Las Vegas, Jan. 22 -- Can green be the lifeboat the home building industry needs? During a presentation at the International Builders’ Show, Harvey M. Bernstein, vice president of industry analytics, alliances, and strategic initiatives for McGraw-Hill Construction, suggests that eco-friendly design and products are proving to be a market differentiator for builders and an in-demand feature for home buyers.

Utilizing data from McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2006 and 2008 Smart Market Reports on green building, as well as a few other studies, Bernstein offered the following conclusions:

  • Green is a market differentiator: Builders are finding it easier to market green homes and homeowners are much more interested in buying them, even in a down economy. Bernstein called green building a “savior,” and said that while the residential market overall has plummeted, the green residential market is climbing at a steady pace, increasing fivefold between 2005 and 2008 and expected to triple by 2013. The total residential green opportunity in 2013 will be $40 billion to $70 billion.

  • Involvement in green building is on the rise: In addition to a growing number of local and national green building certification programs, green policies have jumped from 57 local governments in 2005 to 156 in 2008. The new presidential administration also has demonstrated a commitment to green policies and stimulus programs. At the builder level, in 2007 32% of builders reported being “significantly dedicated” to green building. In 2008 that number climbed to 52% and is expected to reach 69% in 2009.

  • Interest in green homes spans all income levels: While the greatest percentage of demand for green homes (27%) is within the $50,000 to $74,000 income range, 30% of the demand falls into the two lower income brackets.

  • Younger generations will expect green options: “They can’t imagine building anything that isn’t sustainable,” Bernstein said.

  • Green-home buyers are driven by operational cost savings and improved health. Associating green with quality will be a strong selling point in the down market.

  • As a builder’s green building experience increases, perceived costs decrease.

  • Energy Star is the most well-known product standard.

  • When remodeling, homeowners will spend the most on features that make their homes greener, versus those that increase comfort or improve the appearance.

For those pros still wary of the trend, it’s worth noting what Bernstein calls one of green building’s biggest obstacles for homeowners: In some markets, there just aren’t enough builders doing it.