Feds, NAHB unveil ‘green’ building initiatives

Picking up the task of helping more builders enter the ‘green’ market at this year’s International Builder’s Show were the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The NAHB unveiled its new National Green Building Program, making it a corners tone of IBS programming, while the U.S. Department of Energy unveiled its “Builders Challenge” certification program, the aim of which is to build 220,000 “high-performance, energy efficient homes” by 2012.

“The (Builders Challenge) aims to redefine the way homes across the nation produce and use energy,” U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a packed audience of building professionals on Valentine’s Day.

The initiative is meant to “propel the market toward building and selling homes that produce at least as much energy as they consume,” Bodman said.

“High performance homes” must score a 70 or lower on the Department of Energy’s “Energy Smart Home Scale,” which rates a home’s energy performance—a “typical home” averages about 100 on that scale.

According to the Department of Energy, 38 home builders have pledged to build 6,000 of these homes as of the Feb. 14 launch.

National Association of Home Builders offered its own new National Green Building Program, also launched Feb. 14. The new program is meant to link several “state and local green building programs with a universal online certification tool, national registry of green homes and green builders, and a collection of educational tools for home builders and home buyers,” according to the NAHB.

The NAHB includes a diverse set of criteria for its program, which unites several different strategies to go beyond energy savings, such as managing mold issues and identifying each home product manufacturers’ environmental practices.

At the show on Feb. 13, green builder Don Ferrier of Don Ferrier Custom Homes, addressed a crowded conference room of about 200 people on the topic “Green Building 101.”

“Are all people willing to pay for this? No. But some, absolutely yes,” he said.

Ferrier has built homes that fall into several categories of green certification, including LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)—certified homes and project sunder the American Lung Association Health House guidelines.

“Some green is being put into every home today,” he said.

Not all the news emanating from the green front was positive. For instance, the rush to green has led to liability issues. David Jaffe, who serves as staff vp-construction liability and legal research for the NAHB, gave builders some advice on how to avoid legal conflicts when building green.

He noted that sometimes what is required for a “green” certification might not jive with local building codes, or vice versa, making a builder liable for fixing a house to code. Additionally, legal trouble can be had when a builder makes explicit promises about a home’s ability to save on energy costs, sometimes used as a promotion when selling a property, or its cleaner air or lower water bills. Anything that can be misinterpreted opens the door to liability, he said, and finding a third party to help with the ratings process is essential.

Some pro dealers are gearing up to start supplying the growing market for green homes. In late February, Michigan-based Standard Lumber, a 12-unit dealer, was one of the latest retailers to announce a new location to be devoted to selling Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber, as well as low VOC adhesives, composite decking and cabinets and flooring made from sustainable resources.

“We are committing our company to the goals of the LEED green building rating system,” said Tim Rottschafer, president of Standard Lumber.

Naturally, many manufacturers at the International Builders’ Show had new eco-friendly products. Kohler and American Standard had toilets and faucets that meet the EPA’s new “Water Sense” guide lines were on prominent display.

In 2006, the agency launch ed Water Sense, which has begun to gain the reputation as an Energy Star-type program for water conservation.

At the Home Depot booth, several new products were featured under the retailer’s Eco Options program, including the American Standard Water Sense-rated toilets and new line of no-VOC paints from ICI Paints called Freshaire Choice. Eco Options uses third-party verifications, as well as EPA programs, to categorize environmentally friendly products.

“In terms of the Eco Options products, I think in 2008, from what I’m hearing, you’ll see tankless water heaters just grow and grow,” predicted Darren Friesenhahn, district contractor services manager for Home Depot.

In building materials, GE displayed a large solar panel in an attractive blue color. “You definitely can use these on the vertical face of a building as well as on the roof,” explained Dave Nyberg, GE’s segment leader for residential new construction-solar technologies.

Just teasing through the vast amount of “green” information can be cumbersome. Dennis Creech, executive director of the South face Institute—a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable building—suggested builders increase educational efforts for all members of a home-building project.

“Make sure your team is educated on green building and design,” he said, which includes everyone, “the builder, land planner, architect, interior designer, vendors, landscape architect and a point person or company that coordinates certification.”