There hasn’t been a lot of good news in the general economy lately; from a complete collapse of sub-prime mortgage loans, to slumping property values, whip-sawing stock markets, $110+ barrels of oil and colossal brokerage houses that suddenly run out of cash – it isn’t pretty.
At first blush, it might appear that this is no time for green builders to forecast increased orders through 2008. But that’s exactly what Rob Moody is doing. Owner of The EcoBuilders based in Asheville, North Carolina, Moody started the business in 2003 and states in a recent Newsweek article that he expects orders to double this year, after doing the same last year.
Contrast this to “builders have run scared and orders have dried up” in answer to the question “how’s business?” of a friend last weekend who supplies builders with high-end kitchen cabinetry and fixtures.
In fact, builders laid off a quarter of its workers last year, and new homes sales for this year are estimated at just 632,000 homes, the lowest since 1992.
Does any of this mean that a relatively small niche has any chance of impacting the mainstream?
Not Just for Sproutheads* Anymore
Just a few short years ago many builders would never consider going to the trouble and expense of serving the “green home” niche market (made from hemp? used tires? what did it really mean anyway?) when there were so many typical McMansions to slap together, with so many banks willing to write so many questionable loans for so many people that couldn’t afford them. (Can you say unsustainable?). But all that’s changed.
Not all McMansions are built the same. A project backed by Cherokee Investments has built what initially looks like a typical McMansion-style home in a subdivision near Raleigh, North Carolina – and that’s the point.
Dubbed the “Mainstream Green Home”, the five-bedroom house sports a complete portfolio of green and sustainable building practices (the five-bedroom McMansion footprint notwithstanding) the highlights of which include a water conservation system that saves 80,000 gallons of water a year, hardwood flooring from logs pulled up from the bottom of Cape Fear River (logs left there to languish from when the river was lined with mill towns), solar hot water system, a 71% reduction in electricity use, and a garden planted with native and drought-resistant plants. It’s a model geared to show the state-of-the-art in sustainable residential building practices.
This sort of thing doesn’t come cheap, of course. But it appears that more and more people are willing to pay a premium up-front for saving on the back-end: Principally lowered energy costs and better resale value. A recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders shows that buyers are willing to pay an extra $8,964 if it would help save on energy bills.
For some builders, as in the general economy, “green” may be little more than the “sales angle de jour”. Some builders do little more than install energy-star appliances (which they should do in any case) and slap a big green label on the house, leaving much else as it was, missing – or not really caring about – the point.
Nonetheless, green and sustainable building practices are a growing segment of the industry. Residential green building is expected to grow from $7.4 billion dollars in 2005 to $38 billion by 2010.
Along with that growth comes the need for standards, and verifiable certifications for green building are becoming more prevalent throughout the country.
Green building may still have a way to go to be considered fully “mainstream”, but trends show that the concept is heading in the right direction. Moody’s booming EcoBuilders and Cherokee Investments’ Mainstream Green Home stand as two excellent examples. Add to that the news today that Countrywide is offering discounted mortgages for green home buyers, and we may be seeing a trend well on its way to establishing itself in the mainstream.
*A friend’s definition of “someone from northern California”