Although I’ve been out of school for years now, I went back to class last week as a student in the National Association of Home Builders’ two-day Green Building for Building Professionals program. I sat beside 20 pros in a conference room at the York County (Pa.) Builders Association’s office, where we learned the fundamentals of green building. One of the most interesting things I took away from the event was that many builders and remodelers already employ construction methods that make their clients’ homes more energy efficient.

Instructor Bill Asdal, owner of Chester, N.J.-based Asdal Builders, repeatedly pointed out that many building professionals already employ at least some green basic construction techniques. “We don’t have consensus yet in the country on what’s green,” he said, “so I like to set the bar low. If you change a light bulb to a compact fluorescent, are you green?” He responded: “Yes.”

In other words, simple steps are a great way to start thinking about green.

Many of the green building methods discussed in the class were sound advice for any pro. One of the biggest points of emphasis, for instance, was paying attention to details like air sealing. If you or your subs caulk rim joists, windows and doors, ductwork, and electrical and plumbing penetrations, you’re well on your way to being green, Asdal said. And you don’t have to install solar photovoltaic panels—a home design that passively utilizes the sun’s heat, with south-facing windows in a cold climate, is an eco-friendly feature you can advertise, he noted.

Other common building practices also count. If you’ve planted trees and shrubs, perhaps to shade a window or block wind, you’re green, Asdal said. Even incorporating storm water management into your developments is a green feature, the instructor said—even if it’s required by law.

The NAHB Green Building textbook that was handed out at the training session makes clear that green building isn’t rocket science. In the section on durability, the guide states that “Many of the best practices intended to improve durability require little more than good judgment and a basic knowledge of the factors that affect building durability.” Those practices include providing sheltered entries, such as awnings or covered porches, for exterior doors.

Even the simple act of passing on your knowledge can even help you get your home certified green: providing a homeowner handbook that highlights a home’s resource-efficient systems and their operation and maintenance earns builders points under the NAHB’s Model Green Home Building Guidelines.

Many of my classmates were hardly green building novices. I spoke with two builders seeking NAHB green certification for projects, and several pros were experimenting with photovoltaic or wind power technologies. For them and others, the lessons were a refresher on building science principles and provided exposure to green technologies they may not have encountered, such as efficient duct design or active-solar heating. But they also served to remind the participants of the green techniques and products they already employ—and that they can tout to potential customers.

During these tough times, think about things you do every day—from installing low-E, argon-filled windows and Energy Star-rated appliances to applying low-VOC paints to designing homes with smaller footprints. Those are green measures that you can toot your horn about and that may lead to additional sales. 

Nevertheless, these measures and others, like using CFLs, planting wind-blocking scrubs, or covering exterior doors, alone don’t make you a green builder. Still, they are the easy steps that can lead you down the path to building and remodeling sustainable homes.