Production builders are regularly accused of having no environmental conscience when it comes to their construction practices. But market forces are changing that. "Necessity is the mother of invention," says the vice president of architectural services for one of the industry's top five builders. "Two years ago, would you have thought of buying a hybrid car? That's how quickly this can change." He and this builder's director of research and development agreed to speak with BUILDER about their company's greener shade of construction, under the condition that they and their company weren't identified. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
•Between 15 percent and 20 percent of this builder's construction is now infill, and it's paying much more attention to locating communities near transit centers. The builder has also developed walkable communities, but its executives caution that "walkable" and "green" don't always mean the same thing; e.g., back-loaded garages favored by some new urbanist designers require two sets of infrastructure.
•Energy and water efficiency are now central to this builder's designs because "they are key with consumers" and because "when you do them right, they pay for themselves" via lower utility bill. Its homes have an average HERs rating of 80. One of the executives says the company has become "a drainage plane fanatic" to prevent moisture from penetrating exteriors. The EPA recently approved the builder's stormwater management program that it is training subs and suppliers about. However, this builder still offers efficient appliances and fixtures as options in most markets because "there's a premium involved" that some buyers would balk if they were standard features. The home's orientation to the sun, which both executives agree affects its energy performance, must also afford the owner the maximum number of views. "It's a process of tradeoffs."
•This builder strongly supports the NAHB's green building standards and believes its credibility hinges on third-party certification. However, the builder favors a master certification for production builders, with spot checks on randomly chosen homes within a subdivision. "That makes sense when you're building the same house over and over again."
•Solar panels have become "a badge of honor" for builders, but maybe not the best solution to making houses sustainable. This builder believes that geothermal units "make more sense and are less expensive." And homes in the South with pools would be a lot more efficient if they had better-quality pool pumps.
•This builder has put together cross-functional green team that reports to senior-level management on new products and technologies. "We're trying to take a common sense approach."