A Richmond, Va., builder has put a new spin on the American dream by offering a home that is not only affordable to working-class buyers, but also is third-party-certified green. The Henrico County house is one of the country’s first homes for entry-level buyers certified Bronze under the ANSI National Green Building Standard. Priced at $209,950—only a few thousand dollars more than nearby units—the 1,452-square-foot dwelling packs many of the high-performance features normally found in a more expensive house.
Located in the working-class Vaughan Heights neighborhood, the house fills a niche between high-end, custom homes and subsidized public housing, says builder John Nolde, CEO of First Richmond Associates.
The three-bedroom house features radiant barrier sheathing, blown cellulose insulation, Energy Star–rated lighting and appliances, low-flow toilets and showerheads, short and efficient plumbing runs, and low-E windows.
The project was conceived last year, after Nolde and First Richmond president Susan Hadder received their Certified Green Professional designation from the NAHB. Realizing that energy-efficient workforce housing in the area was almost non-existent, the pair drew up preliminary design ideas and met with a verifier familiar with the ANSI standard to make sure they were on the right track.
Hadder searched for lower-priced interior products that would meet the standards requirements. She was able to spec recycled-content carpeting and pads, recycled-vinyl floors, Energy Star–rated lighting fixtures, and sustainable hardwood without going over budget.
"It was easier than I imagined to find attractive, affordable green products,” she says.
Nevertheless, Hadder realized many manufacturers aren’t familiar with the special requirements of building a third-party-certified house. “We had to educate subcontractors and in some cases get new suppliers,” she recalls.For example, she says it took six weeks to get information about a floor covering’s environmental attributes because the sales rep wasn’t familiar with it.
On the other hand, some suppliers surprised Nolde with their knowledge of affordable green products. Employees at his local Stock Building Supply were especially helpful. “When I told them I wanted to get a radiant barrier, they had their LP guy on the phone in 30 minutes,” he says. “The sales rep came out and met with my crew and showed them how to install their product.”
Hadder realizes that some entry-level or first-time buyers may not be aware of the benefits of a certified dwelling. “Most anybody knows what Energy Star is, so they’ll see that with the appliances,” Hadder says. “We plan to show them other things they may not readily see as green, such as the floor coverings, lighting, windows, and insulation.”
Nolde thinks that once customers see the potential savings of living in a high-performance house—he estimates up to a 22% reduction in monthly energy bills—they won’t balk at paying a bit extra (similar homes in the neighborhood are priced at about $205,000).
Nolde is aware that making a living by building workforce housing is not the path many green builders would choose to take. “In today’s market, it’s going to be a difficult thing to get into the lower price level,” he says. “But there are people in every price range who appreciate the benefits of a green home.”