text (1547   words)

(Copyright 2005 by the Chicago Tribune)

Today marks 35 years since the first Earth Day. Have America's homes turned "green" yet?

Not quite. But the outlook for what is called "green building"-- that is, designing homes or other structures to be energy efficient, water conserving and built in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment and is protective of indoor air quality, among other things--is the sunniest it has ever been, according to advocates and housing experts.

Green building has generally been regarded as a fringe concern, important to only hard-core environmentalists. But with steadily increasing energy prices looming over their heads, many in the Boomer generation that brought us Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and many of their kids are thinking harder about how to cut energy costs, experts say.

Buildings consume 39 percent of the energy used in the United States, more than cars or manufacturing plants, according to the federal Department of Energy. Although new homes are twice as efficient as they were in 1970, residential buildings still account for about 20 percent of national energy use, says the non-profit Virginia Sustainable Building Network.

Americans are also looking twice at green building because they have become more concerned about indoor air problems linked to toxic chemicals found in some building materials, carpets and furniture. The chemicals have been blamed for asthma and other respiratory problems. Eliminating outdoor pollution caused by burning fossil fuels for power plants also has always been an environmentalist cause.

Making a connection between buildings and these problems has taken a while. It wasn't until 1993, for instance, that plans to green the White House were announced, on Earth Day by President Clinton; they were completed within about a year.

But the connection finally is being made, say green building groups.

"It's not just for crunchies, it's not just for granola-eaters anymore," said Sean McGuire, coordinator of the Green Building Network in Maryland, an informal information-sharing service for developers and consumers that meets monthly to discuss new technologies and trends.

The nation's big builders, meanwhile, are starting to buy into the concepts for their own reasons, say housing trend watchers.

"Historically green building has been the domain of a relatively small number of niche builders," said Ward Hubbell, executive director of the Green Building Initiative, a nonprofit group set up by the National Association of Home Builders to sell its new green guidelines program to local chapters.

But building green is a way for bigger, high-production builders to distinguish themselves from the pack, Hubbell said. "Good builders are using a lot of this already, they're just not calling it that. This raises the bar for the mass builder," he said.

Also helping to raise the bar is the realization that perhaps going green doesn't require as much green from consumers' pocketbooks as once thought. Advocates say that as more builders use green products, costs will drop, and the energy savings over the life of the house will be enough to outweigh the upfront cost differential. In some cases, they say, homeowners can cut their energy bills in half or more.

While big and small builders generally have focused their efforts in going green on states facing energy and water shortages or with extreme climates, such as California and Colorado, they're watching consumer polls that show general support nationwide for green practices, say National Association of Home Builders officials.

And it doesn't hurt when the topic comes up on national television, said John Loyer, a specialist in the association's Energy and Green Building Department.

"If you watch 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' on ABC, they recently had a segment on a zero-energy house, a house that not only saves energy but sells back enough energy to the (power) grid to have a net zero" energy bill, Loyer said. "If it's coming up on national television in prime time, it's getting an enormous amount of attention. It's quickly becoming a question for our high- producing guys of 'why aren't you green?"'

"The interest is incredible" from builders, said James Hackler, program manager for a ratings standard program being developed for homes by the U.S. Green Building Council. The council is considered the lead private-public partnership working on the issue, but has focused first on creating and promoting a ratings and certification program for commercial properties.

The LEED for Homes program, which will start this summer with pilot programs across the country, is a follow-on to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification system that has been around since 2000 for commercial buildings. So far 171 commercial buildings have been certified and about 1,800 have applied to be certified.

"If everyone feels comfortable" with the pilot phase and how the standards might be tweaked for different climates and different building materials popular in particular markets, "then we will relaunch it and make it available to the entire country," Hackler said.

NAHB and the NAHB Research Center formally jumped into the dialogue this January when the two groups issued their first voluntary green-building guidelines at an annual industry convention.

Some green-building purists are concerned that the association's approach, which allows builders to self-certify that they have followed parts of a 200-page green checklist, might water down the overall effort or cause some confusion among consumers. A variety of federal, state and local green-building programs have taken root in the past decade that rate builders with independent certification.

But even die-hard green groups say the launch of the trade association's program represents a key shift from the fringe to the mainstream.

"When I started five years ago, very few people knew what LEED was, very few architectural firms had a LEED-accredited professional on staff, and now they have whole sections of people," said McGuire, coordinator of Maryland's Green Building Network.

There's still a long way to go, though.

NAHB estimates that out of the millions of homes constructed in the last 15 years, only about 61,000 have been built through local green-building programs. But enthusiasts say that doesn't count homes built or remodeled with green practices by niche builders or by industrious homeowners themselves.

And green builder groups are buoyed by how the pace of construction has picked up recently. Of the 61,000 green homes built through local programs, about 14,000 went up in 2004 alone, according to NAHB.

The proliferation of green guides and state, local and national programs can be confusing for homeowners, the experts agree. "There is some concern that all these initiatives will be so confusing that nobody will be able to figure it out," said Hackler, program manager for the LEED for Homes initiative. "But I use this analogy: Have you ever been to a grocery store where there are a lot of choices? Yet when we go in, we go right to the brand that serves our needs."

For instance, in Atlanta, he said, "they felt that the most compelling thing for consumers was not the energy savings but the indoor air quality (concerns). They wanted to provide a safe and healthy environment for their children."

The Atlanta home builders found that people who picked houses built to the EarthCraft standards "saw an incredible improvement as far as their children's health."

- - -

Resources for going green

There are many Web sites and books on green building these days, including some dedicated to particular kinds of construction, such as passive solar, and to specific materials and equipment, such as composting toilets, tankless water heaters and decking made from recycled materials. For a broader look, here are some suggestions:

Web Sites

- The Southface Institute's Web site for information on the EarthCraft House rating and certification program used in Atlanta and other jurisdictions at

- The Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program about energy-efficient home building and retrofits at

- The Web site has voluntary green building guidelines developed by the National Association of Home Builders and the NAHB Research Center. Copies can also be obtained by calling Diane Webb at 800-368-5242, Ext. 8290, or by contacting her at NAHB's offices at 1201 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20015.

- Environmental Building News-Building Green Inc. in Brattleboro, Vt., at

- The U.S. Green Building Council, a coalition of leaders from across the building industry, at The council has developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating and certification program for commercial buildings and is working on LEED for Homes.

Books and guides

- "Good Green Homes: Creating Better Homes for a Healthier Planet," by Jennifer Roberts (Gibbs Smith Publishers, $39.95).

- "Green Building Products," a listing of more than 1,400 products for builders and homeowners from a data base that has been maintained since 1998. Written by the editors and staff of Environmental Building News in Brattleboro, Vt. (BuildingGreen Inc. and New Society Publishers, $34.95).

- "Green by Design: Creating a Home for Sustainable Living," by Angela Dean (Gibbs Smith Publishers, $24.95).

- "Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time," by David R. Johnston and Kim Master (New Society Publishers, $29.95).

- "The New Ecological Home: A Complete Guide to Green Building Options," (by Daniel D. Chiras (Chelsea Green Publishing Co., $35).


PHOTO; Caption: PHOTO: More builders are incorporating green building concepts, such as recycling construction materials. Photo courtesy of EDG Architects.



Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.


Your Place



Text Word Count  


Document URL: