After nearly burning to the ground, a rebuilt home in Hawaii recently became the first in the state to be certified to the National Green Building Standard.

The modest dwelling on O’ahu was ravaged by an electrical fire last March, and the homeowners were determined to reconstruct the new home to sustainable standards using only the funds allotted by their undisclosed insurance payout, which would keep the budget well under the island’s average of about $200 a square foot. It was a tall order, but their contractor, Kailua-based Bossert Builders, was undaunted.

“For us to build a budget home and make it a certified green home we really had to get creative,” president Leanne Bossert says. “The biggest lesson we learned is that a certified green home can be built for the same price as a regular home.”

The new 3,600-square-foot house, completed in January, features a solar hot water system (mandated by the state), rainwater reclamation for lawn and garden watering, low-flow fixtures and fittings, and ultra-efficient insulation. Energy Star-rated CertainTeed Landmark Solaris reflective shingles cut down the roof’s temperature by as much as 20% compared to traditional roofing, according to the builder.

With walls of low-E double-pane windows and ceiling fans in every room, the house is designed to take optimum advantage of the tropical trade winds that blow past the island, negating the need for heating, cooling, or other HVAC equipment.

To save money, the Bosserts relied on off-the-shelf products from their local big box store, including Price Pfister, Kohler, and Glacier Bay brands. Inexpensive laminate flooring was used throughout much of the house to help offset costs. In addition, they salvaged parts of the existing foundation, saving the homeowners about $100,000. The new, Bronze-level NGBS home is valued at close to $1 million, Bossert says.

For their first third-party-certified project, the Bosserts worked diligently to locate green products and materials from distributors on the island, more affordable and sustainable than sourcing from the mainland.

“All building materials here are more expensive but through a lot of our own research we were able to find green materials and work with the price so that the home did not cost any extra for being green,” Bossert explains. 

Hawaiian building pros have to contend with the forces of nature, including termites, heat, moisture, and the possibility of hurricanes and earthquakes. For the O’ahu project, the Bosserts structurally reinforced all footings, and outfitted the home with hurricane straps and rafter ties. All lumber is Hi-Bor borate-treated wood, developed to meet the special durability and termite protection needs of Hawaii.

Most green building programs do not take Hawaii’s special climatic and geographic conditions into consideration, the Bosserts say. For example, because many island homes are passively cooled and use no heating system, the HERS score is irrelevant, and “we lose a large amount of potential points in all the heating and cooling categories,” Leanne Bossert says.

Bossert thinks affordable green building will catch on big in Hawaii, which has some of the highest energy rates in the country. “Homeowners are always looking for ways to lower their energy costs,” she notes.

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor, Online for EcoHome.


Team Effort

Nick and Leanne Bossert
Nick and Leanne Bossert

Husband and wife Leanne and Nick Bossert, both 28, represent the next generation of green builders, and their lofty goal of bringing affordable high-performance homes to Hawaii is rooted in their assumption that conservation should be a community affair, a belief formed during their upbringing in upstate New York.

“The ideas of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ were just a normal part of our lives, taught to us by our families and supported by our communities,” Leanne Bossert recalls.

Both moved to Hawaii in 2004, at a time when curbside recycling in the state was unheard of. They were surprised at how a communal spirit of conservation was lacking in a part of the country known for its natural beauty.

At 22, with a degree in construction engineering management, Nick joined a building company on O’ahu as partner. A short time later he became a licensed general contractor and, at the age of 23, started his own company. With a master’s degree in Organizational and Intercultural Communication from the University of Hawaii, Leanne is the company’s president and also a Realtor associate.

In their seven years living on the island, the pair has seen much improvement in Hawaiians’ dedication to conservation and eco-friendly living, and they are determined to do their part.

“We have recycling programs now, but it will be an ongoing process to have Hawaii ‘go green.’” Leanne says. --J.G.