Green Habitats white paper

Prepared by Jennifer Duell-Popovec for John Lie-Nielsen

January 16, 2007


Executive Summary 1

Green Demand Grows 1

Educational Programs 2

Green Building Guidance 3

Why Build Green 5

Green Communities 7

Green Building Basics 10

About The Author 11

Executive Summary

Green home building is finally moving into the mainstream after several years of slow but steady growth across the country. More and more builders are interested in sustainable design and green building principles – not only because it's good for the environment, but because homeowners are demanding it. The day is fast approaching when builders will want to construct green homes because they sell easier and for more money. They are realizing that green building really does pay.

But, most builders are at a loss of how to go about green building. The desire is there, but the know-how isn't. Green building experts are few and far between, even though the number of them has grown significantly over the past 10 years. Homebuilding in America cannot move toward green building without increasing awareness and improving educational opportunities related to sustainability.

Green demand grows

Although nine out of 10 people surveyed by the American Institute of Architects said they'd be willing to pay $5,000 more to build or buy a house that would use less energy or protect the earth, only two percent of housing starts were green construction in 2005 even though the number of home builders producing green, environmentally responsible homes grew 20 percent.

That number is expected to increase, and by 2010, green homes will account for five percent to 10 percent all of residential construction activity, according to the Residential Green Building SmartMarket Report. by McGraw-Hill Construction and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Educational programs

Part of the on-going challenge with green building and sustainable develop is the lack of education and awareness on the part of both builders and consumers. Green building professionals are in strong demand, and they can't be found on every corner. A few formal educational programs exist, but more are definitely needed, according to industry experts.

For example, the NAHB Research Center has partnered with the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center (LCCTC) in Pennsylvania to develop one of the first homes rated under the new NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines as a field evaluation project for the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH).

The project aims to successfully combine the PATH goal of accelerating knowledge of advanced technologies to improve home performance with the school's goals of creating a technologically advanced workforce, new markets and resources in the local economy; and meeting academic science standards.

Each year, students enrolled in the school's building and construction program build a home as an applied learning project, and complete 90 percent of the trade work. Sustainable advanced building products and processes are being added to the curriculum this year.

Construction of the green home was kicked off in early October with a groundbreaking ceremony at the school's Mount Joy campus.

The Research Center began the first phase of the project in March, working with LCCTC staff and members of the local home building industry to develop the home's green and energy-efficient design. Submitted by a local builder, the base home design that was selected for the project already had some energy-efficient features, such as sealed ductwork and Energy Star® appliances.

The finished design for the home scores a Gold rating under NAHB's model guidelines, with a rating of 400. As construction of the home progresses, Research Center experts will provide ongoing technical support and training on advanced products and practices for faculty and students.

The home, the first of four in the project, is scheduled for completion in 2007 and will be open for tours during the Building Industry Association of Lancaster County's Parade of Homes in the spring. The Lancaster County Green Building Community Education Project is being supported through grants from the National Housing Endowment, the BIA of Lancaster County, the Lancaster County Building Industry Foundation and the Lancaster County Commissioners' Office.

Efforts to generate the next generation of green building experts are underway, but are not very advanced. Only a few universities and colleges have formal degree programs and the opportunities for "field" research are limited.

Green building guidance

In general, green building describes efforts to apply innovative and environmentally sensitive construction techniques and products to reduce energy and water consumption and improve residential comfort and safety.

While green building guidelines for commercial developments like office building, shopping centers and industrial facilities have existed for nearly 10 years, homebuilders that wanted to build green had to make their own rules.

In many cases, cities and counties took matters into their own hands. The City of Austin, Texas, for example, established the first local green building program in the country. The program rates homes on a scale of one to five stars – the more green features, the more stars earned. Overall, there are about 70 regional groups across the country promoting green building in their own regions including the Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta, Ga., which works with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association to educate builders. Build It Green in Berkeley, CA is another.

In addition to these local programs, the NAHB rolled out the "Model Green Home Building Guidelines" in 2005. The Guidelines were designed to help bring residential green building into the mainstream by demystifying the process and debunking the myths of green building for both consumers and home builders.


