(Written by Armando Cobo, CGP, CAPS – Originally published in the January 2009 Housing Journal)

Green, Green and More Green

Yes – Green, green and more green! And if you think this “Green Thing” is going away, think again. We find “green” every day in the news, in the products we buy, in conversations, at IBS and the NAHB Green Building Conference, and, oh yeah, also with those “other” guys at the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) and their LEED for Homes program. Even our new President-Elect made “Green” a pivotal part of his campaign and the economic recovery of our nation.

If you agree with me that our industry will be pressured for more “green” building practices, then becoming more familiar with this subject is to your advantage.

So, what is Green Building? Green building is the practice of designing and building structures that conserve our resources – materials, water and energy – at the same time we reduce potential negative impacts on human health and the environment. Today, we look at how we site, design, construct, operate and maintain our buildings by developing better design techniques and increasing efficiencies, air quality, owner education and sustainability.

Today we look at buildings as a whole system and we design and build them with “green” appropriate materials, specifications and methods. We want our buildings to last 100 years or more, not just the length of the loan or the “one-year warranty”.

Why Green Building? In a 2006 NAHB-McGraw-Hill Market report, DOE information and the US Energy Information Act stated:

  1. In 1950 homes had 3.37 people per household or 297 sf. per person. Today we have 2.4 people per household or almost 1,000 sf. per person.
  2. The residential sector consumes 22% of all energy produced in the nation and 74% of the water. It also contributes 21% of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and the indoor air quality has 4 to 5 times the levels of pollutants to the outside.
  3. In 2005, green building was 2% of existing buildings. By 2010 it is expected to be 10%. It translates to $38 billion in NEW residential construction.
  4. 60% of builders claim that homebuyers are willing to pay more for green building. Most builders report a 2-5% increase in costs.
  5. NAHB members participating in the NAHB/McGraw-Hill Construction survey considered the most important features to be: Energy Efficiency (99%), Green Site (96%), Indoor Air Quality (93%), Materials and Resources (93%), Water Conservation (92%).
  6. Respondents also considered the most important options to be: High-Efficiency HVAC System (92%), Low-E Windows (90%), Energy Efficient Appliances (88%).

There are as many green building programs in the United States as you care to count, but in the last three to four years the NAHB, the USGBC and Energy Star have developed national guidelines and it appears most municipalities and local Green Building programs are embracing them. In Albuquerque, for instance, the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico started developing a green building program in the mid 90’s, and in the early 2000’s the Building America Program became the guideline until February 2006 when the Build Green NM Program was created based on the NAHB Green Building Guidelines. (BGNM modified the NAHB Guidelines to adapt better to our climate conditions and added a developer certification as well.)

Here in New Mexico, the Build Green NM and the LEED for Homes programs have forged a unique alliance that have produced some of the must advanced results in the United States, and for a change, our state is leading the country in incentives for building owners who build energy efficient buildings. Also available through BGNM and USGBC are educational resources and a common green building services provider – Foundation for Building, which verifies and certifies green homes at various levels. At the higher levels some building owners can claim up to $22,450 in state tax credits with the State of New Mexico. This credit is the most generous of any in the nation. There is a Federal Tax Credit for Solar Energy and for Energy Efficient Buildings that you may qualify for as well. For more information go to www.BuildGreenNM.com.

Green building programs are generally divided into six main categories:

  1. Lot Design, Preparation and Development:
    1. Form a sustainable team
    2. Site selection, development and design
    3. In-fill or new development, infrastructure and community resources
  2. Resource Efficient:
    1. Quantity of materials, durability and reduced maintenance
    2. Reuse, use recycle-content materials and recycle materials
    3. Renewable and resource-efficient materials
  3. Energy Efficient:
    1. Integrated energy efficient design
    2. Prescriptive or performance path
  4. Water Efficiency:
    1. Indoor and outdoor water use
  5. Environmental Quality:
    1. Minimize pollutants
    2. Manage pollutants generated in the home
    3. Moisture management
    4. Global impact
  6. Operation, Maintenance and Homeowner Education:
    1. Homeowner manual.
    2. Homeowner education
    3. Solid waste

Always remember, 90% of green building success is in the design. Make sure you start with a team of experts. Contact a green consultant, architect or designer, a HERS rater, a good HVAC contractor, a mechanical engineer, and have an open mind. We should not build homes the same way that we did 50 years ago, not even 5 years ago. Taking a finished set of plans for a consultant to “green it” may be too late, and you’ll probably end up spending more money in the long run.

There are many advantages to green building – greater efficiency, improved durability, better indoor air quality, reduced maintenance and callbacks. Higher potential resale value and greater customer satisfaction mean more referrals.

For more information on the Build Green NM and LEED for Homes programs contact Kristy Moyer at the Foundation for Building at 505-344-3294, or www.BuildGreenNM.com.

Armando Cobo, owner of Armando Cobo, Designer, is an NMHBA Life Director, a Founding Member of Build Green NM, LEED for Homes NM Chair and Advocate, member of the Albuquerque Green Task Force, the State of NM Green Task Force and was instrumental in getting the Residential Tax Credit into law. You may contact him at 505-884-3308 or www.CoboDesigner.com.