That's what local building professionals concluded at a workshop this spring in Mountain View hosted by Build It Green, a nonprofit that brings together certified green building professionals to train in and discuss topics related to green building.
Among those professionals was Cindy Carey, chief operating officer of San Jose-based Starburst Construction and a certified green building professional (CGBP). Recently, she was in Palo Alto overseeing green-building diagnostic tests, conducting a three-part building assessment to determine the amount of energy the client could save with an environmentally conscious remodel.
And no, she doesn't mean just buying solar panels. These tests were focused on air-duct sealing and gas leakages.
"Solar panels and all that, that's great," Carey said. "But if your house isn't sealed ... I always tell people, it's like putting a sexy nightgown on a pig."
"People think about green building, 'Oh, I gotta put in the bamboo floors and do my Hail Marys to the sun,'" said Rick Williams, consultant for Mason-McDuffie Mortgage Corporation in San Jose, who attended the workshop. "No, that's not it at all. People have to re-learn that idea a bit."
There are many options when it comes to green building, ranging from energy-efficient remodeling to new-construction homes.
At Starburst Construction, "the green building we have done has been on landscaping (water conservation and edible gardens), remodels (air leakage, sustainable materials, foundation-radon-safety issues) as well as assisting in the design and build of a complete green home," Carey explained. "We guide our clients to whatever 'shade of green' they feel comfortable with."
The range of choices has proven to be effective. Nationally, green home building comprised 17 percent of the 2011 residential construction market, according to a McGraw-Hill Construction study published in February. The market share is expected to grow to 29 to 38 percent by 2016, with value increasing five-fold from $17 billion to $87-114 billion.
Williams, a fellow certified green building professional, focuses on the finance aspect of green building. He works with homeowners to finance eco-conscious construction or remodeling.
In his experience, many homeowners are concerned over the high up-front costs of environmentally friendly home construction.
"Does it cost more (to build a green home)? I've heard 5 percent more," Williams said. "But looking at the durability of the home (and its) decreased energy costs, it's much, much lower."
At the recent Build It Green meeting, keynote speaker Tenaya Asan, program manager of Build It Green's Green Point Rating program, spoke about how to gain fair market value for green homes.
Many buyers are interested in such houses, especially the hope of lower utility bills, but few are willing to follow through and pay the higher upfront costs, Asan said.
Until recently, green upgrades were not factored into appraisal ratings, and thus did not contribute to the value of a building. But today, green buildings are receiving higher appraisals than before, Williams said.
A major statewide push rose up from the development of programs like Green Point Rated (GPR), which Palo Alto architect Tali Hardonag described as "a report card for home construction."
Created by Build It Green, a Green Point Rating serves as "a certificate that validates that the project has been evaluated by an independent rater and has met the minimum number of green points that have been achieved, based on the Green Point Checklist," Hardonag said.
Asan cited a statistic from the National Association of Home Builders, which states that 70 percent of homeowners would pay $5,000 more for a green home. Thus, higher Green Point Ratings add to the value of a house and increase the likelihood of its purchase — or at least that is the hope.
"The market for green homes in this area is limited to the few that understand and think it is important," Carey said. "However, everyone wants to do the right thing and save money and energy."
Increased visibility and presence of green building has become more important than ever. A huge statewide push in this direction came from Energy Upgrade California, a $300 million program that provided rebates to homeowners who make energy-efficient home upgrades. The goal was to educate residents on the need for and availability of "green" home improvement.
Santa Clara County funding ran out, but the awareness and visibility of eco-homes continues to grow. Certified green building professionals, who used to be few and far between, are also now much easier to find, Hardonag said.
Additionally, a collaborative realty organization known as "Green the Multiple Listing Service" (Green the MLS) has sought to increase the accessibility of for-sale green homes to buyers. The MLS is a resource used by Realtors to disseminate information about homes in a given area. "Greening" the local MLS would involve making local real estate databases searchable by the homes' available green features.
As these features grow in usability and popularity, the challenge is to continually get the public and their Realtors on board with the value of green building, Williams said.
Homebuilders are optimistic about this growth. According to McGraw-Hill, one-third of builders and 22 percent of remodelers expect to be completely dedicated to green building as of 2016, doubling and tripling today's statistics, respectively.
Today, "when we're thinking of green building, it's a new building paradigm," Williams said. "(We want to) use sustainable products that are durable and that provide for greater energy efficiency. We're not just all in our Birkenstocks and hanging out in the mountains."
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