The state of Texas is on the leading edge of green home building, as much as California, New York, or other more typically eco-friendly markets, says the USGBC's vice president of residential market development Nate Kredich.
To prove it, the organization will bestow its highest honor, the 2012 Leadership in the Residential Sector Award on Texan Steve Saunders during its upcoming Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in San Francisco.
“When people ask me where are the hotbeds of green building, my first answer is Texas,” explains Kredich, attributing much of the forward movement to Saunders, whose employee-owned companies, TexEnergy Solutions, Tempo Mechanical Services, and US Eco Logic, Inc., have registered 18,710 LEED homes and multifamily properties, more than 20 percent of all LEED for Homes registrations worldwide. He has also delivered more than 40,000 Energy Star certificates to Texas home builders in the last decade.
The award honors Saunders for advancing LEED in the residential space, but also for his advocacy on behalf of energy efficiency and sustainability issues, including his role in pushing forward the local program, area incentives, and statewide energy initiatives in Texas.
Below, EcoHome checks in with Saunders about the importance of third-party certification, affordable green building, and misconceptions about efficient HVAC.
What is the current state of green residential building in your area?
Green building is alive, well, and competing very effectively for the consumer’s 2012 dollar. Large production builders have adopted robust energy efficiency and environmentally friendly building programs and are finding these programs can be effectively marketed against existing housing stock. Smaller-volume builders have ratcheted up their efforts because the minimum baseline by volume builders has risen. It is amazing to watch.
Why do you feel third party certification is so important for sustainable home builders?
We live in a skeptical world where there is an increasing drumbeat for transparency because people “want to know.” Third-party certification gives the sales team credibility at the closing table, offering buyers confidence that they are getting their money’s worth. The best programs all require third party [certification], but some builders will disagree and take a different path. This is perfectly fine. This is America. The marketplace will decide. Likely, there is room for many options.
How has the process of building an energy efficient home changed in the past 20 years?
I think the building science-based “house as a system” concept has been the centerpiece of changing how we build and that concept was spread through the Energy Star program in the last decade. There are big changes in product selections and how those are offered and installed. The home is more efficient, more durable, and healthier. Third-party programs and verifiers are a significant part of the changes.
What are the three most important things builders need to consider before building a green home?
I do not think that considerations for “green homes” are different than “regular homes.” The three keys are:
1. What does the buyer value?
2. What will the buyer pay for what they value?
3. How will we communicate value to the buyer?
Have builders caught on about the importance of a properly sized, efficient HVAC system?
I think most builders “get” that right sized HVAC cost less up front, uses less energy to operate, and is more comfortable for the occupant. The challenge we are all having is the transition from the “price per ton” world to the new mass customization HVAC frontier. The Energy Star V.3 HVAC Contractor Checklist causes lots of heartburn … and I think much of it is the current overemphasis on what raters have the ability to measure (such as room pressurization and CFM at the register), and insufficient attention on more important but less easy-to-verify items like individual load calculation and a duct layout per home, with proper commissioning of each installed system.
The industry overkills on the things we can do to make up for the areas that we do not understand well. It is a “transition issue” that we will get through. But, that does not mean it’s not painful and expensive to the participants in the process.
Are eco-friendly homes becoming more affordable?
It is an absolute fact that you can build an affordable green home. In Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, our client McGuyer Homebuilders builds only LEED-certified homes in all of its communities and competes head to head with home prices ranging from the low $100s to the mid $500s.
What are some of your favorite high-performance products?
--Carrier Greenspeed 25 VNA, which features Carrier Infinity inverter technology with heat pump.
--Honeywell Prestige IAQ Thermostat, which provides wonderful control and remote capability.
--Broan Ultra Exhaust Fan is exceptionally quiet with an exceptionally energy-efficient 80-cfm fan.
--Cardinal Glass LoE-270 glass is a great energy-efficient value for builders and homeowners.
--The Heating and Cooling Guarantee from EfficiencyPromise.com is a good tool for helping builders explain that their homes are energy efficient and how that benefits the buyer. (Full disclosure: This is a product that we created, underwrite, and offer to clients.)