EcoHome checks in with Todd Usher, a veteran South Carolina green builder and verifier, and president of Addison Homes.
How long have you been in the home building business?
I started renovating homes in 1996 while in the corporate world. I made the leap to full-time home building in 2002 and never looked back. When did you first become interested in green building? Why?
After moving full-time into home building, the lack of consistent quality standards in the home building industry was quite frustrating. I found that green building programs offered a structured approach to building high-quality, more environmentally friendly buildings--in essence a “quality system” which could be implemented companywide.
What is your overall philosophy regarding green building?
My philosophy is that green building is quite simply the “right” way to build. It is the logical approach to take when constructing a new building regardless of price, style, and many other factors. Our experience has taught us that any building can be built green to some degree. We approach each project with the goal of optimizing performance and green attributes while working within a given budget.
Based upon our past experience, I have found that we can build a home certified to EarthCraft House and Energy Star for the same cost as standard construction (with the exception of the third-party verifier costs, about $900). Beyond building the core of the house to one of the green standards, clients generally explore more intense green ideas that can add cost beyond standard construction, such as solar thermal, solar PV, upgraded insulation, upgraded HVAC (such as geothermal), and other green practices that may lower the environmental impact of building the home, improve indoor air quality, and more.
Most customers want to see some associated payback for green decisions that add cost, but we are seeing commitment from a number of clients to minimize their environmental impact regardless of cost. For example, we recently installed a greywater system for a client that added $5,000 in cost with little or no associated cost payback. Cost was not the driving factor in the decision, however.
We have actually found that standardizing our system for building a home to green standards can actually save our company cost by minimizing waste and optimizing production efficiencies.
Do you participate with a green building program?
Yes. We qualify 100% of our homes to the Energy Star and EarthCraft House programs. We are currently working on projects that will also earn LEED for Homes and NAHB National Green Building Standard certification. I am also an EarthCraft House technical advisor, a LEED for Homes provider representative, an Energy Star home energy rater, and an NAHB National Green Building Program verifier. What have been some of your biggest challenges in terms of the green movement?
In our early years, we did not use the term “green” as most clients associated this with treehouses, dome homes, and the like. Instead, we marketing “high performance” and “healthy” homes. These challenges have evolved in today’s market where everything is “green” in some way, shape or form. Greenwashing and false claims are obstacles to the movement today.
What are some of your greatest green triumphs?
One of our greatest triumphs over the years has been in the evolution of our trade partners. We struggled in gaining their commitment and understanding of green building principles and the science behind the principles initially, but today, they are some of our staunchest supporters and have fully embraced our approach to building.
We continue to push the envelope with our homes and we’re constantly working to develop more affordable approaches to build more sustainable, high-performance homes. Our trade partners’ willingness to learn and bring forward ideas is critically important in this realm.
What is your favorite piece of green advice?
One of the most significant green opportunities is energy efficiency. While some green building approaches involve various elements and practices applied during the construction cycle, improved energy efficiency provides a continual green payback over the life of the building.
What do you think the future holds for green home building?
I believe the future or green home building is strong. Consumer awareness is growing and many are pursuing unbiased information in order to make informed decisions. Those in the industry who have the ability and knowledge to provide this information will have the advantage moving into the future.
While the future of green home building does have challenges (for example appraisal values as compared to standard new homes), I believe that market education and evolution will eventually overcome most of the immediate challenges over time.
What are some of your favorite eco-friendly building products?
Rinnai tankless water heaters
Sherwin-Williams eco-friendly paints
Mitsubishi heat pump systems
Venmar energy recovery ventilators
Velux skylights and light tunnels
Caroma dual-flush toilets
Jennifer Goodman is Managing Editor of EcoHome.