Like every production builder, Los Angeles–based Pardee Homes keeps a keen eye on its balance sheet. So when the company announced earlier this year that it was applying its LivingSmart brand of green building practices—an in-house program initiated in 1998—across all of its housing markets, types, and price points, it meant one thing: that at least one volume builder had figured out a way to sincerely reduce its carbon footprint without pricing itself out of the market.
That balance is perhaps most evident at Manzanita Trail, Pardee’s newest neighborhood within its Pacific Highlands Ranch master-planned community in San Diego. With a build-out of 147 detached homes among four plans, Manzanita Trail is decidedly a production product. And yet every home in the community (along with every home in the master plan since it launched in 2001) is built to the LivingSmart standards—and the neighborhood has nearly sold out every phase since opening in March. (Of course, it helps that Manzanita Trail is located five miles from the beach, is accessible to mature shopping districts, and sits within one of the area’s top school districts.)
Pardee also broke its own mold by offering a mix of smaller alley-loaded and slightly larger garage-front plans at Manzanita Trail, thus ensuring more diverse (and attractive) streetscapes and broadening its price range and target market from families to active adults.
Underpinning all of those conventional real estate truisms, however, is a comprehensive baseline of green building that exceeds the state’s strict Title 24 energy standards by up to 23%, includes Energy Star–labeled appliances and lighting, meets or exceeds the standards for the California Green Builder program and the California Friendly irrigation water conservation initiative, and refers to the National Green Building Standard to set thresholds for (and third-party verification of) fenestration performance, recycled content, VOC emissions, and others.
“At Manzanita Trail, we’ve been able to combine the best of everything into one package,” says Joyce Mason, Pardee’s vice president of marketing. “Our sales pace tells us we’ve really hit a high point in offering a total package to buyers.”
To help buyers understand how LivingSmart criteria affect energy and water savings, reduce utility bills, and boost housing value, Pardee compartmentalizes the program into four categories: EnergySmart, WaterSmart, HealthSmart, and EarthSmart (see “The Basics of LivingSmart,” page 20). “It gives us a flexible framework and a way to easily explain the eco-friendly products in the house to a buyer,” says Mason.
While every Pardee neighborhood has the ability to offer a customized set of upgrades to the LivingSmart program, the baseline list of products and their sustainable features is impressive. Low-formaldehyde attic insulation to an R-38 minimum addresses health and energy savings. Timber-efficient engineered lumber, pre-made roof trusses, and composite wood doors help satisfy the EarthSmart category criteria as well as market demand for open floor plans and the builder’s schedule. Low-E windows, an Energy Star–rated dishwasher, programmable thermostat, MERV-6 furnace filters, dimmer switches and occupancy sensors, a handful of fluorescent lighting fixtures, and radiant barrier roof sheathing are components of an energy-saving priority, while low-flow faucets and showerheads help save water.
Upgrades to the program include a tankless water heater, a 2.4-kW photovoltaic system, an electronic air cleaner, and dual-flush toilets, among others. Whether buyers upgrade only enhances the performance of the homes, especially energy performance. “At its core, the EnergySmart specifications stay ahead of Title 24,” says Mason, and Pardee has committed to always exceeding the statewide energy code that is already 50% more stringent than the national energy code, as a matter of corporate policy. “Among buyers, energy is probably the most-appreciated aspect of the LivingSmart program.”
Like every successful production builder, though, Pardee also monitors consumer demand, whether for green features or cabinetry and flooring options; to that end, the program also is designed for customer satisfaction. “We want to give buyers as much control over how they can save energy, water, and resources,” Mason says. “Making it easy to be green is part of the objective.”
Pardee also has been able to dispel myths about the affordability of building to a high level of green in production housing by steadily and meticulously working the program’s specifications and building practices into its everyday production cycles. “In the beginning, it wasn’t easy finding products that were adaptable to a production operation,” says Mason. “After nearly a decade of LivingSmart, this is now how we build.”
The builder, with trade partners trained on the state’s energy code, also continually scrutinizes the details to make sure purchasing and installation are as cost-efficient as possible without sacrificing performance.
Meanwhile, Pardee seeks out compliant suppliers that offer volume discounts and meet the builder’s high-volume schedules. “Manufacturers have really stepped up their efforts in recent years to offer more variety among green building products,” she says, which in turn gives the builder more negotiating power.
Those efforts combined eventually enabled Pardee to extend LivingSmart into every neighborhood it’s building from now on, affecting about 3,800 single-family detached homes across Southern California and southern Nevada in 2009. Homes under construction before the corporate mandate will still exceed Title 24 for energy savings potential.
As an internal program, LivingSmart also allows the builder to be flexible in how it is applied to each neighborhood based on market research, climate conditions, and to reflect ever-more stringent and specific independent green building standards and certification programs. For example, for its homes in Las Vegas, the baseline specs call for a higher-SEER AC unit and higher insulation levels than what’s needed on the coast.
By specifying products that have been certified by the Energy Star and WaterSense programs, buyers are assured that manufacturers’ performance claims have been verified. Similarly, by having homes at Manzanita Trail (and other neighborhoods) certified by the state’s industry-run green-built program, the builder must submit to independent verification at multiple stages of the building process and performance testing of the finished home, such as HERS ratings and blower-door and duct-blaster tests. To qualify for the ComfortWise label, the total HVAC air leakage must register below 6%. The builder also monitors and follows the points awarded in the ANSI and LEED for Homes rating systems, though stops short of gaining certification from either program. “The statewide program is better suited to this climate,” says Mason of the coastal region in which most of Pardee’s homes are built. “We look at those programs as a reference and validation that we’re on the right path.”
At Manzanita Trail, Pardee pulled out all the stops with LivingSmart, especially with a water-saving program inside and out; to meet the California Friendly program, for instance, the neighborhood offers front-yard drip irrigation systems, at least 50% drought-tolerant plants, and permeable pavers at the base of every driveway.
That effort has lifted Pardee Homes not only above its rival production builders, but also on par or better than the green-building efforts of its custom and small-volume brethren. “Some people expect it and for others it gives us a competitive edge,” says Mason of the builder’s commitment to green. “This is as sustainable a home as they can buy anywhere.”
Rich Binsacca is a freelance writer in Boise, Idaho.
PROFILE: Joyce Mason, Vice President of Marketing, Pardee Homes If there is a face of Pardee Homes’ LivingSmart program, it’s Joyce Mason. Though she modestly defers credit for the success of the in-house green building program to her team, trade partners, and suppliers, it was Mason who recognized the opportunity and championed the development of the program more than a decade ago. Her “ah-ha” moment, in fact, came as the builder was working with environmental groups to land-plan Pacific Highlands Ranch. “They were so good at preserving open space and habitat, and that led to a discussion about the homes’ environmental impact,” she says. “I thought, as long as you are going to the trouble of creating a land plan with less impact, you might as well build a better house to go on it.”
Mason also saw the potential to further differentiate Pardee. Already a leader in applying new technologies, the builder latched on to Energy Star and, in 1998, experienced positive buyer feedback with its first qualified home.
Though über-conscious of what the market wants, Mason also allowed her personal interest in the environment and outdoors to influence her approach to incorporating building science and other green building features into Pardee’s practices. “It resonated with the way I like to live, and I thought maybe it would do the same for others,” she says.
Today, LivingSmart is respected among buyers, builders, trade partners, suppliers, code officials, and even appraisers and lenders—the latter of whom, Mason says, are starting to consider the HERS ratings that Pardee’s homes achieve and other tools to boost values and offer better mortgage terms.