New Orleans, May 12 -- It all started in a secluded room at the International Builders' Show in the late '90s, when residential building participants met in secret to discuss the possibility of a conference dedicated solely to sustainable building. Today, the NAHB marked the 10th anniversary of its National Green Building Conference before a record crowd of more than 1,200 attendees.

"Who could imagine 10 years ago how far we've come," NAHB vice president and treasurer Bob Jones said in his opening remarks. "It's been an incredible effort."

That effort includes the pioneering work of a handful of builders who believed that green building would become standard practice. In a video montage, those pros reflected on how they have gone from being "the people no one wanted to sit next to" to being "the most popular guys in the room."

And though green building hasn't quite become the all-out norm, the ideas--and the techniques and technologies behind them--are quickly proliferating the residential mainstream and are becoming top-of-mind for a growing number of pros across the country. "It's 2008, it's 10 years later, and it's the place to be," commented one veteran.

Later, during a keynote address, Michael A. Todman, president of Whirlpool North America, relayed a similar message: "You're here for a reason: You see an opportunity."

Todman referred to a consumer study that indicated that 85% of recent home buyers would choose one home over another because of energy efficiency features. The study also reported that buyers are willing to pay an average of $19,000 more for a green home.

Part of Whirlpool's efforts to contribute to sustainable homes includes a European concept project called GreenKitchen that aims to increase energy efficiency by 70%. Possibilities include using the heat from the refrigerator compressor to provide hot water for the dishwasher and a collection system that will divert clean cold tap water, which might otherwise be wasted while waiting for hot water, for use for watering plants or cleaning floors.

Indeed, all of the morning's speakers emphasized the need to keep innovating and moving forward with new technologies while continuing to partner up and bring in more participants. One highly anticipated stride in the near future is the official launch of the National Green Building Standard, which was submitted to ANSI last month for approval. The consensus-based standard, which Jones told the audience "will be the benchmark for green homes," is based on the NAHB's Model Green Home Building Guidelines and will offer Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Emerald certification levels.

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