NAHB’s Guidelines allow local building industry associations to provide green building education and certification that is customized to each region’s geography, building style, and buyer demand.

Using the Guidelines, local home building associations are creating regionally appropriate green building programs for interested builders, and that interest is growing rapidly.  Twelve state and local associations have launched voluntary green building programs, with another dozen on the way. 

Programs based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines are going strong in St. Louis – where more than 100 green homes are under construction – as well as a number of other jurisdictions, including Durham, N.C.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Dallas; Kansas City and Cleveland.


Last month, the first statewide program based on NAHB’s Guidelines, Green Built Michigan, was launched. Launches are also planned in suburban Philadelphia, Boston, central Arizona, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Las Vegas and the greater Baltimore area, among others.

In addition to the NAHB, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is piloting a program to evaluate single-family homes. Widely recognized for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program for commercial buildings including residential high-rises and garden-style apartments, the USGBC's residential program is called LEED for Homes program or LEED-H.

The USGBC intends to roll out LEED-H nationally this summer, and currently has 500 family homes in the pilot program seeking certification in 12 different regions across the country. The program is a rigorous, points-based system that differs significantly from the NAHB's Guidelines.

The core rating metrics used within LEED-H are presented to end users in checklist form separated into eight categories. The pilot checklist now has 108 points; 30 points earns a Certified rating; 50 to 69 points earns a Silver rating; 70 to 89 points earns Gold; and 90 to 108 points earns Platinum.

Each checklist category includes “mandatory measures” that every house must comply with and optional ways for builders to score points. The categories include:

Within the LEED-H program, builders can’t certify their own checklist performance. They must pay a USGBC-recognized LEED-H “provider” to certify their checklist performance. Only 11 providers are enrolled in the program so far, all with advanced expertise in energy-efficient and sustainable construction practices.

Builders must incur costs for the performance audits, as well as costs to upgrade the homes so they pass the audits. It can cost up to $3,000 per home to get LEED-H Certified by the USGBC-approved inspectors and requires the completion of six forms. The USGBC estimates that upgrades to a $300,000 home to certify it for LEED-H would cost around $10,000. These costs obviously must be absorbed by the builder or tacked on to the price of the home.

In Philadelphia, LEED-H is being tested by locally based Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), a private nonprofit serving 30,000 low-income households. The ECA has persuaded the Philadelphia Housing Authority to adopt the Energy Star standard, with ECA serving as the HERS rater.

Why build green?

Most green building only costs two percent to 10 percent more because of the availability of green building products and materials. Many experts have compared green building materials to the availability of organic food. Fifteen years ago, consumers were forced to pay a premium for organic goods because they were hard to find; today, there are far more organic food producers, which has increased availability and decreased prices.

Essentially, building "green" means that we, as humans, leave the smallest footprint we can on the planet. According to the NAHB survey, the leading reason that builders are considering green is that “it’s the right thing to do." Of those polled, 92 percent identified this factor as a very or somewhat important influence behind the decision to go green.

Minimizing a footprint involves: planning construction to minimize the waste of building materials; reducing water consumption by adding low-volume toilets or rainwater filtration systems; and working with products that are sustainable (wool carpeting, bamboo flooring, cotton insulation) or recycled (salvaged wood, steel made with reused rebar, insulation made from paper products).

A green home is well-insulated and energy-efficient, reducing an owner's monthly heating and cooling costs. A green home uses materials that won't off-gas and pollute the indoor air, protecting the health of the home's inhabitants and cuts down on medical costs. A green home comprise materials that are renewable and relatively impervious to moisture and the elements, resulting in a more durable home that is easy to maintain, keeping the cost of home maintenance down.

Traditionally constructed homes still waste a mind-boggling amount of fossil fuel, losing 15 percent to 20 percent of its heat or air-conditioning leakage from ducts alone, according to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Efforts to go green are not being ignored, either. In February 2006, the IRS announced a provision under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in which builders who construct a new, energy-efficient home may qualify for a credit of up to $2,000.

To qualify, a home must be certified to provide heating and cooling energy consumption that is at least 30 to 50 percent in the case of manufactured homes and 50 percent for other homes - below that of a comparable home constructed in accordance with the standards of the 2004 Supplement to the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code. It must also have building envelope component improvements providing a level of heating and cooling energy consumption that is at least 10 percent below that of a comparable home.

