Author’s note: This is the second story in our two-part look at green construction. Part 1, posted earlier today, looked at an environmentally friendly home that’s being built in Western Durham by a new company called NC Green Build. Part 2, below, relays what some independent green building experts have to say about trends in the field.
Jamie Hager is a green building specialist at Southern Energy Management. She reviews construction to make sure they comply with LEED and other environmentally friendly building codes.
“NC Green Build has been really great,” Hager said. “They’re really organized. And so I feel really confident that they’re going to get the certification level that they want the first time on a house, which is rare.”
LEED has four certification levels: standard, silver, gold and platinum. 208 Regiment could end up very close to silver certification, Hager said.
She praised the builders’ initial work, which she reviewed in an optional consultation visit prior to a formal inspection. Hager was so impressed with the advanced framing she saw that she took several pictures to show others.
The specialist also pointed to a radiant barrier — a silver foil applied on the inside of a roof — as a useful and distinctive feature in the home. “It’s one of those bang-for-your buck measures where you really are helping make a difference,” she said. “You bring those [attic] temperatures down, your air conditioner’s not going to have to work as hard, therefore it’ll be more efficient, and it’s something you can point at and see as a notable difference.”
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The overall tendency in environmentally friendly construction has been one of growth. A McGraw Hill Construction report showed that there was $10 billion in green construction in 2005. The number for last year hasn’t yet been finalized, but it’s expected to come in between $55 billion and $71 billion.
So far, though, green building has been employed far more in commercial and government buildings than in homes. The perception of green building is that it carries a price premium — although that may not be as true as some people think.
Steve Frasher and Duncan Lundy, the partners in NC Green Build, say 208 Regiment will be comparable in price and features to other Colony homes. Uwe Schlueter of Apex’s All-Max Plumbing, a subcontractor on the house, expects the cost of green home building to drop as more contractors move in that direction.
Laura Deaton Klauke is the executive director of the Triangle chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. She pointed to a Raleigh home that was certified by both the LEED and the National Association of Home Builders’ green codes. (The U.S. Green Building Council oversees LEED.)
“They were able to get over 50 percent of the way to the certification by making either no-cost or low-cost changes,” Klauke said of the Raleigh home's builders. “So you can go a really long way without having a substantial increase in your budget.”
The more experienced the builder, the easier it is to minimize the so-called green premium, Klauke said.
But other barriers remain to popularizing green-built homes, she conceded. Many real estate brokers have little to no experience with environmentally friendly construction and can’t properly tout its benefits.
Still, Klauke and others interviewed for this story predict that in a few years, buyers will use energy efficiency information to evaluate home purchases just as miles-per-gallon as factored in to many car purchases today.
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Aaron Lubeck is an adjunct lecturer at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, the former head of home restorers Trinity Design/Build and the author of “Green Restorations: Sustainable Building in Historic Homes.”
Like Klauke, Lubeck foresees growth in environmentally oriented home construction. “While the housing markets declined, green building sort of plateaued and stayed neutral and certainly is better positioned than non-green housing to thrive in the future,” Lubeck said.
More and more, building codes incorporate environmentally friendly measures, Lubeck noted.
But houses built in an environmentally friendly fashion can offer real advantages to buyers. “Green building should last a lot longer [than conventional homes] because they’re built well, they’re built with products that should last longer,” Lubeck said. “And they should have less demand on their systems because they’re so energy efficient.”
A study of green construction of all types, not just residential, showed that LEED-certified buildings overall cost about 3 percent more than conventional construction, according to Lubeck. The same report showed that the premium could be earned back in lower operating costs within a few years.
North Carolina home owners may not earn back their premium as quickly as those in places where electricity costs are higher and temperatures are more extreme, the professor said. But, he added: “Anybody investing in water efficiency or efficient HVAC, super insulation, should see a payback on that.”
That will become more and more true as electricity and water costs rise in the future, Lubeck and others said.
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All of which makes a home like the one being built at 208 Regiment seem like a good, and possibly even great, buy.
Still, there may be at least one other factor potential home buyers who put a premium on the environment may wish to consider.
“Using existing assets is always, or nearly always, a greener choice,” Lubeck said. “In the big picture, we need to reuse buildings, reuse our cities, reuse all of our assets as long as we can. Because the environmental inputs into new houses are substantial.”
The average new house consumes about 121 trees and usually stands on what had been forest or farmland. “All of these things are increasingly in short supply as the Earth moves to 9 billion people by the middle of the century,” Lubeck said.
Such considerations are germane on a local scale, too. Consider that Durham County’s population is expected to rise from nearly 268,000 last year to around 380,000 within 20 years.
Still, it’s hard to imagine new home construction slumping dramatically without serious economic effects. As evidence, simply take recent years, in which new housing starts dropped by almost half, as Lubeck himself noted.
Given all that, it’s possible to view the new house on Regiment Way as a positive development, but not a panacea, in dealing with the environmental challenges that could lie ahead.