Residential Construction
August 4, 2015

Resource-efficient constructionor, also known as green building,is about the efficient use of resources, so that we meet our needs in ways that allow future generations to meet theirs. The goals of resource-efficient construction aim at decreased long-term and lifecycle costs associated with building construction, while maintaining reasonable upfront costs. How does a builder realize the benefits and manage costs? Planning.

While most green building activities require more upfront planning, many green features do not add material or labor costs. A well-designed home with less square footage and air-sealed building envelope can reduce costs through reductions in materials use, waste, water and energy, as well as raising the quality of comfort in the finished space.

Some green features do have higher upfront material costs but lower labor costs. Others have higher labor, but much lower material costs. And some just cost more. Balancing these costs is easier when looking at the whole house project. A sealed, well ventilated building envelope is important, but also allows for smaller heating and cooling equipment.

Reasons to Change

Perhaps the best reason builders and designers should consider green building is because that is what people want.

David Ritchey Johnston, author of Building Green in a Black and White World, concludes that it is worth it to consumers to buy green and that means builders can profit. He shows through market research that “a strong segment of the population is ready to buy environmentally sound products.”

The Gallup Organization’s 2001 Earth Day Report indicates over half of the population considers themselves to be active participants or sympathetic to the “environmental movement”. (Source: The Gallup Organization) Many individuals have not known how to contribute towards environmental protection, but they are finding a place to start is with their own home. And, they are willing to pay for it.

A 2003 survey conducted by a group of building industry manufacturers and associations confirmed the willingness of consumers to pay more for green building features in their homes if they improve quality, durability and the health of the house.

Many architects and builders, however, are involved in the movement. Environmental Construction and Design magazine documented that 94 percent of architects, builders, developers, and others surveyed were already incorporating some green aspects in some of their design and construction projects. Builders and architects alike believe that green building will corner increasing amounts of the market share for new home construction.

Trends show there is interest and activity toward resource-efficient construction. The roles of the players (consumer, builder, architect) are still being formed and the traditional method of buying and selling homes is starting to change. Consumers are challenging the status quo and more builders are educating consumers about what they can provide.

P2 in Action:

Green homes offer benefits to both the builder and homeowner. Marketing studies indicate that builders will profit from efforts to design sustainable homes simply because more people want them. For the homeowner, immediate comfort, health benefits, and cost savings tend to extrapolate to long term environmental benefits.

  • Consumers are looking for comfortable spaces that reflect their lifestyle and character. They want durability, efficiency, protection of the environment and a safe, healthy place to live.
  • Builders can transfer costs of excess square footage, number of bathrooms, and oversized heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to quality construction and innovative design.
  • Numerous organizations are providing technical and financial assistance to assist builders and homeowners to design in resource-efficiency.

Consumers win with green homes because they will gain long-term dollar savings when their home conserves water, materials, energy, and protects their environment and health. Energy efficiency is often the easiest green feature with which to calculate direct paybacks to the homeowner. But, other resource efficient techniques result in intangible paybacks to homeowners and the community including:

  • health and the costs associated with it,
  • maintenance costs from increased durability, and
  • stress on local services (water supply and treatment, landfills),
  • natural resource conservation (quality wetlands, rivers and openspace and increased support for recycled material markets).

Resources and Assistance

Many public, non-profit and private organizations promote green building practices in the United States. Technical and financial assistance is available to architects, builders, homeowners, and communities. Many organizations focus on energy-efficiency, but most consider other areas of green design and advocate the whole-house design approach.

Assistance comes in the form of guidelines, standards, incentive programs, grants, certification and ratings programs. A few of these resources are:

  • National “Affordable Home” Initiatives
    Affordable housing and economic development advocates support legislative mandates and establish requirements to include energy efficiency and renewable energy into housing assisted by their programs.
  • Certification and Rating Programs
    Certification and ratings programs create partnerships between builders and federal, state, local and non-profit organizations to enhance communities and home marketability one home at a time. These programs often provide builders with training, audits, recommendations, third-party certification and sometimes marketing and mortgage information.
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Initiatives
    Organizations working to promote energy non-renewable energy conservation strive to provide tax incentives and guidance that will help builders and consumers more effectively incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency into their homes.
  • Audits and Utility Incentives
    Many utility companies provide audits and incentives for energy efficiency as well as renewable energy technology development. For example, Seattle Public Utilities and partners have joined to promote sustainable design and construction practices and technology in the building and landscaping industries. They provide technical assistance on many municipal and commercial projects.
  • Lending Incentives
    Some construction may also qualify consumers for higher than normal debt-to-income ratio when calculating loan potentials, enlarging the market of potential home-buyers.