After an EF-5 tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kan., in May 2007, destroying more than 900 homes along with the majority of its civic buildings, schools, and infrastructure, the town’s leaders and citizens resolved to do something remarkable. They set in motion a plan not just to rebuild, but to come back, in the words of Mayor John Janssen, as “one of the greenest towns in America.” Municipal buildings designed to consume 42 percent less energy would set the tone for subsequent residential and commercial rebuilding.

One year later, all eyes are on Greensburg as it struggles not only with the mechanics of recovery, but also those of wholesale reinvention. Redevelopment efforts have been slow to move from theory to practice, and some frustrated survivors have ditched their temporary shelters and left town to find other places to live. But those who remain seem steadfast in their conviction to make something good out of a horrible situation.

It’s an apt metaphor, perhaps, for the thousands of home builders now struggling to emerge from the wreckage of a collapsed housing market. Inevitably, some builders have left the industry, but indications are that a growing number of those still standing are seriously rethinking business as usual, and how they might make their livelihoods not only more economically, but also environmentally sustainable.

This may well be a watershed moment for the home building industry. Whether change is being driven by legislation, buyer demand, economics, or altruism, it is happening. In this special report, Builder reached out to some of the nation’s foremost green experts to aggregate best practices in land use, residential building design, construction, and marketing. These are ideas that are ripe for the picking.

Some have credited the housing industry with single-handedly bringing the U.S. economy to its knees. If that’s the case, then the rule of inverse proportion must also be true: An industry with that much influence must also have the power to do massive good. Imagine the possibilities, and start building them.

Saving the planet is a big job. Fortunately, home builders are just the people who can step up and change the fate of our world. Builders have a tremendous impact, for better or worse, on the land, on air quality, on natural resources, and on the quality of life and health of their buyers. This special report examines the breadth of the sustainable building issue and offers practical solutions for every step of the process.

Land Planning

As suburban sprawl has continued to creep across the national landscape in recent decades, homeowners have been rendered increasingly dependent on their cars, flooding roads with commuter traffic and the air with noxious fumes. In order to build sustainably, developers and builders will have to start from the ground up.


Too many builders think that designing a project requires a blank canvas, stripping away elements only to later replace what nature had supplied for free. Utilizing natural drainage, the sun, and trees when designing a project can save the planet a lot of pain, your buyers a lot of discomfort, and you a lot of money.


Many a would-be green builder stops before ever starting when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable list of complex considerations and changes. We took a look at both production and custom homes and broke down some important green elements into a list of practical applications that will help you to get going.


The health of the planet may not be on the top of all your buyers’ priority lists, but talk about the health of their families and their interest will be piqued. Add to that some info on energy savings and you have a marketing message that will resonate with your prospects. And these days, those are the messages that sell.