A chief argument some builders make against building green is the added cost, particularly in a down economy. But Steve Bertasso, senior associate at True North Development, told attendees at the 2011 International Builders’ Show that entry-level green can be achieved for the same cost of a code-built house.

“Sustainable building,” he said, “is the perfect balance between environmental impact, cost, and the needs of the consumer.”

To attain that balance, Bertasso, who also teaches at Middle Tennessee State University, says simple steps that reduce waste and boost operational efficiencies can more than make up for the added expenses associated with the higher-efficiency products and certifications of a basic green home.

Bertasso tallied the extra costs of a green built home at about $3,300: $1,500 for the blower door test, duct blaster test, green certification inspection, and paperwork, plus another $1,800 for higher-efficiency equipment, upgraded insulation, energy-efficient windows, and homeowner education.

To cover that amount, Bertasso outlined the following areas where cost-saving improvements can typically be made:

Step 1: Reduce Waste
For every Dumpster you fill, the customer pays about $400. Bertasso says he’s found everything from half sheets of drywall to bricks to tubes of fireproof caulk to R-6 flex duct. “The dollars are there,” he says. “There’s a lot of money in waste.”

The solution is to plan more efficiently. For example, reducing your gypsum board count by 10 sheets equals a $500 savings.

Estimated savings: $2,000 (Bertasso says this is a conservative estimate and can be attained simply with capturing the low-hanging fruit.)

Step 2: Improve Operation Efficiencies
Efficient planning and communications can save a bundle in labor waste, Bertasso said. For example, providing subs with checklists can prevent extra trips to the jobsite. Even one saved trip per contractor per project can add up quickly.

Also, draw up detailed plans and avoid hand-written changes and notations. The more specific plans and drawings are up front, the less confusion, changes, and do-overs needed later.

Estimated savings: $1,000

Step 3: Install Cost-Effective Materials
Many green materials cost little to no extra money, particularly if you’re willing to do a little research and work with suppliers. Many plumbing manufacturers, for example, offer WaterSense-certified faucets at the same price as traditional units. Engineered lumber earns a lot of points under green building programs and, while pricier, can save money in reduced labor and waste. Radiant barriers and extra insulation add cost but save money in reduced HVAC capacity.

Potential savings: $500

Step 4: Trim Admin Costs
Greening your company not only helps you walk the walk, it can reduce admin costs.

Recycling paper is the lows-hanging fruit that every company should be doing without hesitation. For an even bigger impact, consider moving to an electronic PO system, which saves Bertasso a ream of paper per project plus postage and labor to mail.

For marketing, think beyond the billboard, which works for brand recognition but isn't going to actually sell the house. You must invest in an attractive, easy-to-navigate website and utilize tools such as YouTube, a blog, Facebook, Flickr, etc. to increase your exposure to potential clients. Initial one-time setup costs can run $3,000 to $4,000, but will then pay for themselves quickly. After that, upkeep expenses are low and many social media services are free.

Potential savings: Varies

Adding It Up
In all, Bertasso calculates that these simple steps can save at minimum $3,500, more than covering the $3,300 increased cost for an entry-level green home. At the same time, you’re providing an energy-efficient, healthier, and better-built home, at the same price as competitors.

But perhaps more important are the non-quantifiable rewards--providing a product that buyers are looking for, one that saves on energy costs and is healthier and more comfortable to live in.

Plus, green building just makes sense, Bertasso noted. “No matter if you believe in global warming, at the end of the day, do you want to live in an environment that’s filled with waste and depleted of resources?”

 

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.