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Green Building

March/April Issue of Michigan Builder

If the Beatles were still together today, they would have a Green Album, instead of the White Album

I'm a Green Builder. Let me explain what that means. First a bit of History. Back in 1999, I discovered Energy Star, and started having homes tested for an energy star rating. Surprise, building the way I was, which has always been for me, the "right way", my very first 3rd party inspected home was a 5 star home! Wow, great, this is going to help me sell a bunch of homes. They won't buy a home from Brand X; they'll buy mine, with the energy savings. I dutifully put out a copy of the rating certificate at my open houses, and yes, I sold homes. Of course, this was 1999-2001 or so, we were all selling homes. Funny thing is, I noticed, nobody is asking about the rating certificate. Somewhere around the year 2000, The State of Michigan decided it would be a good idea to have an "Energy Star Parade of Homes" As I was having my homes rated; it was a no-brainer to have a home in the "parade." Imagine my disappointment, when nobody showed up. A few years later, at our local HBA's Parade, I decided to test the interest in energy star. I numbered the energy star brochures before the parade, set them out. That way I figured I could see how many were taken. Imagine my disappointment again, when after 2 weeks, I was still looking at #1 on top of the stack. What is the deal, I thought, nobody cares about saving energy? Then I figured it out. The buying public assumes every home is built to a "code", so if my homes, which looked like every other home, saved $600 a year in energy costs, so must all the other new homes. After all, everyone builds to the same code, right?

Fast forward to 2006: MAHB President Lee Kitson establishes a Task Force to establish a state-wide Green Building Program. And with a bit of work, Green Built Michigan is formed. So what is Green Built? Similar to the Energy Star program, it is a comprehensive set of options, based on NAHB's Green Building Standards, with a 3rd party certification, to let the buying public know that a builder has exceeded code in a number of key areas, to make sure a new home is, first of all, energy efficient (say Energy Star), and beyond that, the builder exceeds code in the areas of lot design and existing element protection, resource efficiency (on site recycling, use of recycled materials), water conservation (both within the home and outside), indoor air quality, homeowner education and training, specifically in maintenance and recycling, and global impact (in other words, what does the construction process do in regards to impacting the environment.)

I decided, as many of you have, my building business will go green. And not just dip a toe in the water to test it, but have every home we build go through the process of the NAHB Checklist and 3rd party certification. My office and production staff rolls their eyes (I don't hear what they say behind my back, but I can imagine) as I delegate areas of Green Compliance. And I read and re-read the guidelines, looking for where we can garner points, to get to a certification level.

A few things start to happen. My production manager says "we can build our own recycling bins for wood and metal out of left over pallets and o.s.b." My designer says "we can substitute most of our interior finishes for green, like low VOC paints, carpet, and glues. I've always had allergies, this is a good change." And it grows into a movement of sorts. We advertise Green Building, and start to get calls.

Not from the public, mind you, but from the press. One of the early calls from a reporter for one of the "Lake Michigan, glossy second home magazines" She thought she might want to interview me, and asked "so you are a green builder, do you use ground up blue jeans for insulation?" When I replied that "no, we use ground up newspapers", I guess that didn't sound so sexy, I didn't get the interview. But as time went on, I got other interviews, and then invitations to speak before various groups. Wow, I think, this is really something, this will sell some homes. But a shift starts to take place, within both my mind, and my company. Where first we were counting points to get to a certification level, we seem to have created a mind shift. We are recycling paper and ink cartridges at the office. My office manager starts pulling plastic and metal out of the trash, to recycle. My subs call "we have a pile of cardboard here on the jobsite, where is our cardboard dumpster?" It seems a mind shift has transpired, everyone is thinking green.

And this, really, is what being a green builder is about. Not just adding up points on the checklist, but using NAHB's new Green Building Standards to think about the right way to do things. Thinking about everything that we do in terms of the environment; from building Green Homes; to training new home-owners in recycling and how to deal with their low maintenance grass and rain garden; questioning our suppliers, not only on their materials, but on their operational practices; to everyone in the company questioning every practice and material. Seeking new materials that are environmentally sound. Our company, like others, is now totally immersed in the Green Building movement. We no longer just add up the points to try to reach a bronze, silver, gold, or emerald level, but use the standards as a springboard for our green procedures.

So, do our prospective customers walk past the solid surface countertops, crown molding, and in-wall sound system looking for the energy savings data? I have to say, most still do not. But we are getting an increasing number of phone calls from prospective clients, in regards to green building, especially indoor air quality and allergies. And then we are able to tell them about the energy savings, the reduced carbon emissions, and the reduced maintenance costs. And those that appreciate a higher level of indoor air quality, recycling, less global impact, are becoming our new and growing list of prospective customers. So it really is the best of both worlds: To know that we are "doing the right thing", and at the same time, creating a new market for our business.

I encourage you to read the other articles in this month's magazine regarding green building, and please make plans to attend Great Lakes Green, August 21-23, at DeVos Place, Grand Rapids. It may lead to a new way of building and thinking.

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