That practice makes sense from the production side, too. Once a builder has a stable of subs and suppliers who know what’s expected to achieve the highest levels of building performance and green certification (and have honed their costs once they crest that learning curve), he’s loathe to risk new ones that might gum up his well-oiled machine.
“We used our local subs and suppliers as much as we could on this project,” says Kean, despite the fact that The New American Home bound him to occasionally work with product manufacturers that were unfamiliar to him. “Even if it was a new product, we worked to educate our sub about it, which helps build a base of knowledge going forward.”
With that, the cost and results of a home’s HERS rating, blower-door and duct-blast tests, and verified specifications and other performance measures can be amortized across other green building requirements toward their designations.
“LEED is the most stringent, so I start there and then integrate that documentation back to the NGBS, Energy Star, and any state or local programs,” says Smith. For example, by qualifying for LEED’s water-efficient landscape credits, The New American Home 2012 also met the standards for the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods designation. “It’s mostly just a matter of filling out some extra forms,” he says.
For quality-minded builders who remain skeptical of the value of achieving green certification instead of simply building to higher performance standards and marketing the benefits of that effort, The New American Home’s achievements extend beyond the hardware Kean accumulated and what he spent to get it.
“It was the best part about coming to work every morning because I’d learn about some new product or technique,” says Kean’s project manager Marc Krebs, a 12-year field veteran. “It’s amazing how many options there are now to gain certification and get us out of the box of the same routines and specs. It makes us better builders.”
Smith also argues that certification verifies a builder’s efforts and investment in better building techniques. “Home buyers are getting better educated. They know Energy Star and are getting more familiar with LEED, and they’re looking for those labels,” he says. “They appreciate that third-party stamp of approval versus just the builder’s word.”
Selling green, he says, is probably a builder’s biggest hesitation about investing in higher performance standards, verified or not. While a certificate can help assure potential buyers that the house will perform as promised, Smith says builders can supplement that verification by focusing on lower energy and water costs, indoor air quality, and comfort. “Having it verified by an inspector gives you confidence to assure buyers that the performance will actually meet expectations.”
Rich Binsacca is an EcoHome contributing editor.