It’s Smart to Build Green: Energy-Efficient Homes a Growing Trend in Charlotte

It’s Smart to Build Green:  Energy-Efficient Homes a Growing Trend in Charlotte

Actually, Kermit, it’s pretty easy, being green.

It’s a different world today than it was ten or fifteen years ago. Back then, the idea of building eco-friendly homes, using energy-saving appliances, recycled or renewable materials and solar panels was viewed as unrealistic and, frankly, a bit odd. But times have changed.

These days, we’re all concerned about protecting the environment, increasing energy efficiency and saving money. “Green” homes address all those issues, and more and more homebuilders are going that route.

The first reaction of both homebuilders and families looking to buy from them is cost. How much more expensive is it to build an eco-friendly home as opposed to a traditional home?

Looking only at the initial cost doesn’t tell the whole story. “It’s an incomplete judgment just to look at first costs versus that life cycle,” said Emily Scofield, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Charlotte-based North Carolina chapter. “How much is it going to cost to live in it over the long term?”

Some homebuilders are still skeptical. “We do not seek green certification because we find that the cost increases are prohibitive to the average home buyer,” responded Torie Oljeski, marketing manager for LiveWell Homes, which builds in more than 30 communities in the region. Many builders add certain “green” or energy-efficient features to their homes, but stop short of fulfilling all requirements for certification.

Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte shows how it’s done. They have become the leading builder in Charlotte for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes sustainable building program and one of the program’s largest in the state.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification program focused primarily on new, commercial-building projects and based upon a points system.

Two years ago, Habitat Charlotte built the city’s first platinum-level LEED home, the highest-ranking and most prestigious of the four certification levels. They have been building LEED-certified homes ever since.

“Not only can we do this, but we can do it in volume. If we can do this on every single house we’re building, there really isn’t any excuse for production builders not to do this, too,” notes Sarah Beth Mulet, Habitat Charlotte’s Renewable Energy and Sustainability coordinator.

Many builders seem to agree. The demand for new single-family “green” homes has risen sharply from 2 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013, according to information provided by the U.S. Green Building Council. The expansion is expected to continue, growing to 26 to 33 percent by 2016. That represents a value ranging from $80 billion to $101 billion, according to a report by McGraw Hill Construction.

The LEEDS certification “helps assure the homeowners that it was done right,” Kathy Spence of Banister Homes said. “It’s also important to us that we give our homeowners homes with long-term durability and significantly reduced operating costs.”

Understanding the Principals of Energy-Efficient Building

Smart Plans

Energy-efficiency begins with a smart architectural plan. Proper placement of windows can help keep a home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Roof design figures in as well, using deep overhangs to shield hot summer rays but allow in the warming winter rays, when the sun is lower in the sky. These, and other impressively-effective passive solar elements, were commonly used before air conditioning was ubiquitous.

Smart Products

New, energy-efficient products are appearing all the time, driven by innovation and economic demands. Energy-efficient appliances, water-saving toilets, and long-lasting lights are just the beginning. Materials used for cabinets, flooring and paint have been modified to eliminate or reduce toxins. Using recycled and local materials is not only efficient, but a positive feature, even trendy.

Smart Choices

For builders and homebuyers, deciding on an energy-efficient home is the first choice. For homebuyers, how do you know if the home you are considering is truly energy-efficient? LEED certification and ratings can tell you.

It’s true that, initially, LEED certification can add to the upfront cost of a home. Meeting LEED silver certification levels typically adds about $7,500 to the price of a 1,100- to 1,300-square-foot home, said Phil Prince, marketing and communications director of Habitat. In October, work begins on a LEED Silver certificate Habitat home would cost $95,000 to $110,000.

Such homes are expected to use about 30% less energy throughout their lifetime, according to data from the U.S. Green Building Council. For LEED platinum homes, it’s about 50% – 60% percent less. Habitat also uses Energy Star and SystemVision certification programs on many of their homes.

“We really don’t do anything extravagant or cost prohibitive,” said Mulet. “We just do a lot of small changes that add up.”

Seventy-nine LEED-certified homes have been built so far in Mecklenburg County, with more awaiting final approval. There are also other programs besides LEEDS which set building standards for energy efficiency and sustainability.

For homeowners, the benefits of an energy-efficient home are clear. A “green” home reduces energy and water use, uses nontoxic materials, and most importantly, saves money and protects health. The trend is to pay close attention to those issues. Many builders consider it too risky to ignore. Going green can bring in the green for all involved.


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