Building Green

by Carolyn Chase


recent headline caught my eye, "Home Builders Increase Sales by Building 'Green.'" Always interested in good news, I read on. "Surveys consistently show that more than 75 percent of Americans consider themselves environmentalists. It's no surprise, then, that buying 'green,' meaning buying with a eye toward preserving the environment, is a national trend which is becoming more popular in the home building industry."

Was this just another case of green propaganda coming through my office? Maybe so. But it's also good news for all of us because this was in a missive from the National Association of Home Builders announcing a new book, "Building Green in a Black and White World," by David Johnston.

A green home does everything a house has always done, and can even look the same from the street, but is inherently different, Johnston reports. From foundations to finishes, green building substitutes, such as engineered lumber, recycled building materials, low-consumption toilets, and solar-powered water heaters, improve quality and add value for the homebuyer.

"It's not surprising that consumers are demanding homes that enjoy a sense of place, that blend the organic with the technological, and that feel as if they have "grown" where they are. Home builders are actively responding to this demand and increasing sales in the process." Johnston states.

Johnston points out that building green is more about people than it is about technology. Home buyers who choose a green builder make a statement of personal values with their largest investment. He adds that green-built homes appeal to those interested in living a healthy life-style and in preserving the quality of life in their communities. That should be a pretty big market!

"People are increasingly concerned about the health of their families, they want to save money where they can, and they want to contribute to something greater than themselves. Green building meets these desires by reducing the amount of health-compromising chemicals used in a home, by improving energy efficiency, and by offering a practical way for people to contribute to preserving the quality of the environment through reduced resource consumption." the NAHB included.

"Building green" means building homes which rely less on nonrenewable energy sources and, instead, use solar energy; improve the quality of indoor air; replace traditional building materials with engineered lumber and recycled materials; and fixtures and appliances that reduce water consumption. Johnston says that some builders are already building greener without even knowing it.

"Building Green in a Black and White World," shows how sales and marketing strategies can support green choices and help sell more homes to increasingly discerning buyers. Johnston believes that by building green, forward-looking builders can differentiate themselves from their competition and build homes that more buyers want.

Johnston also reports and summarizes the work from green Home Builders Associations that have developed checklists, training and marketing programs. After a builder has decided to "build green," that message has to be communicated to potential buyers. Johnston tells of one builder who created a "Green Building Museum" so customers could see and touch the environmental features that are typically hidden in the walls of homes.

This book summarizes green materials trade-offs in the market today and presents costs comparison approaches that weigh features that "customers want and increase the percentage of buyers who can qualify for the home." When green approaches are designed into a project from the start, potential incremental costs can often be reduced.

Johnston is president of What's Working, an international environmental design and consulting firm in Boulder, Colorado, that specializes in environmental construction technology. He is a past director of the Boulder, Colorado Home Builder's Association and coauthor of the Denver Metro HBA Green Builder Certification Program.

"Building Green in a Black and White World" is $36.00 for members of the National Association of Home Builders, $45.00 for nonmembers, and is available from the NAHB Home Builder Bookstore, 1-800-223-2665, or by visiting the Home Builder Bookstore website at

Locally, organizers of this year's EarthFair in Balboa Park are seeking sponsors and donors for an "eHouse" exhibit to demonstrate green building features to the general public in honor of Earth Day this year. Please contact San Diego EarthWorks at (858)272-7370.