There are also some significant tax credits available on the state and federal level that may help pay for improvements. A credit of up to $500 on form 1040 may be claimed for installing energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs, boilers and air conditioners.

Moreover, Fannie Mae, one of the biggest housing lenders in the world, recognizes that energy-efficient homes cost homeowners less to operate on a monthly basis than standard homes and that these homeowners can afford to spend more on their housing expenses. The agency now offers Energy Efficient Mortgages that allow borrowers to qualify for a larger mortgage as a result.

Green communities

With so much evidence to support the idea that green building is good for the environment, homeowners and their bank accounts, quite a few builders – both large and small – are now constructing homes with green materials and principles.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Legacy Homes, for example, builds homes in that cost between two percent and four percent more than standard construction, according to president Jeff Wassenaar. Legacy homes include: walls insulated with draft-stopping foam; floors covered in wood from a sustainable forest; and rooms finished with nontoxic paint.

In Madison, Wis. for example, local homebuilder Veridian participates in Wisconsin’s Green Built Homes program and is striving to achieve LEED-H certification on six newly completed homes.

Similarly, Christopherson Homes in Santa Rosa, Calif., which builds roughly 300 homes per year in Northern California, has earned Build It Green’s “GreenPoint Rated” certification. The builder is behind Mane's Ranch, the first green home development in Sonoma County, Calif. All homes were built in accordance with Santa Rosa's original green building guidelines, which have since become more rigorous.

Aspen Homes of Colorado, the NAHB Research Center's 2006 Silver Energy Value Housing Award winner, and Northeast Natural Homes in Syracuse, N.Y. are additional examples.

Moreover, commercial developers that specialize in green building are bringing their expertise to the single-family home industry. For example, Raleigh, N.C.-based Cherokee Investment Partners, a firm that specializing in brownfield mitigation, has recently completed a demonstration home outside its headquarters. The home should use 50 percent less fossil fuel and water than conventional homes and is expected to recycle or reuse 90 percent of organic waste. The home was built to builders of large residential developments that they can incorporate green techniques, at little extra cost, into their projects.

Green building has also generated enough attention that several large programs have been rolled out. For example, Green Communities is a five-year, $555 million initiative to build more than 8,500 environmentally healthy homes for low-income families. The initiative, sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners, provides grants, financing, tax-credit equity and technical assistance to developers who meet Green Communities Criteria for affordable housing that, among other things, promotes health and conserves energy and natural resources.

Colleges and Universities that are members of the U.S. Green Building Council:

