Production builders are famous for careful choreography when it comes to fine tuning their designs, value engineering their production systems and product selections, and rolling out new homes and communities. And given their volumes and what’s at stake with each decision in terms of risk levels and market acceptance, it’s easy to understand. Just consider the complexities of integrating technical changes and implementing new performance levels into a broad range of models across a variety of climate zones and markets and you’ll understand why each step they take toward sustainability must be solid—even if it may not appear to some as bold. But make no mistake, when big builders make big statements about their commitment to green building—it’s a big deal.
Common wisdom within our industry tells us that 80% of the homes we build are produced by just 20% of home builders, which defines and intensifies the impact production builders will have on the broader acceptance of green building in the general marketplace. Regional and national market leaders included, without the investment and commitment of these companies our progress will not keep pace with the urgent timeline of our common environmental imperative.
It’s also well known that big builders won’t move quickly to include anything in their homes that buyers aren’t asking for. This is why they’ve made energy efficiency their first step and primary focus, because that’s what their buyers have identified as the green feature they would pay for. They still do.
Over the years large-volume builders have been among the strongest partners within EPA’s Energy Star for Homes and on DOE’s Building America program teams. And those companies with divisions in California have been meeting Title 24’s stringent code requirements for years, so building energy-efficient homes for them is relatively a piece of cake.
So it would be easy for these large companies to stay within their comfort zones, marketing energy-conscious—even net-zero—homes to buyers seeking low energy bills and short payback periods. After all, most builders would probably report that buyers aren’t exactly demanding environmental attributes beyond energy efficiency.
Despite these realities, the number of production builders certifying their homes within multi-attribute national programs like Environments for Living, LEED for Homes, and the National Green Building Standard is growing steadily. Just in the past few months volume builders like KB Home, Meritage Homes, Pardee Homes, and MHI have committed to deeper green certifications, in some cases across the board, that require points earned for addressing materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, water efficiency, and site design and development—in addition to energy.
This takes guts. It also takes massive amounts of leadership from the green building champions within each of these companies who work to establish the adoption of corporate and division standards to assure successful execution on the ground.
Someone asked me recently when I thought green building might become mainstream. I told her that while I thought the recovery rate from the recession would have a lot to do with the answer, one thing is clear: It won’t ever happen without continued commitment from the big builders.