It all starts innocently enough: One client has allergies and requests paint without harsh chemicals; a second can't face another winter of escalating electric bills; a third wants to heal the environment by using high-recycled-content products. Seeking solutions for these clients, the diligent remodeler launches into the vast world of green building.
While the sheer volume of products, systems, and design ideas related to sustainable building overwhelms some remodelers, many enthusiastically embrace the trial-and-error process of replacing conventional products and systems with green counterparts.
Who Wants Green? Today even the most conservative remodelers admit green building is more mainstream than alternative. The biggest bane for the green movement has been the fact that it sits at the confluence of a number of hot-button issues for consumers.
“Green is hugely beneficial,” says Nina Marinkovich, owner of MAK Design + Build, in Davis, Calif., rattling off a list of hooks a remodeler can use to work green into a sales pitch: “You should do it to save the environment; your house will be healthier and will last longer; it'll be quieter and safer; it will cost less to operate.”
Then there are others who say you don't have to work that hard. “Green sells itself,” claims David Johnston, president of What's Working, a green building consultancy in Boulder, Colo. “It has hit the mainstream because it's been a grass-roots phenomenon. Homeowners are five years ahead of the industry because moms are increasingly concerned about air quality. … And with energy prices going crazy, more people are retrofitting.”
But while it's easy to say green sells itself — or that any green-sounding message can be appended to your company mission statement — there are some targeted ways to grab potential buyers with your green message.
Targeting Hot Buttons
Green building crosses all demographic and economic strata, experts say, making it difficult for a remodeler to lean on a one-size-fits-all model to sell it. That's a good thing because it forces remodelers to communicate well with clients to find out what motivates them in their green selections, which will result in a better project overall.
“If I know that maintenance is a big deal to a buyer, then that creates an opening for me to talk about green finishes that are easy to maintain,” says Trace Kannel, architect, sales/design, for Harrell Remodeling. “I always see if there are any green principles I can share that clients aren't aware of.”
Kannel notes that recent clients of the Mountain View, Calif.–based company have included one who was sensitive to chemicals, another family that wanted to make a difference in energy consumption and invested heavily in solar systems (resulting in a $100 total annual energy bill for their home), and a client who didn't want anything toxic on the exterior of her house to run into the soil.
And there are other reasons why buyers turn to green solutions: One architect even surmises that where wealthy people formerly supported the arts to assuage their guilt about being rich, they now stay their conscience by touting their impressive digs as being sustainably built.
“Remodelers know their market better than anyone else. Their responsibility is to really listen carefully to principal concerns of customers,” Johnston says. “That's the beauty of selling green. Every product has a story. If you get good at telling the story, you don't have to sell, you just have to explain.”
Michael McCutcheon of McCutcheon Construction lets his green story tell itself as well. The president of the Berkeley, Calif., company believes that green is just a new term for best practices. “I say to clients, ‘We try to do the best practice in building anything for you,'” says McCutcheon, who believes that, green benefits notwithstanding, many green products and design principles are superior to conventional ones.
McCutcheon eschews the laundry-list green remodeling route. “If it's just a checklist of products that you pick, in the short run it's profitable, but if you're not building solid underneath — like back-priming your wood siding — you won't succeed,” he warns.
Matt Plaskoff, CEO of Plaskoff Construction in Tarzana, Calif., lets his green principles shine through not only in the bathrooms he designs through his company One Week Bath but also in how he runs the company. “Green building is an extension of our consciousness about the wasteful way of running a business,” he says.
His company ditched the typical F-450 trucks that workers drove in favor of dropping trailers — filled with well-organized materials and tools his workers would need — at each site . The employees drive company-owned hybrid cars to work to save gas.
Once he had squeezed every bit of time and material waste from his company, Plaskoff focused on taking the waste out of product selections. “People don't have time to run all over town looking for what goes with what, so we put together a green suite of products they can use if they want a green bathroom.”
“Building green is mainstream and there is growing demand, but it's not like an overwhelming market,” reminds Tom Kelly, president of Neil Kelly Co. in Portland, Ore. “It doesn't mean you'll be a success if you weren't one before; it's simply another arrow in the quiver of corporate citizenship, and people want to do business with companies that are responsible corporate citizens.”