Green Building: A Survivor in a Shaky Economy
However, environmentally sound building practices are experiencing an upswing in popularity, even as the real estate market continues to tumble. As consumers look for ways to cut costs and hunker down for the recession, green structures are becoming more attractive options to those in the market for new homes, says Carlos Martin, assistant vice president of the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB).
“A lot of consumers, first off, want reduced utility bills,” Martin says adding that the
NAHB has seen anecdotal evidence that green building is becoming more popular, at least within the building community. The organization had expected five people to graduate from its Certified Green Professional program in 2008; they had a total of 1,800 graduates. “That’s a sign builders are definitely paying more attention to green building issues,” Martin says. “Whether that translates into the market – we’re still tracking that.”
Other sources have echoed Martin’s outlook. A survey conducted in November 2008 by Turner Construction Company found that 75 percent of respondents (including developers) do not believe the economic downturn will discourage them from constructing green buildings. In that same survey, 83 percent said they would be likely to seek LEED certification for structures that they plan to build within the next three years.
“Today, there are more than 30,000 LEED-certified homes and commercial buildings in the pipeline,” says Richard Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “While some of those will undoubtedly come on line slower than originally envisioned, there’s little evidence that green building practices are experiencing any sort of downturn.”
But the outlook for green building isn’t entirely sunny. Since it is relatively new, public understanding of the practice isn’t as widespread as that of traditional building, Fedrizzi says. Plus, many of the technologies used in green buildings are new as well – leaving them at greater risk for installation difficulties that could result in failed technologies.
“Unless installed correctly, there’s a risk of the technology failing,” Martin says. “We caution builders, especially when they do green building, to make sure they understand the warranty and to make sure they know how to install them correctly.”
In an effort to increase awareness of green building and its technologies, both NAHB and USGBC hold green building workshops for builders, among other events. In addition, USGBC’s Greenbuild 365 serves as a public portal to information about the advantages of building green.
Martin says builders should also be sure to research ‘green’ products to ensure they live up to their claims.
“How is it green and how are they proving this?” Martin says. “Is there a third-party verifier, a certain amount of recycled content, a certain level of energy efficiency? That sort of thing.”
On a positive note, various tax credits for green buildings and green home improvements could help sustain the green building industry through these rough times. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, signed into law by former President George W. Bush in October, extended tax credits for builders of energy-efficient homes through 2009. The act also extended tax credits for consumers who install alternative energy systems in their homes or make other improvements, like installing energy-efficient metal roofs and storm doors.
“The initial cost is so expensive for a lot of those technologies, so the tax credits really do help the consumer,” Martin says.
A select number of states and localities also provide incentives for green building. More information can be found on the Web site of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Martin says while green building is still a major factor, the NAHB is not losing its focus on improving every sector of the housing industry in order to nurse it back to health.
“One of our primary concerns is making sure the whole housing industry improves so green building can expand,” Martin says. “We’ve been tracking the rate of green-building growth. It’s one of those great signs that builders are making changes in the way they do their practices. I believe the market will swing back up so they can put those ideas back into practice.”