Adelphi University

Purdue University

American University

Radford University

Antioch College

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Arizona State University

Rice University

Arizona State University

Rowan University

Arkansas State University

Rutgers University

Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Salisbury University

Auburn University

San Diego State University

Ball State University

Santa Clara University

Beloit College

Sarah Lawrence College

Berea College

Savannah College of Art & Design

Boise State University

Seattle University

Boston Architectural Center

SET Eastern Michigan University

British Columbia Institute of Technology

Smith College

Brown University

Southern Methodist University

California Polytechnic State University

St. Louis Community College

California State University, Chico

St. Mary's College of Maryland

California State University, Fresno

St. Olaf College

California State University, Long Beach

Stanford University

Calvin College

State University of New York, Albany

Case Western Reserve University

Stetson University

Central College

Syracuse University

Clarion University of Pennsylvania

The Principia

Clemson University

Universidad Metropolitana

Cleveland State University

University of Alabama at Birmingham

College of DuPage

University of Alberta

College of New Rochelle

University of Arizona

Colorado State University

University of Arkansas

Columbia University

University of California, Berkeley

Connecticut College

University of California, Davis

Construction Management and Wood Products

University of California, Irvine

Cornell University

University of California, Los Angeles

Dartmouth College

University of California, Merced

Design Institute of San Diego

University of California, Riverside

Dickinson College

University of California, San Diego

Duke University

University of California, San Francisco

Duquesne University

University of California, Santa Barbara

Ecole Polytechnique

University of California, Santa Cruz

Emory University

University of Centeral Florida

Endicott College

University of Chicago

Evergreen State College

University of Cincinnati

Ferris State University

University of Colorado at Boulder

Foothill-DeAnza Community Colleges

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Furman University

University of Connecticut, Storrs

Georgia Institute of Technology

University of Denver

Grand Valley State University

University of Florida

Harford Community College

University of Georgia

Harrington College of Design

University of Houston

Harvard University

University of Illinois at Champaign

Heartland Community College

University of Illinois at Chicago

Heritage College

University of Iowa

Illinois Institute of Technology

University of Kentucky

Iowa Energy Center

University of Maine

Iowa State University

University of Maryland, Baltimore

Ithaca College

University of Massachusetts

John Wood Community College

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Judson College

University of Michigan

Kansas State University

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Lane Community College

University of North Florida

Lansing Community College

University of Oklahoma

Lawrence Technological University

University of Pennsylvania

Los Angeles Community College District

University of Pittsburgh

Louisiana State University

University of Puerto Rico

Massachusetts College of Art

University of Richmond

Michigan State University

University of Rochester

Mills College

University of Southern California

Mississippi State University

University of Tennessee at Knoxville


University of Texas at Arlington

Montclair State University

University of Texas at Austin

Mount Holyoke College

University of the South

New Jersey Institute of Technology

University of the Virgin Islands

New York School of Interior Design

University of Utah

North Carolina State University

University of Vermont

Northern Michigan University

University of Washington

Northwest Missouri State University

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Northwestern University

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Ohlone College

University of Wyoming

Oregon Health & Science University

Vanderbilt University

Oregon University

Virginia Tech

Paul Smith's College

Warren Wilson College

Penn State University

Washington State University

Pennsylvania College of Technology

West Chester University

Philadelphia University

Western State College

Pima Community College

Western Washington University

Point Park University

Williams College

Pomona College

Wilson Technical Community College

Portland State University

Woodbury University

Pratt Institute

York Technical College

5 Green Building Basics

1. Having an environmentally friendly site selection or “footprint.” Some of the factors involved are orientation of the house to maximize natural sunlight for heat and light, as well as shade for cooling. As a result, the home’s furnace and air conditioning don’t have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable house. Another goal is making a minimal impact on the area in which the house is built. Forget clear-cutting the entire lot; take down only the trees and bushes that would interfere with construction. The remaining trees can help cool the house in the summer and act as a windbreak in the winter. And locating the home near shopping and other services will keep the amount of driving down—a win for the entire environment.

2. Using energy efficient designs and materials while building a “tighter” home to prevent HVAC loss. The use of sunlight and shade for heating and cooling is as old as mankind, but there are designs and materials specifically designed to keep the house nearly air-tight. With less outside air infiltrating the home, the indoor climate is much easier to control. LED lights use a fraction of regular incandescent bulbs, while Energy Star appliances are certified to meet strict guidelines about how much electricity they require to operate. Because higher insulation standards and Energy-Star-compliant appliances have evolved over the last few decades, energy efficiency is often the first place builders start when going green.

3. Reducing a home’s water consumption through low-flow fixtures. It’s true that the earliest low-flow plumbing fixtures caused problems for some homeowners, but today’s versions are as good—if not better—than the old water hogs. One technology is the incorporation of air into the process; the result is a low-flow shower that feels just as strong as the one using much more water.

4. Promoting a healthy indoor air environment. Green builders often use some kind of fresh-air ventilation to exhaust the stale indoor air to the outside, while bringing in fresh air into the house and conserving energy at the same time.

5. Emphasizing material conservation and waste reduction while using sustainable products in design and construction. Engineers in the building-materials business have designed all kinds of products to save lumber by using optimal value engineered joists and beams that require minimal trimming and boring for mechanical run. Green builders can go as far as recycling job-site waste and using it for mulch in the newly planted yard.

About the author

Based in Fort Worth, Texas, Jennifer Duell-Popovec has written about a wide variety of topics and been published in several business publications including the Wall Street Journal, Executive Decision and Registered Rep. Most recently, Duell-Popovec's story on commercial green building, "The Tipping Point," was the cover story for National Real Estate Investor's November 2006 issue. She holds a Master's Degree from the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.