When it comes to building the green home of your dreams, the builder you decide to partner with makes a huge difference. Partnering with an inexperienced outfit could be extremely costly financially, and result in a product, your future home, not performing to the green standards specified and expected. In the eco-builder sector, previous experience is key.
Not all homes are created equal. Some are big, some are small. Some are old, some are tall. Some are energy-efficient, while others tend to hemorrhage their owner’s hard-earned money when it gets hot outside. Some promote natural light, adequate ventilation, and carcinogen-free materials. Others promote land developer profits. Regardless, for the prospective green-home buyer it’s all about two things: promoting energy efficiency (performance), and reducing costs (the so-called “green premium” associated with sustainable construction).
Most homebuyers will look to maximize the former while minimizing the latter. That part is not up for debate. The trouble begins when homebuyers, in their zealous pursuit of cost-cutting, misguidedly select a low-cost builder ill-suited for the unique task of building a truly energy efficient home. Hiring a cut-rate builder for any custom job, and especially for a green building job, is rarely a good idea.
We define a good custom home builder as an advocate for the homeowner as well as an integral and collaborative member of the design team. We work with the homeowner and design team to help establish a realistic budget for the project and then monitor the cost and scope through the design and construction process.
In other words, our sustainability goals and budgetary aims are aligned with those of the homebuyer. Budget builders focus on one thing: cutting their costs in order to get your business. What they don’t tell you are what features and techniques they’re cutting out of the green building process in order to get said business. The result is a compromised edifice that does not perform up to specifications and likely costs more than a conventional build-out – the worst of both worlds.
Not all homes are created equal. Not all builders are created equal either.
The Green Premium & Builder Experience
Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal supported by the National Institute of Health amongst other leading institutions, reports that inexperienced builders typically report premiums of as much as ten percent on their first green project. However, by the second project, those same builders reported premiums more inline with the norm at 3 percent.
The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates completing a LEED-certified building project only adds on average 2 percent to the total construction costs. By the time these homebuilders had a few green projects under their belts, and their subcontracting and materials kinks worked out, they reported premiums as low as 1 percent. Not only does going with an experienced eco-builder or architect drastically reduce the risks associated with building green, it also makes a lot of financial sense.
Furthermore, that so-called “green premium” isn’t simply a sunk cost lost in the construction process – it’s an investment. It’s money that’s actively working to repay itself and more over time, which makes the very term “green premium” somewhat of a misleading misnomer. For example, a $300,000 dollar conventional home may cost $6,000 dollars more to be designed and built to green specifications. But that $6,000 dollars is easily offset by improved build quality and longevity, reduced energy bills, enhanced home resale value, and a host of other important benefits including healthier indoor air quality.
It’s not $6,000 dollars wasted. It’s money invested with a return on investment (ROI) that could handily beat many stock portfolios. As such, the very term “green premium” could more accurately be described as a financially sound “green investment” at what could only be described as a nearly negligible budgetary hit.
Go Pro, or Go Home
Of course, the actual cost of investing in sustainable residential architecture will vary from region to region and from project to project. Attaining cutting-edge levels of sustainability and green designtypically command higher investment costs, but result in correspondingly higher levels of performance, efficiency, and ultimately, returns over time.
The right balance of sustainable features will have to be decided by the owner in consultation with his or her eco-builder or architect. Cutting out a qualified and experienced eco-builder from the equation, and subbing in a recordless budget builder, is a recipe for disaster.
Go pro, or go home.
5 Signs of a Good Eco-Builder
1. Honesty – They are genuine proponents of sustainability and will work with a homeowner to pursue sustainability in tandem with budgetary goals to the fullest extent.
2. Expertise – They have the appropriate green building certifications and licenses.
3. Established Industry Presence – They are considered thought leaders, whether locally, regionally, or nationally, in the field of green building design and construction.
4. Specialization – They specialize in the green building and construction market.
5. Experience, Experience, Experience – They have an established track record of building certified green homes and the testimony of happy homeowners to back them up.