High-performance builder Ferrier Custom Homes, in Ft. Worth, Texas, is having a record year despite the fact that the economy has been tough on some clients.

High-performance builder Ferrier Custom Homes, in Ft. Worth, Texas, is having a record year despite the fact that the economy has been tough on some clients.

Credit: Courtesy Ferrier Custom Homes

Super-tight lending standards, dwindling buyers, the stock market crash, and a global recession have made this one of the worst times in history to be a home builder.

“The market is devastated all across the country, across the board: single-family, multifamily, remodeling, and even low-income, every sector has been affected,” according to Carlos Martin of the NAHB.

Green building pros have not been spared from economic gloom, says Martin, assistant staff vice president for construction, codes, and standards: “It’s disingenuous to act like there is not any bad news for green builders.”

Nevertheless, many green pros are finding an upper hand that’s helping them survive the market, and some are even thriving due to increasing demand for eco-friendly dwellings, new funds for green public projects, and passage of the $787 billion federal economic stimulus bill.

Business at a Standstill
In some markets, green builders and architects report business is at a near standstill. Home buyers battered by the stock market crash have put their sustainable projects on hold indefinitely. Even with new government tax credits and rebate programs and the promise of lowered utility bills, many cash-strapped homeowners are hesitant to spend money on energy-efficient remodeling projects.

Like traditional builders, green pros are laying off coveted employees, in some cases even family members.

In an ironic twist, regions that have been on the forefront of the green movement seem to be hit the hardest by the slowdown. Green builders in California, Colorado, and New England are suffering more than those in other areas because the general construction market is doing so poorly, Martin says.

“Housing is always localized,” he explains. “Even though in California you have heightened awareness of green building and remodeling, the housing market there has been devastated, so green is really struggling in places like that.”

San Francisco residential architect David Baker concurs.  “As a business, market-rate housing is close to dead right now,” says Baker, a partner of David Baker + Partners Architects. “Some long-term projects are still going through the approval process, but that’s pretty much it for the private sector.”