Home builders would have called it risky to put up eco-friendly homes 15 years ago. The costs to build that way were too high.
Today, some of the area’s thriftiest home builders consider it risky not to include features that conserve resources and protect air quality inside a home.
“It’s an incomplete judgment just to look at first costs versus that life cycle,” said Emily Scofield, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Charlotte-based North Carolina chapter. “How much is it going to cost to live in it over the long term?”
That thinking has pushed Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, the local arm of one of the nation’s most familiar builders of affordable housing, to become the leading builder in Charlotte for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes sustainable building program and one of the program’s largest in the state.
If we can do this on every single house we’re building, there really isn’t any excuse for production builders not to do this, too.
Sarah Beth Mulet, Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte
In 2013, Habitat Charlotte built one of the city’s first two LEED platinum homes, the most prestigious of the program’s four certification levels. Habitat Charlotte has been building new homes for LEED silver certification since 2012, said Sarah Beth Mulet, Habitat Charlotte’s Renewable Energy and Sustainability coordinator.
“Not only can we do this, but we can do it in volume,” Mulet said of its sustainable building policy. “If we can do this on every single house we’re building, there really isn’t any excuse for production builders not to do this, too.”
More builders are moving in that direction. The market for new single-family “green” homes has grown from 2 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013, according to information provided by the U.S. Green Building Council. The market is expected to grow to 26 to 33 percent by 2016, with a value ranging from $80 billion to $101 billion, according to a report by McGraw Hill Construction.
“It helps assure the homeowners that it was done right,” Kathy Spence of Banister Homes said of building certified houses. “It’s also important to us that we give our homeowners homes with long-term durability and significantly reduced operating costs.”
Other builders are still weighing the benefits of certification but may add features that are energy-efficient or “green” in other ways.
“We do not seek green certification because we find that the cost increases are prohibitive to the average home buyer,” Torie Oljeski, marketing manager for LiveWell Homes, wrote in an email. LiveWell builds in more than 30 communities in the region.
If you’re considering buying a home, it could be worthwhile to understand some of the principles of sustainable building. These details may be helpful in estimating the long-term costs of living in a home:
An efficient home should have a smart design. Before homes had central air conditioning, for example, architects might include passive solar elements that make a home easier to heat and cool.
Bigger windows – lots of them – for a home’s north-facing side can bring in cooler summer breezes. Smaller windows and a porch might be choices for a home’s sun-baked south-facing side. Deep overhangs along the roof help block summer heat but let the warming rays in when the sun hangs lower in winter.
“This is something Southern architects knew,” said Jamie Roche, CEO of houseplans.com, where 70 percent of annual sales come from the Southeast. “All of that is still valid today.”
Today, many of the company’s popular plans have roof lines that are well-suited to having solar panels added.
Innovation is the fuel for sustainable building. Energy- and water-saving lights, toilets and appliances are examples. These types of new products are changing the equation for value as consumers weigh performance as well as design. Innovation has also given us cabinets, flooring and paint that reduces or eliminates toxins that can leach into the air. Recycled materials and products made close to the construction site also are considered conscientious choices. While bamboo floors from China are made from a material that is more easily replenished, North Carolina pine might be a better choice here. A building site that is close to public transportation also earns points. A drought-tolerant landscape can be a plus, too.
How do you know whether a home was built with ecology in mind? Look for certifications and ratings that tell consumers to expect savings on specific products or throughout the home.
Work starts in October on Habitat Charlotte’s 100th home that ultimately would become eligible for LEED silver certification. Building for silver certification adds about $7,500 to the price of an 1,100- to 1,300-square-foot home, said Phil Prince, marketing and communications director. That Habitat home would cost $95,000 to $110,000.
LEED silver homes are expected to use an estimated 30 percent less energy, according to data from the U.S. Green Building Council. (It’s 50-60 percent less for LEED platinum homes).
“We really don’t do anything extravagant or cost prohibitive,” said Mulet. “We just do a lot of small changes that add up.”
There are 79 LEED-certified homes in Mecklenburg County, with others awaiting final approval. Other programs also set building standards to make sustainability something we can rate, measure and compare.
Habitat also participates in Energy Star certification programs on about one-third to one-half of its homes and SystemVision on about 95 percent. More than 80 percent of affordable homes in North Carolina are now certified by SystemVision.
The U.S. military and the Charlotte Housing Authority are also among the builders that have adopted “green” building for at least some projects.
“It makes it more affordable for our low-income homeowners to live in an energy-efficient home,” said Phil Prince, a spokesman for the local Habitat office. “That makes it more important for us.”
What is a ‘green’ home?
▪ A “green” home reduces energy use and uses renewable energy, reduces water use and protects water resources, sits in an environmentally friendly location, uses nontoxic building materials and household products, reduces waste from home construction and household activities, increases recycling, and protects your health from environmental hazards that can occur in homes, according to the EPA.
▪ See “green” homes recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council at usgbcnc.org.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s North Carolina chapter will present a series of events on LEED certification. Register for one of these programs at http://usgbccrc.site-ym.com:
▪ Lunch program, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. July 28 at Byron’s South End, 101 W. Worthington Ave., Suite 110. Guests for the panel discussion will be Sarah Beth Mulet of Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, Stefanie Young of the U.S. Green Building Council, and Kathy Spence of Banister Homes. $20 for members of the Green Building Council, $30 for nonmembers.
▪ LEED-certified home tour, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Aug. 27. Free. The tour will be led by Sarah Beth Mulet of Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte. Location to be announced.
▪ LEED-certified home tour, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sept. 10, 2128 Vernon Drive. Free. The tour will be led by Kathy Spence of Banister Homes.