Like Kermit the Frog said, "It's not easy being green," and who relates to that better than builders? You may have used a few green products here and there because it was simple and easy, but you might have avoided totally "greening" up your houses because it was bad for the bottom line. "Green building has been slow to gain wide acceptance because of the perception that it is expensive," says Paul Bertram, president and CEO of Atlanta-based GreenZone, an online resource center dedicated to providing awareness of green-building concepts related to polyiso rigid board roof insulation.

Though there are more environmentally responsible products on the market these days, many of these products cost much more than their non-green counterparts. Salvaged and reclaimed lumber, for example, is a hot product because of the natural rustic charm that is associated with it, as well as its environmentally friendly label. Depending on the company and the species of the product, however, salvaged flooring can easily reach $18 to $24 per square foot. In contrast, oak flooring will only set you back about $4 to $6 per square foot. Moreover, appliances that meet the government's Energy Star requirements also cost more than appliances that do not meet the guidelines.

Sustainable affordability

But green products do not have to cost a mint, says Bertram, pointing to polyiso rigid board roof insulation made by Atlanta-based Atlas Roofing. Despite using new environmentally friendly HCFC-free (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) technology, the company's ACFoam nail base products have not increased in price, and there has not been any changes in performance, Bertram says.

Other affordable green products exist, too. Bamboo, a fast-growing grass that yields hard, stable flooring, only costs about $4 to $5 per square foot. And medium-density fiberboard products, such as molding and paneling, offer an inexpensive, green alternative for home builders.

Another budget-minded green product, a good substitute for solid surface and granite, is Richlite from Tacoma, Wash.-based Richlite. Made primarily of paper, the countertop has a natural soapstone appearance and at roughly $21 per square foot for 1-inch-thick sizes, Don Atkinson, sales and marketing director, says it costs a fraction of the price of granite and other surfacing material.

Energy savers

One builder that has perfected the art of building energy-efficient, affordable houses for nonprofit housing groups is Carl Franklin Homes in Addison, Texas. The builder's homes often cost half as much as the local average, and all feature cutting-edge building products such as structural insulated roof and wall panels ("It's like living in a Styrofoam cooler," says co-owner Dick Brown.), geothermal heating and cooling, on-demand tankless water heaters, pigmented concrete floors, and fiber-cement siding. Energy Star appliances come standard as well.

Brown says that these building products and techniques are never less expensive than their counterparts. "Some are equal in cost, but none of them are less expensive going in." In fact, while they are typically more expensive, he says, within five years most of them show a significant return for homeowners.

Weyerhaeuser in Federal Way, Wash., agrees, saying that a product may cost more up front, but because of the benefits, it will save money for the homeowner. The company's new CedarOne line of Western red cedar decking is a good example. Public relations manager Becky Laybourn says the product has the ability to naturally resist decay, checking, and cracking for longer periods of time over other wood products. But CedarOne is approximately 40 percent more expensive than treated Southern pine and about 36 percent less than composite products. So how would a builder justify the cost?

"One way to justify the cost is with the aesthetic appeal," says Laybourn. "It provides a natural beauty, and it has a different appearance. But it also wears better than other species, so it will last much longer with much less maintenance than other species."

Courtesy Weyerhaeuser

One way: CedarOne is a new line of Western red cedar products designed to meet the performance requirements for outdoor use. Because of its natural durability, the sustainably harvested Western red cedar does not require chemical preservatives, the manufacturer says, and withstands extreme weather and insects. Siding is offered in shakes and lap siding, and products are available for decks and gazebos. There are four grades to choose from. Weyerhaeuser. 866-233-2766. Foam home: ACFoam nail base is a thermally efficient polyiso insulation board bonded to 7/16-inch OSB on the top side and glass fiber reinforced felt on the bottom. The product features ACUltra Technology, a new generation of environmentally friendly HCFC-free polyiso insulation--which replaces hydrochlorofluorocarbons making it safer for the environment. Nail base provides the benefits of a nailable surface and insulation, making installation a labor-saving process. The product is made to order in 4-foot-by-8-foot panels and in 1 1/2 inch and 4 1/2 inch thicknesses. Atlas Roofing Corp. 770-933-4479.

Courtesy Carlisle Restoration Lumber

Chestnut hill: Chestnut might be extinct, but the company harvests the lumber from old buildings, farmhouses, and barns so it is available for your floors. Known for its resistance to rot and insects, antique chestnut varies in color from a light cocoa to a dark chocolate, and the boards may contain wormholes and occasional knots. Planks come in 3- to 10-inch widths, 3- to 14-foot lengths, and in 3/4-inch thickness. It is available milled with tongue and groove, shiplap, or square edge. Carlisle Restoration Lumber. 800-595-9663. Wash 'n wear: The manufacturer says Ecosmart is America's most energy-efficient washer. The unit has a stainless steel, 3-cubic-foot basket that can handle the equivalent of 18 king-size bath towels. It uses a water-conserving 26 gallons for the average family load and removes 30 percent more water with 1,000-rpm spin speed, which saves time and energy in the dryer. An auto water-level sensing device calculates the needed water level for each load. Fisher & Paykel. 800-863-5394.

Courtesy Caroma North America

Double duty: This toilet features a dual flushing system that is controlled by two buttons on top of the tank, allowing homeowners to easily switch between the two as needed. The unit has the now standard 1.6 gallons per flush for solid waste and a stingier 0.8 gallon per flush for liquid waste. The manufacturer says this feature has the potential to reduce water usage by up to 67 percent. The unit also features a 4-inch trapway, which cuts down on blockages. Caroma North America. 416-925-5556.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.