WHEN THE HISTORY OF U.S. HOUSING IS written, 2006–2007 is likely to be characterized as a watershed, marking the start of an era when green building moved into the home builder mainstream, according to a new study by the NAHB and Mc-Graw-Hill Construction. By 2007, the study finds, almost two-thirds of builders will be involved in green building.

Green building is commonly defined as the careful design, construction, operation, and reuse or removal of the built environment in an environmentally sound, energy-efficient, and sustainable manner. And since the oil embargo during the winter of 1973–1974, our industry has been moving ineluctably toward this tipping point, when the majority of the builder population shifts from less involvement to more involvement with green building.

Homes built today are twice as energy efficient as they were that bleak winter, when consumers spent hours in line for a tank of gas, the president donned a sweater for fireside chats about saving energy, and daylight-saving time started in January. Our industry can justifiably take pride in the remarkable advances in home energy efficiency since then, but for the last three decades, green building has largely been the province of the niche builder.

A STARTING POINT Today, as energy costs surge and consumers become more interested in resource conservation, builders have not only the motivation to build green, but also the ideal tool to facilitate their efforts. The NAHB's Model Green Home Building Guidelines offer voluntary builder- and market-driven solutions in six areas:

  • Lot preparation and design,
  • Resource efficiency,
  • Energy efficiency,
  • Water efficiency and conservation,
  • Occupancy comfort and indoor environmental quality, and
  • Operation, maintenance, and homeowner education.
  • The guidelines are unique because they are designed to help all builders construct energy-efficient, environmentally sensitive new homes in a variety of price ranges and climate conditions. Moreover, the guidelines are not one-size-fits-all; they can be adapted to fit multifamily homes, custom development, and remodeling projects, and they can be tailored to any area based on climate and/or regional construction practices. Builder associations throughout the country are using the guidelines to create voluntary green building certification programs, and individual builders are using them as blueprints for greener home construction.

    Another resource is the NAHB's highly regarded Green Building Conference, which helps builders and others in the industry explore concepts, materials, and techniques that will help them build in an environmentally sound, energy-efficient, and sustainable manner.

    HOW IT'S DONE, AND WHY The NAHB/McGraw-Hill study also reveals the green practices, materials, and methods that builders use most often. To make homes more energy efficient, builders use energy-efficient appliances, make sure seams and joints are sealed, install low-E windows, and use ceiling fans. Material innovations include the use of OSB and engineered woods. And open space is preserved by minimizing disruption to existing vegetation and maintaining natural water drainage. To ensure air quality, builders use high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

    One of the most interesting findings concerns builders' primary reason for creating green homes. Although energy costs and consumer demands play into the decision, the leading reason cited for building green homes is “because it is the right thing to do.”

    The enthusiastic response to the guidelines—which can be downloaded at www.nahb.org/generic.aspx?genericContentID=56077—shows that developing them was the right thing to do. The NAHB strives to anticipate and meet members' needs and to help them take full advantage of all that membership offers. With these guidelines, we've hit the nail on the head.

    President, NAHB Washington, D.C.

    Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.