For many dealers, the words “green building” conjure up images of homes built with costly environmentally friendly features and limited demand. But times are changing, and green—or “sustainable”—building is becoming more mainstream and getting more attention from consumers, builders, manufacturers, and organizations like the NAHB.

Nowhere was this more evident recently than at NAHB's annual National Green Building Conference, held March 13–15 in Atlanta. Between the conference's record 800-plus attendees and the buzz among a diverse mix of sessions and speakers, it's very clear that a green wave is building. What's more, many of the common assumptions about green building—such as “expensive” and “out of the ordinary”—are falling away as projects around the country prove you can blend in while going green.

“I hope you'll see that green building doesn't have to be costly,” said Eric Borsting, chairman of the Green Building Conference, during his opening address, refuting one of the most common green myths. “It just has to be understood, planned, and thought out.”

Green on Display Driving away the money myth and other often-false assumptions about green building was one of the most prominent messages reverberating through the workshops during the conference. Attendees also saw evidence to the contrary firsthand during a day-one bus tour to some of Atlanta's best examples of sustainable building.

The Puget Sound Energy Built Green Idea Home at Issaquah Highlands near Seattle offered a realistic demonstration of techniques for a Built Green home and showed builders and consumers how green building can be functional, attractive, and marketable.
Courtesy Issaquah Highlands The Puget Sound Energy Built Green Idea Home at Issaquah Highlands near Seattle offered a realistic demonstration of techniques for a Built Green home and showed builders and consumers how green building can be functional, attractive, and marketable.

Naturally, some of the homes on the tour were expensive and others bordered on over the top, but all of them prove that green building comes in many styles, can serve many markets, and can be flexible. For example, from the outside, Magnolia Circle, an 84-unit multifamily senior affordable housing development, doesn't look like a “green” community. But it combines affordability with sustainability features like spray-applied cellulose insulation, tight construction, and a scooter-and walking-friendly site layout, and with livability features like step-less entry and ADA-compliant products and installation. On the other hand, the Brookhaven Solar EarthCraft House looks more like the high-end green homes we've come to expect, with an upscale bathroom, airy master suite, and extensive sustainable features like solar panels and rainwater collection; you wouldn't know that the suburban residence originated as a show home at the Georgia World Congress Center during the International Builders' Show a few years ago.

The tour also included examples of sustainable remodeling and infill homes, along with Glenwood Park, a mixed-use community built on brownfields that combines the walkability of traditional neighborhood development with sustainably built apartments and condos, detached and attached single-family homes, retail space, and park areas.

As the stops on the tour demonstrated, sustainable homes not only don't have to look the same, they also don't have to look outlandish. “You don't have to go weird to go green,” said Peter Pfieffer, AIA, an Austin, Texas–based architect specializing in sustainable design, during a conference session on green building best practices the next day. Building green doesn't require constructing a straw bale home or even utilizing only non-standard products.

“Green building doesn't have to look out of the ordinary,” agreed Rich Dooley, environmental analyst for the NAHB Research Center in Upper Marlboro, Md., during a conference session. “... It's about environmental conservation being woven into what you already do.”

Beyond Green Another myth surrounding green building is that it's all about the environment. And while that is certainly a large part, veterans say that sustainably built homes also are often more durable and more healthy, and often may be more affordable in the long run. For example, a conference session on solar energy revealed that during the hurricanes in Florida last year, homes with solar electricity tended to fare better than homes without, not necessarily as a direct result of the solar electricity itself but because the homes were typically constructed better.

And it's important to remember that going green isn't just about products. Though energy efficient windows, insulation, and other green products are an integral part of sustainable building, contractors also need to understand building science, land development, proper installation techniques, and product relationships, among other factors.