EcoHome checks in with Clark Wilson, a veteran green builder in Austin, Texas, and president of Green Builders, Inc.
How long have you been in the home building business?
I’ve been in the construction and development industry for more than 30 years. I started my own roofing business when I was 17 and have been in the business ever since. When did you first become interested in green building? Why?
I became interested in green building a few years back. After selling my last home building company, I really evaluated the future of homes and communities and it was quite apparent that the world just didn’t need another big production builder--green and sustainable building practices are the necessities for the future.
As I looked into it further, I was astounded to realize that the majority of green building was mostly the province of smaller custom builders. Except for bolted-on green features to fairly traditionally built houses, truly green homes and communities were not really available on a scale large enough to make a big difference.
So, I seized the marketplace opportunity and put together a team of developers, engineers, and construction and green building science professionals to create beautiful, long-lasting green homes and larger-scale green communities that a whole range of people can afford.
And that’s how my interest in green building, and eventually, Green Builders came to life.
Why did it take you some time to get interested in green building, considering you are in Austin? Is it because, like many builders, you were figuring out how to make green houses affordable?
You are exactly right. Green has mainly been the province of high-dollar custom-home builders until recently. We are the first builder in Austin--and I would venture to say much of the country--who has figured out how to build green affordably on a mass scale. And as with any significant advancement, we didn't accomplish this overnight. Green Builders is the product of thousands of hours of research and thoughtful design and planning. What is your overall approach to green building?
Green building is no longer for a select few ... we simply can’t afford for it to be. My goal with green building is to identify and integrate the green products and practices that will yield an affordable, more energy-efficient home without sacrificing all of the traditional “bells and whistles” homeowners are looking for. That’s the approach we take at Green Builders, and it’s taking off.
What have been some of your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge I faced when it came to green was figuring out how to do it affordably. There are lots of folks out there building one-off green homes, but the price tag is exorbitant. The challenge for me was to engineer a home green from the ground up in such a way that the average American could afford it and we could price it competitively with a non-green home of the same size. The lesson we learned was that the way to accomplish this is to view green as an entire system and only integrate those products and practices that will work together to maximize a home’s efficiency and performance without costing more upfront.
What are some of your greatest green triumphs?
My greatest triumph has been dispelling the myth that a green home is a more expensive one. Our homes are proof that it is possible to be both green and affordable. This year we were recognized for this achievement by the National Association of Home Builders, winning the Single-Family Affordable Home of the Year award. I was recently named Green Building Advocate of the Year by the Texas Association of Builders--that was a proud moment for me as well.
What is your favorite piece of green advice?
I always tell people to think “systems” not “components.” The most important thing when it comes to green building is to really get your building science down and take the time to get it right from the get-go ... starting with design and specifications, and then thoughtfully incorporating green construction practices and products at every stage in the building process until you have an integrated green system that functions better as a unit than any one component could alone.
What do you think the future holds for green home building?
Well, the green home building industry is projected to grow from a $2 billion to $20 billion market place in the next two years alone, so the future is pretty vast. More and more builders are jumping on the green bandwagon, and consumer demand continues to fuel green growth. In fact, I think it’s only a matter of time until you won’t be able to sell a house if it’s not green--much in the same way that homes without air conditioning quickly became obsolete once central air conditioning took off in the 1950s. The real test, though, will be seeing how long it takes to weed out the “greenwashers” from those builders who truly engineer their homes green from the ground up. Wilson’s Favorite Products
Spray-foam insulation: “Spraying this eco-friendly foam insulation into exterior walls and rafters will reduce utility bills by as much as 50%.”
Bamboo floors: “Not only is bamboo flooring one of the hottest design trends right now, it’s also low maintenance and sustainable.”
Tankless water heaters: “They take up less space, reduce utility bills, and provide an endless supply of hot water. What more could you ask for?”
Metal roofs: “Metal roofs look sharp and last for a very long time.”