GREEN LIVING SPECIAL REPORT: Almost a fourth of new homes in Austin are green

Home building in Austin is greener than ever.  Long known for its save-the-planet ways, the city continues to be a national leader in producing eco-friendly homes, says Richard Morgan, Austin Energy’s green building manager.  More than 20 percent of homes built in the Austin Energy service area now are being rated green by the city program, Morgan says. The city always ranks among the top 10 in the country in green production – and by some reckonings, the city ranks No. 1, Morgan says.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been rating anywhere from 18 to 23 percent of homes ? more than 1,000 homes each year,” Morgan says. “It was probably about 24 percent last year.  “Even with the downturn, we’re still rating a lot of homes.”  Worth noting is the number of green-certified homes built in Austin by production builders, Morgan says.  “One of the interesting things that’s happening in Austin is, early on back in the 1990s, everybody assumed green building would be for high-end custom homes, but now probably about 90 percent of what we rate are built by production builders. In most places, it’s the custom builders doing green, but here, the production builders have really adopted green. And that is something that’s unique to Austin.”  Also, he says, Habitat for Humanity is building all of its Austin homes to green standards, which is not true in most other cities.

Helping drive Austin’s green building success, Morgan says, is the 711-acre pedestrian-friendly Mueller community – a redevelopment of the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site.  “Everything out there is green,” he says. “All of the homes are required to get at least a three-star rating (out of a possible five stars from Austin Energy’s Green Building Program). The density is better than what we have traditionally seen in Texas and in the US  It’s transit-oriented, and all of the irrigation is with reclaimed water.”

Beyond Austin
While Austin is a leader in the movement, the US green building market is enjoying strong growth across the nation, making green construction one of the few bright spots in a struggling housing market.  “Texas can take a bow for being at the forefront of this (green movement),” says Kevin Morrow, program manager for green building standards at the National Association of Home Builders . “It’s really sprung up from Texas ? but we’re seeing it all over the country.”

McGraw-Hill Construction’s Green Outlook 2009: Trends Driving Change report estimates that the green building market will more than double by 2013, reaching to between $96 billion and $149 billion. The analysis is based, in part, on data from construction industry surveys and statistics in the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification program.

“Today’s homes are significantly more energy-efficient than those built 20 and even 10 years ago,” says Joe Robson, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, “and we continue to make advances in building science and new construction techniques. The home building industry is getting greener every day.”

The National Association of Home Builders reports more than 180 certified green projects in 41 states, with 300 more in the pipeline. This includes a mix of homes and one development using either the group’s new National Green Building Standard or the Model Green Home Building Guidelines.  “People are starting to understand how green building ? affects them personally and positively,” Morrow says. “At least 75 percent of the interest ? is related to energy efficiency.”

Consumer demand
The success of the green building movement, Morrow says, is largely being driven by consumers, who now are taking an interest in issues such as indoor air quality and environmental stewardship.  “More and more builders are incorporating (green) in their business models,” Morrow says, because “more and more consumers are demanding it. Builders will build what the consumer wants them to build.”

This year, the NAHB Research Center , which is a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders, introduced its “Green Approved” seal of approval, which endorses building products that comply with specific green practices for certification to the National Green Building Standard.  Among the approved items are engineered wood products from iLevel by Weyerhaeuser and tubular skylights from ODL Inc.

Morrow says manufacturers recognize that consumers today are seeking environmentally friendly home products – especially those that focus on energy and water efficiency – and they’re adding new ones to the marketplace every year.  This year, the US Environmental Protection Agency finalized its Water Sense certification system, which can help consumers choose toilets and other products that are at least 20 percent more water-efficient than conventional models. The Energy Star program already points consumers to energy-efficient appliances and other products.

“What you’re seeing taking off is those features that are a part of every green home ? efficient insulation, very efficient windows ? things you’ll expect to find in any green home,” Morrow says.
But consumers, too, are increasingly interested in other innovative and attractive eco-friendly goods such as recycled glass countertops and reclaimed hardwood flooring.

National conference on tap
Morrow says construction professionals often discover the latest products at industry shows and conferences such as the National Association of Home Builders’ National Green Building Conference being held in Dallas this weekend.  Attendees can get an up-close view of green building products and materials at manufacturer exhibits as well as on a tour of six green-certified projects, including the 4,800-square-foot Colleyville Eco House, which is a demonstration project for the US Department of Energy’s Building America program, aimed at encouraging homeowners and builders to live and build in a more fiscally and environmentally sensitive manner.

The new home sits on a one-acre lot previously occupied by a 3,500-square-foot home that was disassembled.  Eighty percent of the old home was recycled, and the windows and other parts were donated to Habitat for Humanity.  Green Craft Builders of Lewisville built the new house with a variety of resource-efficient, environmentally friendly products and materials including a pricey geothermal heat pump that is expected to lower energy bills by as much as $500 per month from what it would be with a more traditional heating and cooling system.

The conference this year has scheduled more than 30 educational classes on topics such as building science, design and marketing, with a variety of speakers including Austin architect Peter Pfeiffer and Texas financier and alternative-energy advocate T. Boone Pickens.  “We’ve really gotten away from making the case for green ? and are getting down to the brass tacks for making it work,” Morrow says.
Building professionals today know what green building is, but they might not know how to incorporate eco practices into their business, Morrow says.

During the conference, builders, remodelers and other home-building industry professionals also can earn credits toward becoming a Certified Green Professional , a designation from the National Association of Home Builders. The program has more than 2,850 green-certified professionals so far, and Texas has the most at more than 850; Austin has more than 100.

“As home buyers return to the market and as homeowners look to make cost-effective improvements to their homes, these professionals have already determined what consumers will be looking for: environmentally friendly, resource-efficient design and construction. That’s green building,” Robson says.  During an awards dinner at the conference, the National Association of Home Builders recognizes the best in green residential design, new home construction, remodeling projects and green advocacy efforts, as well as state and local green building programs.  Texas winners this year include Tonti Properties in Frisco, which won for Multifamily Rental Project of the Year for La Valencia at Starwood; and Imagine Homes in San Antonio, which garnered the Affordable Single-Family project award. Also, San Antonio’s green building program was named Green Building Program of the Year.

Closer To Home
The success of the green building movement, demand, market acceptance and the like, are never going to wane.  Right here at home,
Lexington Luxury Builders builds all of its homes as Certified Green Built Homes.  Check Lexington’s Green Initiatives to learn more about the efforts Lexington is expending to Go Green.

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