How Green Is Your Builder

April 28, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Some builders talk green, but are they really?

"Everyone out there is claiming to be green," said Rich Kogelschatz, president of Heartland Builders in Rockford and chair of Great Lakes Green 2008 conference and exhibition for home builders in Grand Rapids this August.

"They claim it, but might not be doing anything about it," he added.

Greg Powell, owner of Powell Construction Services in St. Joseph and president of the Michigan Association of Home Builders, said consumers' interest in green-built homes "is huge."

But there's a lot more to it than lip service.

Powell said he would estimate that "probably about one out of 10" of the 5,000 builders who are members of the MAHB are actually willing to build green-certified homes. He's not sure how many have been built in Michigan, although the number is definitely in the hundreds.

Some builders still totally disregard the basic principles of green construction.

"In Michigan, you've got a basic Michigan residential building code. All builders have to build to the code," said Powell. To builders who actually build green-certified homes, however, that code "is a bare minimum, but to some builders, the code is a maximum. In other words, they're (doing) the least they have to do to meet the code. They're all about putting up a house and selling it for the lowest possible price."

Building green adds to the final cost, although Kogelschatz — an experienced builder of green-certified homes — said the additional cost typically ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 — "a couple percent on the total price of the house." A green certificate can be sought for any type of home construction: Kogelschatz has built a $180,000 green cabin and a $700,000 green home.

It takes a lot of work to meet the guidelines for a certified green-built home, said Powell. That includes third-party inspections twice during the construction, a blower door test for air infiltration, a leak test of the duct work, and an Energy Star rating (standards set by the federal government) for energy efficiency. The builder has to ensure that the subcontractors follow specific procedures, adhesives used must be low VOC, other materials have to be "green," and so on.

If it’s a green-certified home under construction, he said, "You're going to see recycling dumpsters out front. You're going to see the trees marked off" to make sure they are not damaged by construction.

Certification is based on the Model Green Home Building Guidelines from the National Association of Home Builders, and that document available at www.greenbuiltmichigan.org — is hundreds of pages long. Third-party testers are certified by Green Built Michigan, a nonprofit organization. There's even an owners manual that builders must provide. Powell said his is a 4-inch-thick three-ring binder. It includes detailed information on maintenance of the home and even recycling information.

"It's a requirement of the (green certification) program," said Powell. "They (the owners) have to have an owners' manual. They have to have a walk-through (with the builder) and be trained on the major components in use in the home.

"You have to document what you do. You have to take pictures through the (construction) process. You have to keep making sure you're meeting all these standards," he said.

With all the extra effort required, he added, "It's the leaders in the building industry who are going green."

Powell said he started building green-certified homes about a year and a half ago. So far he has built six that are certified and two more that are in the certification stage.

Although the number of homes he is building is down from prior years due to the economy, all of the homes he builds from now on will be green certified.

"I don't build any other way. Because once you figure out it’s the right thing to do, why would you do anything else?" he said.

In 10 or 15 years, he said, people won't even be referring to green homes anymore, because they'll all be built to the new green principles. And while there may only be about one in 10 builders now who are willing to build green-certified homes, he said, "In a couple of years, you are going to see two out of 10.

"I think builders are seeing, bit by bit, where this is going," he added.

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